#EBacc Nonsense

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Nicky Morgan Policy Exchange EBacc


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How does government policy affect the life chances of students in your school?

Right-wing think tank, Policy Exchange, (you decide?) appears to have mustered another coup. This time, at their headquarters with a speech by Education Secretary Nicky Morgan; ‘Turning Vision Into Reality.’ 

Nicky Morgan [has] announced her vision of educational excellence in every part of the country – building on the principle of a school led system but with government acting in areas where standards remain too low. Her speech [at Policy Exchange on 03.11.15] will set out how she intends to take that vision forward with a raft of measures designed to tackle failure, raise standards and improve the quality of teaching. (Source)

The government’s goal is that, in time, at least 90% of pupils in mainstream secondary schools will enter the EBacc. (DfE)

I’m Fuming!

I have had a great first week back at school with our students and our staff. Teaching (after a half-term break) has reminded me why I love teaching so much. Our students deserve high-quality teaching, high expectations, challenge and rigour. They should also expect a wide-range of experiences in various subjects. As I left school on Tuesday evening, it was evident that this is happening, and that our students are succeeding, no matter what definition is used.

However, I turned the radio on to unwind, only to hear Morgan. I am fuming to say the least!

shutterstock_167434529 Angry man

Image: Shutterstock

Morgan said;

I think every child should study maths, English, history or geography, a language and the sciences up until the age of 16.

In April/May 2015, the Conservative Party’s general election manifesto did not state that 100 per cent of pupils would need to study the EBacc subjects. It said it would “require secondary school pupils to take GCSEs in English, maths, science, a language and history or geography, with Ofsted unable to award its highest ratings to schools that refuse to teach these core subjects”. (Source: Schools Week)

Now, the figure announced this week, is 90% of students studying English baccalaureate subjects; worst of all, that all schools will be measured on how many students are studying those subjects and their performance at examination level.

The last time I ranted on my blog, and it really is a rare occurrence, I received a huge amount of readers. I expect the same here! Look what over 400 people said on an informal poll on social media:

EBacc survey Twitter poll

Impact on Schools / Staff and Students:

The English Baccalaureate is still being used by the government to measure school performance and is having a profound effect on the number of children studying the arts.

The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) is having an adverse effect on arts subjects in schools. 15% of schools surveyed by Ipsos MORI in 2012 had withdrawn one or more arts subjects as a result of the EBacc. 21% of schools with a high proportion of free school meals (FSM) reported withdrawing arts subjects.This comes on the heels of a decade long fall in the number of students taking arts GCSEs, a decline which has been reinforced by the EBacc. Between 2010, when the EBacc was introduced and 2014 entries to arts GCSEs fell by 13%.  (Source)

Ebacc subjects Cultural Alliance

Image: Cultural Learning Alliance

Vision Into Reality:

On Tuesday 3rd November, Nicky Morgan spoke at Policy Exchange to deliver her speech on ‘Turning Vision Into Reality’. The film starts from her English Baccalaureate statement;


  • Do we really want to tell or students what to do/what to study?
  • Do we really want our students shoehorned into a particular group of subjects in order to meet government aspirations?
  • What is the purpose of a national curriculum, if some schools can deviate away from this?
  • If you work in an academy or a free school, you have an even greater autonomy and freedom. How does this fit in with these ideologies if we are stipulating what all schools must do?

A further worrying trend, and one highlighted by the House of Commons Education Committee , is the impact of the EBacc on children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Children at schools with a high proportion of FSM are more likely to have arts subjects withdrawn, and to have their GCSE option blocks affected; 65% of schools with high FSM reported changing their GCSE options as a result of the EBacc compared to 30% of schools with low FSM. (Source)

The Ebacc (90% goal) doesn’t add up for me and I will not advocate this policy at all during my career. Two other headteachers fully in support of this madness, are @LeadingLearner who has written, The F-Bacc is On It’s Way! and @headguruteacher, who has also written and proposed a real alternative; EBacc Alternative: One System for All; Excellence for All.

