Stop The EBacc!

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Tristram Shepard

Tristram writes and researches for the Teacher Toolkit site. His work with Ross McGill spans over 15+ years! He first trained in 3D Design before becoming head of art, design and technology in a secondary school, building a national reputation as a leading centre for...
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During 2015 the DfE announced their intention to make entering 90% of students for the EBacc suite of GCSEs a future school performance measure that will be given a more ‘prominent role’ within the Ofsted framework.


Last November they launched a consultation which did not invite comments on the desirability or feasibility of their intentions, but instead posed a series of very closed questions asking how best their aspirations could be achieved. The online response form needs to be submitted by the 29th January 2016.

What is proposed in the consultation is much more sensible than the original announcements made immediately after the General Election in May 2015.

  • ‘Compulsory for all’ and ‘No Ofsted outstanding’ have been modified – quite rightly.
  • The DfE is now talking about an aspirational target of 90% entering the Ebacc ‘in time’.
  • Ofsted judgements will not be tied directly to a school’s Ebacc entries.

It will be the school, rather than the government, that will identify pupils who should be exempt.

It is tempting to use the consultation as a platform for disparaging and dismissing the whole proposal as completely unworkable, non-sensical and ill-informed nonsense, but the questions are so narrowly defined that this is almost impossible – and, as we all know, you get no marks for writing a brilliant essay that does not precisely answer the question that has been set.

We suspect any negative comments will simply be ignored, and it would probably be better to make separate representations through other channels, including your local MP. However, perhaps there are some ways of providing answers to the consultation questions that might encourage the DfE to think again, by revealing the complexity and potential cost of their big idea?

Write to your MP?

Feel free to download our ‘letter to your MP’ and adapt the text below in your own consultation response – but remember it must be submitted by the end of this Friday 29th January, 5pm here. 

Question 1:

What factors do you consider should be taken into account in making decisions about which pupils should not be entered for the EBacc?

The simple answer to this question is whether or not an individual student is likely to achieve a worthwhile level of success in each of the EBacc subjects. This will involve an appraisal of a child’s potential academic ability and whether or not they would have a better chance of getting a good grade in an alternative non EBacc subject. Another consideration will be whether the school has been able to recruit enough high quality academic teachers in the relevant EBacc subjects – for example is it better for the student to be taught an EBacc subject by a supply or poor-performing teacher or to take a non EBAcc subject led by an experienced, well-regarded member of staff?

Progress 8 contains all the aspiration and ambition of the Ebacc, but with a layer of added flexibility for pupils who want to fly in other curriculum disciplines too. (Source)

At the same time the decision will have to be matched to the national requirement for a maximum of a 10% non-entry figure. In order to achieve this there will need to be some means of drawing together live data from across the country to provide schools with an indication as to the number of children that it will be acceptable for them to not enter for the EBacc. This is likely to be difficult and expensive to achieve.

The ultimate factor however, will be for headteachers to reach a difficult judgement about the extent to which not entering a pupil for the EBacc subjects will lead to the school potentially being described as performing less well, while conversely increasing the overall number of good GCSE grades achieved in non-EBacc subjects. National agreement with headteachers, together with clear directives to inform the decision-making process will need to be established.

Timetabling / Staffing Issues:

See this vital graphic from @BillWatkin of @SSAT.EBAcc SSAT

Image: SSAT

Please draw a red line through the 16 subjects from the list below that you will cut from the timetable. You have no alternative. You must do this from the following subjects: French, German, history, geography, business studies, RE, PE, cookery, resistant materials, graphics, electronics, engineering, art, photography, music, drama, hair and beauty, health and social care, travel and tourism, computer science, Latin, law, media studies, dance.

Question 2:

Is there any other information that should be made available about schools’ performance in the EBacc?

In order to provide a more accurate and informative representation of a specific schools’ performance there will need to be comparative data that shows the GCSE results of students who were not entered for the EBacc. Meanwhile more flexibility within the choice of EBacc subjects, for example, by defining it as English and mathematics plus three from a wider range of EBacc subjects, would make it a more achievable requirement for schools and students and would also provide a better measure of school performance as a whole.

Question 3:

How should this policy apply to UTCs, studio schools and further education colleges teaching key stage 4 pupils?

It should also be noted that there are also issues regarding the inclusion of Academies in these measures, which do not appear to have been considered, and who are likely to challenge their inclusion. A particular feature of the Academy movement is their freedom to follow their own curriculum, which this proposal contradicts. Again, a more flexible approach might be of greater appeal to them.

Question 4:

What challenges have schools experienced in teacher recruitment to EBacc subjects?

Recruitment into teaching is already an issue, as well as recruitment in specific subjects. The EBacc will make this more of a challenge, pushing distorted popularity contents in various subjects.

To prepare children for the new more demanding EBacc GCSEs, experienced traditional teachers with high academic standards and a talent for motivating often disinterested teenagers will be essential. Unfortunately there is an insufficient supply of teachers that meet this requirement.

