EBacc grades drop as pupils pushed in from creative subjects

GCSE results reveal a spike in the lowest grades in some core EBacc subjects, which experts have said could be due to more lower-ability pupils taking these instead of creative and vocational subjects.

Geography, physics, chemistry and history have all seen their proportion of top grades fall and their proportion of lower grades rise. Other EBacc subjects have not seen this pattern.

The data released this week shows more pupils have also been entered into these Ebacc subjects than in previous years, as entries to creative subjects continue to drop.

Paula Goddard, senior examiner and fellow of the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors, said a large increase in a cohort in examinations “increased the types of students who are entering.”

“You’re getting a whole mix of people, whereas perhaps it was a bit more specialised before.”

The results were not something to “panic about”, but needed keeping an eye on going forward, she said.

Schools Week analysis shows a 5.6 per cent increase in pupils taking geography this year. This was calculated from the three per cent increase in the number of pupils who sat geography compared with last year (from 22,0527 to 22,7232 entries), and then adding 2.62, which is the overall percentage drop in 16-year olds this year.

But at the same time, the proportion of top grades in geography fell and grades D-G grew. Grade As fell from 18 per cent two years ago to 15 per cent this year. A*s also dropped, from 9 per cent two years ago to 8 per cent this year.

But D grades in geography rose, from 15 per cent in 2015 to 16 per cent this year. Es rose from 9 to 10 per cent; Fs from 5 to 6 per cent, and Gs from 2 to 3 per cent.

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Jo-Ann Baird, professor of education and assessment at Oxford University, said vocational qualifications had been steadily removed from the curriculum, leaving a cohort of pupils who were made to “go through school feeling like failures.”

The lower distribution of grades in subjects like geography this year meant “weaker pupils have been entering those exams”, she said.

The pattern was repeated in history, another core EBacc subject.

Its proportion of A*-Cs has dropped by one percentage point for each grade since 2015, while the proportion of D, E, F and G grades rose by one percentage point over that period.

Entries to history increased less starkly than for geography, but still rose by about three per cent over that period, using the calculation explained above.

You’re getting a whole mix of people doing a subject

Physics and chemistry also saw their grade As and Bs drop as entries have risen.

Schools Week analysis shows that schools continue to enter more pupils to the “core” EBacc subjects, which count towards the government’s headline performance measure, Progress 8, than into non-EBacc subjects.

For example, drama entries dropped by 10.6 percent. Similarly in music, there was a 9.12 percent decrease. Art also saw a drop, of about five percent.

Tom Sherrington, founding trustee of The National Baccalaureate, a curriculum framework for schools which offers a broader range of subjects than the EBacc, said Progress 8 was the “main driver” of schools entering more pupils into EBacc than into non-EBacc subjects.

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  1. Jess- many Arts teachers are annoyed at the headline here. There’s a suggestion here that creative subjects are for the low ability students, which isn’t true. Differentiation is key to success in all subjects and perhaps some of the people quoted here need to consider making the curriculum accessible to the “types of children” being entered. Or get up and make a fuss because it’s true that many children now go through school feeling like failures, the Govian curriculum is not inclusive, the EBacc isn’t, the exam system isn’t, and it’s time we stood up to political meddling and started putting children first again. Every Child Matters- or at least they used to.

    • Sarah Kilpatrick

      I agree with Susan, the headline is misleading. There are some very important points made in this article and as an Art teacher in a secondary school I welcome anything that highlights firstly the enormous number of children being made to feel like failures, and secondly the huge impact EBacc has had on the creative subjects. However, we need to ensure that the argument is clear: EBacc is an absurd measure which is damaging children’s education and mental health. The faster we move away from this one size fits all nonsense the better.

  2. E Havoc

    I think this post is insulting to teachers of creative subjects which you are branding as being for ‘low ability’ students. I object to the inference that creative students are responsible for a negative effect on the non-core Ebacc subjects like Geography. The whole post needs removing and more thought put into the focus of future posts amd the consequences of the writing.

  3. Helen Homewood

    Jess…. I think we have to be very careful in stating that these results are due to students that are weak and lower ability. It is a condemning label. Maybe these students are just completely uninterested in the subjects they are being forced to study. I feel so sorry for our children because more of them will go through their school years feeling like failures because they don’t fit the system in what is now a highly restrictive curriculum.

  4. Deb Hepplestone

    Completely agree with Susan’s comments. When is this perpetuation about creative subjects being ‘easy’ going to end? They are not easier or harder. They are different. Children are different and should have their needs and future aspirations met through their education. It is unhelpful when the media continues this idea that school subjects have a hierarchy, with creatives and vocational options at the bottom.

  5. Lower-ability students struggle taking Art at GCSE too!
    In terms of having a more mixed cohort – this is something art teachers have had to work with on a constant basis.
    Art would be an easy subject to teach and would mostly achieve top grades, if it were more specialised, allowing only those with an affinity for the subject to choose it.
    It is an extremely demanding course in terms of effort, time and intellectual analysis.
    It is definitely not a subject for less able students merely for want of a subject on a timetable. Well structured and relevant vocational courses are needed to equip these students adequately for the life of work.

  6. This article makes the highly presumptive conclusion that the reason grades fell is a move away from creative subjects and in doing so assumes that some subjects are’harder’ than creative subjects. Being more academic and factually based does not make something harder merely that a different skill set is required.
    Being able to remember the capital of Peru and the economic factors behind migration is no harder than being able to employ the distinctive qualities of an artists work in your own.
    But yet again, rather than being proud of our children’s creative talent we deride it as a soft option subject.

  7. You should be getting a whole mix of students doing different subjects. The idea that art is better suited to one ability group, indeed any creative art, is nonsense. Students should pick subjects they want to study regardless of their ability.

  8. elaine Humpleby

    Jess, I am beyond disappointed at the mode of address of this article. It presents a case that the arts are more suited to the lower ability child and that now they are being forced into ‘academic’ (as the article titles them) subjects those subjects are suffering from a lowering of overall grade achievement. No subject is better suited for low ability students than any other; differentiation, engagement and fostering a sense of discovery, curiosity, success and achievement is essential for everyone to feel successful whatever their age or natural ability.
    I am so concerned that this article begins with a title that suggests that the responsibility for the falling grades in EBACC subjects is that of the Creative Arts. Where is the consideration of the wider implications? Non- ‘academic’ and academic students alike succeed in the Arts. Perhaps these other subjects and the people in the article should be exploring why that is: what can be learned form the way the arts are delivered. However I also feel that the wider implications of the compulsory EBACC curriculum are not being honestly evaluated NOR addressed. As Helen says perhaps students ore disillusioned by being forced into subjects that they have no interest in. We are cultivating a nation of students with overwhelming stress levels, who are over-tested and are losing the ability to think, create, imagine or respond individually. I look over my GCSE and A level classes and see students focused only on a grade and the ‘what’s the one thing I can do to get an A grade Miss?’ attitude; they are being trained out of the sheer joy of exploratory learning, the power of discovery and how failure is a step on the path to success. This article lacks reflection or incisive analysis of the pedagogic destruction the government are bent on. What a shame a potentially fascinating article has become a knock the Arts and students who struggle more at current compulsory subjects and set learning styles. An opportunity was missed here. Perhaps a follow-up article could take a more in-depth and balanced perspective; and include an equally provocative yet NOT insulting title.