Ignoring the EBacc

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What are the Department for Education hiding?

The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) is a school performance measure. It allows people to see how many pupils get a grade C or above in the core academic subjects at key stage 4 in any government-funded school.

Since the 21st January 2016 – yes, 17 months ago – the Department for Education have been analysing public feedback to gauge “how to get at least 90% of pupils to take GCSEs in the EBacc subjects.” In the interim period between the consultation and the General Election (June 2017), the Conservative party have since re-adjusted this compulsory figure, from 90%, to 75% – despite no publication.

There have been some scathing attacks on the government’s proposal to have any kind of EBacc curriculum and a compulsory requirement of schools, that all students should study EBacc subjects.

 I believe the DfE are ignoring requests for the English Baccalaureate consultation to be published. After contacting one or two people who sit on the inside of the Houses of Parliament, I received a reply from someone to say they would raise this issue within the House of Lords.

On Thursday 29th June, the House of Lords debated this issue. In this post I offer you a snippet from the Queen’s Speech (Hansard Online) debate.

House of Lords Debate


A shockingly high number of our most successful artists found art a refuge. They are where they are in spite of school, not because of it, and this is the wrong way round. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, has been very eloquent on this matter, but creative subjects, due to the current EBacc system, are being abandoned by state schools. Preliminary 2017 figures from Ofqual confirm that the number of young people who take creative-related subjects is declining… Can the Minister say when we will get the Government’s response to the EBacc consultation, which is long overdue? I hope that the promise in the gracious Speech that all schools are fairly funded will mean fair access to funds for creative and cultural activities.

In response to the Lords Communications Select Committee report … it is also concerned about the drift away from arts subjects within the school curriculum. Ministers have suggested that this is not what was intended, so will the Government give much clearer guidance to schools so that practices such as the EBacc do not have the effect of further reducing arts opportunities for children?

One of the areas in which the UK has the potential to continue to excel is in the creative industries, which represent £87 billion of gross value added. I share the view expressed by a number of noble Lords, … that the exclusion of creative subjects from the Government’s plans for the EBacc is perverse. The noble Lord, Lord Storey, mentioned the declining take-up of arts and creative subjects in schools, yet these subjects are included as a matter of course in the most successful schools, particularly in the independent sector, and businesses are crying out for skills in just these areas. There seems to be a real risk of pupils in disadvantaged areas missing out on arts and creative subjects, thereby reinforcing the concerns about the potential educational divide mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and others.

If education does not receive adequate funding, which must mean an increase in per-pupil funding, then arts education will continue to receive a double whammy, hit first by, among other things, an increasing shortage of specialist teachers and a lack of resources and secondly, by the continuing effect of the EBacc, which the Government are clearly ploughing on with regardless of the mounting evidence of its devastating effect on school education. In particular, we have the Ofqual figures published just this month showing for the last year alone a decline of more than 8% in take-up of arts GCSEs and more than 10% in design and technology, whose importance in the curriculum the noble Lord, Lord Storey, emphasised earlier. The Government must come to their senses and remove this destructive measure so that children have a rounded education that contains the widest range of opportunities.

I do not wish in any way to be negative about the commitment in the gracious Speech that I have already referred to, but let us look for a moment at one industry where growth and opportunity is on the up yet pupils choosing to study the subjects relating to the industry show worrying trends. The engineering, manufacturing and creative sectors are together worth more than £500 billion to the economy, or 29% of the total. However, since the introduction of the EBacc to which the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, referred—and I may say to the noble Baroness that, if I was not already on a diet, I certainly would be after what she said—and the introduction, in 2010, of the target for 90% of pupils to study the EBacc at key stage 4, there has been a fall of 140,000, or 21%, in the number of creative and technical GCSE entries. Those are the very subjects that will give young people the skills which are needed in the labour market.

A great deal of concern has been voiced in the debate about the EBacc and arts education. I agree that every child should experience a high-quality arts and cultural education. Since the EBacc was announced, and bearing in mind that the point of the EBacc is to provide the foundation of a rich and robust academic education for every child, the proportion of state-funded pupils taking at least one arts subject increased from 45.8% in 2011 to 48% in 2016. Noble Lords may be wondering how that squares with some of the facts, but it is quite possible that each pupil is taking fewer subjects but more are taking subjects, meaning that more students are actually getting the balanced education that we want to see.

It’s time the Department for Education published our feedback …

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