The Ebacc will damage the Arts and the teachers that teach these subjects.


Image: SSAT

Now we have an under-used art teacher and the consequence is that;

  1. We need to employ more part-time teachers, or
  2. We need to ask the art teacher to help out by teaching product design or cookery, or
  3. We need to cut the Y7-Y9 classes, take art off the timetable altogether and make the art teacher redundant; this means that we can afford to employ a history teacher to pick up the new compulsory history classes. (Source)

Question 5:

What strategies have schools found useful in attracting and retaining staff in these subjects?

There are very few strategies that can be relied on to attract and retain staff in these subjects. The high level of administrative and planning work and the relatively moderate pay for the majority who are driven by their passion for their subject and the love of teaching, rather than a desire to proceed to senior management, means that many seek less-demanding work in other schools or to find employment outside the profession.

We shall repeat, recruitment issues are across the board, not just in EBacc subjects. Implementing yet another measure will only detract further teachers entering into the profession.

Question 6:

What approaches do schools intend to take to manage challenges relating to the teaching of EBacc subjects?

Without a national survey it is impossible for an individual to answer this question. It can however be anticipated that option-choices will be narrowed, and teachers of non-EBacc subjects leaving the school will, wherever possible, be replaced by EBacc subject staff. Many teachers who offer EBacc teachers as second subjects will be required to teach them instead of their first subject. Extensive and extended CPD courses will be needed to enable them to teach to the required standard.

Schools and school leaders will jump hoops to protect their schools, but doing what is best for the students and using what teaching staff they currently have to do this, will be further impinged.

Question 7:

Other than teacher recruitment, what other issues will schools need to consider when planning for increasing the number of pupils taking the EBacc?

There will be a shortage of traditional classrooms. Spaces previously used for subjects such as design and technology, drama and art and design will need to be converted from workshops into classrooms. Increased funding will need to be made available for sets of up-to-date textbooks in the EBacc subjects.

Students will need teachers that enjoy teaching their subjects, not judged by another measure or see their colleagues in the Arts subjects, slowly losing their jobs!

shutterstock_324407744 Boy wanting it to stop.

Image: Shutterstock

Question 8:

What additional central strategies would schools like to see in place for recruiting and training teachers in EBacc subjects?

The DfE will need to develop innovative strategies to send out convincing messages to those considering becoming, or re-training as, EBacc subject teachers to persuade them that current media representations of the administrative workload, long hours and level of political control involved in the profession are entirely inaccurate.  

Adverts such as this – telling porky pies – that teachers can earn up to £65,000 are poor publicity stunts and only berate those already working within the profession.

Universities need to take back control of their ITT programs. The School Direct programme and been complicated and troublesome and the administrative process is diabolical, lengthy and impedes on an already stretched workforce to complete such tasks. How on earth can we predict our staffing needs 18 months in advance when the problem we have is now?! We are worrying about vacancies for this Easter, and then September, never mind next September 2018!

Question 9:

Do you think that any of the proposals have the potential to have an impact, positive or negative, on specific pupils, in particular those with ‘relevant protected characteristics’? 

The proposals will have an impact on all pupils, significantly reducing options choices for all (see table in question 1).

The challenges facing the English headteachers are not insubstantial; how to create something that includes and gives equal status to both academic and vocational qualifications; how to measure a personal development programme service; how to fund a broader curriculum and extra curricular activities and how to get widespread support for this sort of reform without risking the sort of political interference that has now become commonplace in English exam system. The beauty of the IB is that no individual government can interfere with it. (Source)

Question 10:

How could any adverse impact be reduced to better advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a protected characteristic and those who do not share it? Please provide evidence to support your response.

This is a poorly worded question.

Schools will need to ensure that persons who share a protected characteristic will still have access to appropriate courses, many of which are currently provided by non-Ebacc subject teachers whose subjects will be marginalised and cut, with the result that they will no longer be employed in the school.

The undesirability and negative impact of imposing from Whitehall a narrow idiosyncratic curriculum on 90% of students nationwide is a significant and serious distraction from other far more important issues in education.  There has been a failure to establish a coherent rationale for the imposition of the EBacc and its clash with the freedoms promised to academies risks undermining the Academy programme and questions previous statements made by Ministers. (Source)

Signed @TeacherToolkit and @TristramShepard, with thanks to @LeadingLearner.

@TeacherToolkit logo new book Vitruvian man TT


  • Headteacher Tom Sherrington – blog
  • Executive Headteacher Stephen Tierney – blog
  • The @HeadsRoundTable Group – blog
  • SSAT Director, @BillWatkin – blog
  • Journalist @SchoolTruth – blog

2 thoughts on “Stop The EBacc!

  1. Thank you for highlighting that damn advert it drives me up the wall …I don’t know any normal classroom teacher who earns that much

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