I am in support of high-academic performance, students being challenged and schools achieving the best results that they can with their children. Who wouldn’t? But as soon as the government imposes another measure, determining how schools are to be judged, and then placed into a league tables, this changes the entire climate and purpose of education.

Of course we need benchmarks and aspire to have high standards locally, nationally and internationally; but it should not be the tail wagging the dog!

Figure 2: Percentage of pupils entering and achieving the EBacc (state-funded schools)78

Source: DfE

For students to study more ‘academic subjects’ is resonant with the government-hysteria regarding OECD and Pisa rankings. Buzzwords such as grit, resilience, character and rigour are all the rage in speeches, documents, academic research and publications. I have argued before how creative subjects are academic and how they can enable students to achieve all these characters through other channels. The DfE’s motives for England and Wales to be ranked higher in very arbitrary tests are clear to see. Varkey Gems provides a sensible alternative.

The Implications:

The implications of this new measurement is a very serious one and something that will directly affect teachers and students in schools. I would like to breakdown implications of this proposal:

  • Senior leadership teams will now gauge what percentage level their students are performing at.
  • Schools will start to engineer their curriculum and timetable models to enable students and teachers to teach more academic subjects in line with EBacc measures.
  • This will have consequences for staff who teach non-English baccalaureate subjects. For example drama, design technology and music.
  • The government will continue to say that standards are increasing as a result of this.
  • The government will continue to say that the increase in creative subjects have not been affected by the demands for students to complete English baccalaureate subjects.
  • Meanwhile, timetables in schools will be adapted. Student choices will be restricted and staffing reductions will be evident in creative subjects across the sector.
  • and more …

We only need to look at focus placed upon English and maths GCSE to gather views from headteachers and classroom teachers about the significance, and indeed workload given to those teachers who teach these two core subjects. Since the introduction of this measure, we have seen schools adapt their focus in order to avoid OfSTED inspections, closure and loss of jobs! Progress 8 has offered a more fairer measure of student progress from starting points (attainment), rather than just achievement, but the implications of this on EBacc subjects is also, still unknown.

You only need to speak to any teacher who teaches a non-EBacc subject and ask them the amount of occasions where students have been taken out of their subjects to be able to complete English and maths intervention, tutoring, revision, mock exams in order to ensure that they achieve their grade C pass English and GCSE. This is an epidemic outcome of the English and maths frenzy caused by government league tables. We do know that this will soon dissipate as the new measures of Progress 8 comes into place, but it is evident on the front-line, that government policy effects the work we do in schools.

“It is wrong to claim that only the EBacc subjects are rigorous and demanding or useful preparation for later life. These new proposals are a further restriction on school autonomy and a clumsy attempt to manage the education system through exam reforms and league tables, rather than investing in the resources that truly make a difference. (NAHT)”

How Can You Help?

Well, there is a consultation. The consultation was issued on 3 November 2015 and closes on 29th January 2016. We need a coordinated response. Perhaps all unions can provide a collective retort? You can respond by email English.BACCALAUREATE@education.gsi.gov.uk, or by post to: Maleck Boodoo. Floor 2. Department for Education, Great Smith Street, London. SW1P 3BT

You can download the consultation document here.

Policy Poster If Teachers Can Mobilise Themselves They Can Move Policy


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Nicky Morgan’s speech:

It must be right that every child studies a strong academic core up until the age of 16.

To unlock those choices, to offer those opportunities, to broaden their minds.

And that’s why I think every child should study maths, English, history or geography, a language and the sciences up until the age of 16.

Not because I think these subjects are the only ones that matter – I can see the masses poised behind their keyboards waiting to be outraged by the mere suggestion I might believe this to be the case.

No, it’s because these subjects are the academic core, the foundations of a good education that ultimately will keep options open for young people’s future.

That’s why we introduced the English Baccalaureate or EBacc in 2010. We wanted to be open about which options would equip pupils for the future, and we wanted to highlight which schools were making sure that pupils studied this academic core.

