Is the English Baccalaureate making educational outcomes wider for disadvantaged pupils?
Research by AQA researchers, Emma Armiage and Caroline Lau investigate the introduction of the English Baccalureate (EBacc) by the Conservative – Liberal Democratic coalition government in 2010.
How does school policy widen equality?
England has a long history of educational inequality, where students from advantage background outperform students from more disadvantaged backgrounds. This study offers some important reflections and analysis of the relationship between students with free school meal (FSM) eligibility studying the EBacc and GCSE attainment. The current findings suggest that the EBacc will not create a more socially just education system. Worse? It forces school leaders to adapt timetables and make these curriculum choices which could fuel inequality. Even worse? Ofsted ‘checking’ to ensure a school is EBacc compliant!
(Greevey et al.,2012)
How did it happen?
The EBacc curriculum which was introduced to encourage more disadvantaged students to study the ‘core academic’ GCSE subjects. Over 87 per cent of school leaders were against it, but that didn’t matter as the government ploughed on, regardless. Proposed in 2011 and made statutory in 2015, the government took over 500 days to respond to the public consultation – one of the longest – analysing just 2,755 responses. The Department for Education’s ambition is to see 75% of pupils studying the EBacc subject combination at GCSE by 2022, and 90% by 2025 is still off the mark. In January 2019, only 221 schools from 3,084 secondary schools currently met the DfE’s EBacc target of 90 per cent.
Prior to the EBacc’ s introduction, far fewer FSM than non-FSM students entered what were to become EBacc subjects (DfE, 2010; Greevey, Knox, Nunney, & Pye, 2012; Henderson, Sullivan, Anders, & Moulton, 2016 ; House of Commons Education Select Committee,2011 ) and these gaps persist even for the most-able students (Sutton Trust, 2015b). This suggests that the gap is, at least in part, the result of‘secondary effects’ of stratification (Boudon,1974), which are the social class differences that emerge as a result of the different educational choices made by advantaged and disadvantaged students, after controlling for prior attainment
(Sullivan, Zimdars, & Heath,2010 )
Research suggests far-reaching consequences…
The authors write: ‘ . . . it is clear that the EBacc cannot hope to offer disadvantaged students social justice in terms of both equal access to traditional academic subjects and good grades in those subjects, without a parallel strategy for narrowing the attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students. Until such time as more disadvantaged students are given the resources to convert the “intellectual and cultural capital” associated with the EBacc subjects into the currency of good grades, policies that focus solely on providing them with access to that capital will be insufficient to deliver a form of social justice that has farreaching consequences for the life chances of disadvantaged students, and which could genuinely improve social mobility’.
Time to wake up and smell the coffee?
As UK now officially has left the European Union, and little is known of its’ impact on disadvantaged students’ future life chances, research into achievement gaps between different student groups should be carefully monitored in the years to come. I do wonder if it’s time for school leaders to wake up and smell the coffee? Some have, but is it time for us all to take a stand post-COVID-19?
Allowing students the freedom to choose what they want to study does not necessarily mean that the same opportunities are equally accessible to everyone because of the unequal resources students have to draw on when making subject choice decisions (Davies et al., 2006; Henderson et al., 2016; Sutton Trust, 2015b).
Source: Can the English Baccalaureate act as an educational equaliser? (Armitage and Lau, 2019)