Secondary school pupils will be expected to take all subjects in the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) up to the age of 16, schools minister Nick Gibb will re-affirm today.
The five subjects of the EBacc – English, maths, science, a modern foreign language, and either history or geography – were first introduced as a non-compulsory school performance measure in 2011.
In a speech later today, Mr Gibb is expected to say the government will set out “in due course” further details of its plan to have all pupils take EBacc subjects at key stage 4.
Making the qualification compulsory overturns previous coalition policy. In a response to an education select committee inquiry in 2011, the government said the national curriculum alone determined compulsory subjects and that the Ebacc was only being “made available to help parents find out more about pupils’ achievement in key academic subjects”.
But education secretary Nicky Morgan last year pledged to compel all children to study the EBacc and to downgrade the Ofsted inspection rating of schools which refused.
In his speech Mr Gibb will describe the policy as a matter of social justice.
“If we are to deliver a fairer, more socially mobile society, we must secure the highest standards of academic achievement for all young people, and especially those from the least advantaged backgrounds.”
He is also expected to dismiss the idea that focusing on an academic core inevitably displaces creative subjects.
“The EBacc is a specific, limited measure consisting of only five subject areas and up to eight GCSEs. Whilst this means that there are several valuable subjects that are not included, it also means that there is time for most pupils to study other subjects in addition to the EBacc, including vocational and technical disciplines that are also vital to future economic growth.”
Provisional figures for this summer’s GCSE entries show that the number of pupils taking creative subjects – such as art, music and dance – have remained static.
However, there has been a dramatic fall in pupils studying religious studies – with a 7 per cent year-on-year reduction in GCSE entry numbers since 2013.
Mr Gibb will also claim that “low expectations” around academic subjects “afflicted whole local areas”.
Figures show that 10 per cent of pupil in Knowsley achieved the EBacc compared with 30 per cent in neighbouring borough Halton, 35 per cent in Westminster and 34 per cent in Hackney.
“These disparities are not simply explained by social circumstance – in all four local authorities, the proportion of pupils identified as disadvantaged is between 40 and 56 per cent. This is unacceptable.”
But analysis last year by BBC Newsnight reporter Chris Cook showed that in 2013, only 69 schools in England did not offer the full suite of EBacc subjects.
Mr Gibb said that he would consult on the changes and give schools time to prepare.
“We will listen closely to the views of teachers, headteachers, and parents on how best to implement this commitment. And we will ensure that schools have adequate lead-in time to prepare for any major changes.”