And it’s worked. The seemingly terminal decline in young people studying this valuable combination of subjects reversed, almost doubling in just 5 years.

That is something we should all find hugely welcome. And yet it remains the case that overall just 39% of young people are now studying the EBacc – in some areas it’s as low as 20%.

I’m told it’s because the EBacc isn’t right for those children. What does that mean? Who doesn’t benefit from studying our nation’s history? Who can’t benefit and be inspired from understanding the fundamentals of science?

So once again we find adults writing off children, deciding what they can and can’t do, and worse, what they can and can’t go on to do, before they’ve even turned 15.

That’s why in our manifesto we committed to introducing an expectation that every child, who is able, should study the EBacc. Today we are consulting on how to deliver this, and on better accountability for schools about the proportion of their students who take this set of core subjects. In time, I want to see at least 90% of students entering the EBacc.

10 thoughts on “#EBacc Nonsense

  1. I agree with much of what you say, but for the record, I teach an Ebacc subject and have had students removed from my lessons for Eng & Math intevention. So it isnt just non Ebacc subjects hit by that particular action.

  2. The decline in Arts subjects that you allude to isn’t really supported by the table you post. The main decline in that grouping is for Design & Technology (arguably a STEM rather than an art subject) which has suffered a massive decline since 2004 (presumably when the EBacc was a mere twinkle in Mr Gove’s eye). The expressive arts are holding pretty well and there is the added benefit of a significant boost to liberal arts/humanities (most notably History).

    1. Hi Andrew, I did not screenshot all the tables in the research, but if you dig out the link to the cultural learning alliance you will find much more detail. I’d like to ask if you work in schools?
      Since the introduction of the EBacc, there has been a significant change in schools in terms of curriculum, timetable design and recruitment; which are valid and have huge impact on staffing and the time made available for the students in these subjects.
      If government stipulate for schools, you’ll soon find many headteachers adapting their school infrastructure to meet the whims of politicians and Ofsted to protect their staff and their own jobs

  3. Thank you for your public commitment to a broad and bespoke educational experience for all. As a teacher of Art, Craft and Design I share your frustration. Arts teachers have a powerful advocate in the Uk through the NSEAD ( National Society for Education in Art and Design) and ‘we’ have been collectively campaigning for the value of the Arts in a broad and balanced education. However, we need more brave and authentic headteachers like Stephen Tierney and Tom Sherrington to speak about the value and impact of the Arts on students’ futures and their place in a diverse and creative economy. As long as measures are centred around EBacc, many (most?) SLT teams and governors will follow this doctrine because their performance depends on this narrow and restrictive measurement. I can verify from my own network contacts that teachers of creative and practical subjects have never felt so marginalised, under valued and over looked, and many are leaving the profession. This is magnified by the lack of Arts subject practitioners on SLT teams and the slashing of Arts teacher training opportunities. The Arts must be included in any benchmarks send measures in order to reverse this straightjacket on our children’s’ futures.

  4. I fully agree with you, however as a parent of a dyslexic son the 10% is a blessing for him. He is really struggling with both of the languages he is learning. English is bad enough for him, never mind French and Spanish! The opt out should only be for such children as him, who have a disability and it should not be used as an ‘option’.

  5. Show me a list of employers who insist on, or indeed prefer a student to achieve the baccalaureate? This is not preparing students for the workplace at all, because there are few employers who require it. Therefore we have to ask ourselves why it has become a priority? Academia might prefer it…but quite frankly what is it do with them? They may prefer a well rounded student but in all honesty, 1. Is it more rounded if they have been denied the opportunity to study the arts? And 2. Is it necessarily true that students who study a range of subjects chosen by the government do better in terms of a career? An obsession with the subjects they find stimulating is better than studying 100 subjects they have been pressured into taking so they can achieve a pointless piece of paper. At the end of the day WHAT ARE WE PREPARING STUDENTS FOR? It isn’t university. It is for careers.
    And further more if my son or daughter wants to be a mechanic, geography will not help him or her achieve that dream. (Unless it’s going to teach him to use sat nav to get to work.)

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