Exams

EBacc to the past: DfE hits brakes on accountability shake-up

Leaders welcome pause on plans to 'incentivise' subject take-up

Leaders welcome pause on plans to 'incentivise' subject take-up

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Leaders have welcomed a government decision to pause plans announced just five months ago to shake up the EBacc accountability measure to “incentivise” take up.

Last September, the Department for Education said it would “explore making changes to the headline EBacc attainment measure” – which is an “average point score” for EBacc subjects.

The measure gives schools a score across the five pillars of the EBacc, which are English, maths, science, a language and history or geography.

The DfE said it wanted to “move to a headline EBacc attainment measure that incentivises full EBacc” for this September.

But in a guidance update today – just five months later – the department said it was “pausing this work and the current EBacc APS will remain the headline EBacc attainment measure”.

Like the original announcement, the update was buried in a 91-page document. Schools Week had to compare it with the previous version to find the change, because the DfE did not stipulate what revisions had been made.

It is understood Nick Gibb, the former schools minister and architect of the EBacc performance measure, was driving the proposed changes. He left government in November, and was replaced by former education secretary Damian Hinds.

The DfE has so far not said why it has paused the work.

Tom Middlehurst, curriculum, assessment and inspection specialist at the ASCL school leaders’ union, said his organisation was “delighted that the government has rowed back on plans to change the Ebacc APS measure from 2025, as originally stated”.

“School leaders were alarmed about this change to a headline measure affecting current exam cohorts, who have already made GCSE and VTQ choices.”

‘The right decision’

Duncan Baldwin, a consultant and education data expert, told Schools Week it was the “right thing not to make any changes so I’m pleased they reached that decision”.

He said the “intention behind” the DfE’s work – to increase take-up of modern foreign languages – was a “good ambition”, but “in my view it’s the wrong lever to pull”.

He urged ministers and Ofqual to look at the way languages are graded “which still requires some work”.

The announcement last year that the DfE was exploring changes to the EBacc prompted warnings it may have broken its own workload protocol.

Guidance at the time stated that the government planned to engage with the sector in the autumn “with a view to confirming the approach in early 2024. The change would be introduced for 2024/25 measures, to be published in autumn 2025.”

But the DfE’s own workload protocol demands a “lead in time of at least a year for any accountability, curriculum or qualifications initiative coming from the department [that] requires schools to make significant changes which will have an impact on staff workload”.

Middlehurst said ASCL had “expressed concerns about such a significant change to how performance data is calculated for current cohorts; as we believe this was going to break the DfE’s own workload protocols”.

But also called on the DfE to reconsider its plans to change triple science and language entries into “headline measures”, which were also announced last year.

The change would mean the subjects would be displayed on schools’ main pages.

The latest guidance states the DfE intends to make the change from September.

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