I Failed The #EBacc!

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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How would you (as an adult) fare if you completed examinations in foreign language, a humanities or indeed learning maths, English and science subjects all over again? I know I failed at least two of these subjects when I was 16 years old. Was my school a failure? Was I viewed as a failure too?

There were a few people – not many – who were upset about this image on their timelines over the weekend. Many others who blogged and understood the purpose, tweeting their own stories as a student.

This blog provides the context so that an informed conclusion can be made.


I’ll start with an apology for filling your timelines and inbox with such a brash hashtag and a click-bait blogpost title. However, the attention-seeking nature of this has worked – after all, you are reading this – and therefore, has ensured that we are all raising awareness of the DfE’s EBacc proposals – whether we agree or not.

We are having the EBacc conversation before the DfE consultation closes this week on 29th January 2016. How many schools has discussed this with their staff? We have in our school and my impression is that we are all opposed to the proposals.

The opinions here are mine and not of my school.

This is the first of two planned blogposts written for this week, asking the reader to respond to the DfE with your views as an individual, and perhaps as a school.

In my follow-up post, I will share an amalgamated response to the DfE (from several bloggers).


This weekend, I tweeted this graphic, not to celebrate failure or to promote that I (or anyone), despite not studying or passing EBacc subjects at school had ‘turned out alright’. I shared the image to raise awareness of the consultation.

EBacc Twitter

Some responded that I was ‘dumbing down the profession’, even ‘sinking to a new low’ proclaiming that my ‘I’m alright mate’ attitude was celebrating failure. These accusations cannot be further from the truth.

Don’t judge the image above until you have read this blog in full.


I know this blog and my social media presence is far and wide. I know my responsibility is to impart common-sense ideas and viewpoints that are balanced and informed. I want this to be also the case for this post. I know how easy it is to influence other teachers, schools and school leaders – even the DfE – with posts, articles and even tweets! It is therefore essential I offer clarification and context.

In Support Of:

I am not against any student studying languages, a humanities or indeed learning maths, English and science subjects. After all, almost every other country in Europe insists on it and we must not be left behind.

… it is a good thing for students to study Humanities, languages and arts … However, the biggest challenge is that DfE doesn’t recognise the inherent bell-curve driven grade-setting process and has already labelled grades 1-4 as ‘bad grades’. (@headguruteacher)

I – like Morgan and Gibb – am all for rigour, challenge and academic study. However, I also support logical, creative and practical subjects (possibly more than they do) and not a ‘dumbing down of the curriculum’ by alienating other subjects. This is what ‘dumbing down of the profession’ is; an EBacc threshold of 90% which is alienating teachers who teach the Arts.

If we want our schools to be autonomous, why have any curriculum that is measured? Allow students and their schools to offer subjects that is a best-fit for them locally and nationally.


I am fiercely against the EBacc becoming a measure of success in league tables. This will damage the Arts subjects further and lessen the need for teachers in those subjects. Recruitment in these subjects is already at an all-time low.

Teach Vac Recruitment

Image: TeachVac

Weighing The Pig:

We also have a problem with examination entries. We are fast-becoming a profession-based practice, spending so much time trying to measure results, that we are distracted from producing results. 

Look at what design technology heads of department are up against (take a look at the red line below in this graph).  The data is from The Cultural Learning Alliance, who have an ambition for all children and young people have an entitlement to quality cultural learning – the Arts.

Ebacc subjects Cultural Alliance

Image: The Cultural Alliance

Recruitment into design and technology, religious education, art and design, and business studies are very low. Computing – which is expected to need more teachers after a government decision to scrap ICT by 2017 – only recruited 70 per cent of its target. (Schools Week)

ITT-subject-and-phase Schools Week

Image: Schools Week

I Failed The EBacc:

As a student, I failed the EBacc, despite studying all of these subjects to the age of 16 (using grade C+ methodology). Progress 8 would have helped me. It would have told my teachers that I had made significant gains on my attainment, even with the odds stacked against me – being educated in 7 schools (secondary: 2 comprehensive; 1 grammar) all over Britain.

I was also able to study several Arts subjects, because I followed what was important to me. My school allowed this to happen and absence of league tables and EBacc measures made this feasible. Can we really argue that league tables are the sole reason for improvements in our education system? Or is this down to higher-quality CPD, better quality of teaching and more informed-based methods?

Every student should be able to opt into the EBacc and not be shoehorned by a DfE measure that leads to incredible and unnecessary accountability on schools. Progress 8 now provides a common-sense measure.The EBacc proposals will contradict this and damage teaching of creative subjects – including student choices and teachers’ livelihood – in our schools if we allow our government to do this.

shutterstock_63012619 piggy bank on scales studio cutout

Image: Shutterstock

Yes, let’s hold schools and school leaders to account, but let’s not impose a measure that will stifle option choices for students.

The Common Good:

The common good should be in the interests of all. An EBacc curriculum offers this potential, but it is lacking Arts consideration.

We argue that Arts subjects are of equal value to History/Geography and MFL. We suggest than any Baccalaureate worthy of the name, should include participation in Arts. So, why not record the % of students who take at least one Arts GCSE alongside the Ebacc? More widely, we believe that the structure of the National Baccalaureate for England, as promoted by the National Baccalaureate Trust on their website, is actually where accountability should lie. This is a true Bacc in a way the Ebacc simply isn’t. Let’s look at defining the elements of a broad and challenging, rounded education for all learners at 18. (@headguruteacher)

In Summary:

We should all support any subject, particularly the EBacc subjects, but our students should be the ones making those choices and not the DfE. We can only guide and make those subjects available to our children and leave them to decide what pathway they wish to form in their learning.

This proposal should not come at a price to the Arts (subjects). I am opposed to DfE’s proposal and the following contradictions:

  • academy freedom, yet insist on an EBacc curriculum.
  • measure schools, yet ask for 90% of a school’s students to study EBacc subjects.
  • revise subject curriculum, for example the Design Technology GCSE to a gold standard (Gibb), despite the lowest exam entires in a decade. This had nothing to do with a robust syllabus already in place.

The impact an EBacc measure will have on schools, as well as restricted options-process for students, is best summed up by Russell Hobby, general secretary school leaders’ union NAHT:

“Heads, staff and students have worked hard in every secondary school across the country to raise standards at a time of immense turmoil and disruption …

 “Unfortunately there has been so much change that the national statistics generated by the government are increasingly dubious. Comparing one year with another, or one group of schools with another, is precarious at best when the very basis of measurement is different each time. The government must be careful what conclusions it draws.

 “We desperately need stable measures of a stable examination system. We need this in order for data to become meaningful again. We need this, above all, so that schools and teachers can focus on teaching to the best of their ability rather than coping with constant change.

“The time of change is not over yet, as the government plans to revise the way the Ebacc is used in future performance tables. Yet these tables published (20.01.16) showcase the value of the new Progress 8 measure. The Progress 8 measure, only recently implemented, provides the required balance between academic rigour and curriculum breadth.

“Progress 8 will be overwhelmed by the Ebacc before it has had a chance to prove its worth. The pace of change has become so intense in education that the government is increasingly replacing its own initiatives before they have even been fully implemented.” (NAHT email alert)

  • I oppose the English Baccalaureate being used as a (90%) measure of student success.
  • I do not oppose our students studying more languages, humanities and Arts subjects.

EBacc survey Twitter poll

Let’s measure, but let’s not set the bar (at any level) and beat schools with a stick!


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