GCSE results: 'Bleak' and 'worrying' drop in non-EBacc subjects

Today’s GCSE results reveal a further drop in non-English Baccalaureate (EBacc) subjects, with union heads expressing concern over the “worrying” and bleak” future of creative subjects.

Across England, entries in EBacc subjects this year are up 3.8 per cent to 4,132,068, with entries in non-EBacc subjects down a huge 8.7 per cent to 943,607.

However the fall is made up largely of non-EBacc subjects which have been discontinued, such as health and social care and ICT. But, discounting for these subjects, non-Ebacc entries overall are still down 1.3 per cent.

This includes large decreases in individual subjects such as design and technology (23 per cent) and physical education (7.3 per cent).

Analysis from Education Datalab reveals that there is now roughly 80:20 split between EBacc subjects and non-EBacc subjects, compared to a split of 70:30 five years ago.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), told Schools Week that the decline in non-EBacc subjects was “really bleak” and said we should no longer be focusing so much on the EBacc.

Barton said: “We want to be celebrating a whole range of skills and we have become fixated with the narrative around the EBacc and rigour on academic subjects  – and that’s not to denigrate those things, but we have overstated those things I think.

“And they will be hard to get back and what we will see, from a government who talks about social justice, is that some of those subjects will only reside then in independent schools.

“Music will be a good example of that. And it will be added to by the funding crisis because those subjects, music, design and technology are expensive to run and they become more expensive if you have got fewer students because you can’t justify running it if you’ve got fewer numbers doing it.”

A report last month by education think tank EDSK recommended that ministers should ditch the EBacc and reform the Progress 8 performance measure to arrest the slump in the number of pupils taking creative arts subjects.

Research at the time found that since the introduction of the EBacc in 2010, design and technology GCSE entries fell by 65 per cent, while entries for dance dipped 46 per cent and media studies 35 per cent.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), added the drop in non-EBacc subjects was “worrying”, pointing to entries for design and technology dropping below 100,000 for the first time.

Whiteman said: “The purpose of GCSEs is to offer a general education. This needs to be broad so that every student can find a combination of subjects that works for them. A Levels, college and university courses are the time and place for students to choose to specialise… The EBacc is a curse that schools and students have to operate under, and it is high time we did away with it.”

But it’s not all bad news for non-EBacc subjects – with some enjoying big increases in entry. Art and design subjects are up by 9.5%, business studies is up by 6.1% and citizenship studies rose by 10.1%.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Today’s results show pupils are going on to further study and the world of work with the best possible foundations, focusing on the academic cornerstones of education while also stretching themselves creatively.

“The opportunities that await them are the best they’ve ever been, so whether they go on to do A levels, an apprenticeship, technical or vocational qualification, they will do so with the skills they need to thrive in 21st century Britain, and support this country as we build for the future.