All pupils to take EBacc subjects to age 16, says schools minister

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.”

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  1. And in previous news, King Henry the XIII writes a paper on ‘Women’s Rights’!

    “Social justice” says the Tories, introducing a performance measure that will be impossible to achieve by many students. We need to produce a bespoke curriculum that prepares our lower ability and SEN students for the modern world of work, not make them sit undifferentiated history and geography papers that they will not be able to complete.

    A short sighted proposal dictated by personal experience and prejudice.

  2. Nick Gibb says,“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.”

    Would it not make sense to carry out the consultation before announcing yet another loony policy?

    I seem to recall that Nicky Morgan recently promised to cut down on all the frantic half baked innovation that is transforming teaching into the career from hell.

    I guess many teachers have ideas in the morning shower which on reflection are not quite as good as they first seem. When is someone going to tell Nick Gibb that when he has an idea in the shower he does not have to announce it as government policy. Can someone do this before we have no teachers left.

  3. Janet Downs

    Gove and Gibb preached autonomy for schools. It appears, however, this is the freedom to do what the Government tells schools to do.
    Academies have the freedom (allegedly) to opt out of the national curriculum – but Gibb lays down what exams must be taken.
    That said, there’s nothing wrong with pupils studying a broad, balanced curriculum to 16. But they don’t have to be examined in it.

  4. I was in school when they first brought in the EBACC and I can vouch from friends that the EBACC proved ultimately useless as it was scrapped only a short while after.
    Now bringing it in and making these subjects compulsory is going to reduce arts funding in schools to the point where creative subjects cease to exist (I’ve been at a school where fine art very nearly dropped from the curriculum), completely do away with any student autonomy, and create students with identical skill-sets and shoddy grades because they’ve been forced to partake in subjects that they don’t care less about. Does the conservative government want a generation with no variation in skills? Apparently so.

    The idea that geography, history and languages are more important than anything else is simply antiquated.

  5. First it was the EBacc, introduced retrospectively so that nobody knew they were going to judged on it as a performance measure. Then it was Progress 8, which was going to “trump” the EBacc and become the driving measure behind the league tables. Suddnely, it’s EBacc again – no-one seems to to be talking about Progress 8 any more. Meanwhile the GCSE reforms are in free fall – of the four awarding bodies, three produced sample maths papers that were judged to be too hard and the other papers that were judged to be too easy. Nobody has the remotest idea what to do about science GCSE. A Level reform is happening in parallel and supposedly predicated on the dog’s breakfast that is curently GCSE, thoroughly discredited by Gove’s manic and irresponsible tinkering.
    This is a perfect storm, exacerbated by the fact that nowhere does anybody, Gibb or Gove-in-a-dress, mention compulsion. Only the sinister threat of an OFSTED downgrade is brandished as a stick to beat schools with. So that’s the independence of the inspectorate out of the window too, if the Secretary of State can determine what grade your school gets on the basis of a particular bakset of subjects it offers, or doesn’t. Will all pupils be “compelled” to pass the EBacc subjects? What happens if they don’t? UF the Ebacc is meant to “set them up for life” will failing it also achieve that lofty and largely meaningless objectiive? The lunatics are truly running the asylum.

  6. Problem with this is that some very weak students cannot possibly cope with the demands of a language exam for example or indeed a history/geography exam. I do think, however, that there are some students who opt for more vocational/arts/technology subjects when in fact they should perhaps be doing the more ‘intellectual’ subjects for their GCSE’s. As a music teacher, I am worried about numbers dropping for GCSE if this becomes compulsory, but surely there must be a middle ground. Some of the students can currently opt for any 3 subjects they wish, often choosing 3 very similar subjects, say Drama, Music, and maybe media studies, all of which, anybody would admit are nowhere near as intellectual/demanding as a humanity or a language.

  7. Helen

    What about those children who are planning on making their career in a particular area – for example science. Surely being able to take triple science, as my son is, is a far more sensible option than making him take history or geography (he is already taking a language. Surely children will be more productive if they study lessons they chose rather than those they are forced to take. I hated geography at school and would have been thoroughly miserable if I’d had to take it!!