The proportion of pupils entering the EBacc has dropped for the first time, new data shows, and experts claim the pressure for high Progress 8 scores is causing schools to avoid “risky” EBacc subjects.
Whereas 39.7 per cent of pupils entered the EBacc last year, that proportion dropped by 1.5 percentage points to 39.7 per cent this year, according to provisional key stage 4 data. This is the first fall in five years.
A smaller proportion of pupils also achieved the EBacc this year. Whereas 24.7 per cent of pupils passed the five “core” academic subjects of English, maths, science, history or geography and a language last year, that figure fell to 23.5 per cent this year.
Nick Gibb, the schools minister, insisted more pupils were taking core academic subjects.
“Since 2010, the proportion of pupils taking GCSE science has risen from 63 per cent to 91 per cent, and 21 per cent more students are studying maths at A-level,” he said.
The EBacc pass rate is almost a soft measure, an aspirational measure
He also pointed out the “outstanding” Progress 8 scores of converter academies and free schools, which came joint top of all school types. Analysis by Schools Week has since revealed a more mixed picture, with a third of free schools scoring -0.2 or less.
However teachers and unions have called for Progress 8 and the EBacc to be scrapped in the wake of today’s report.
Tom Sherrington, an education consultant and ex-head teacher, said schools were avoiding entering pupils for “high-risk” subjects such as modern foreign languages for fear of threatening their Progress 8 score.
Progress 8 “overrides all the other measures”, he said. The EBacc pass rate is almost a “soft measure, an aspirational measure” while the Progress 8 score is higher-stakes.
The fact schools were choosing to enter pupils into fewer EBacc subjects demonstrate the “inherent paradox” within the government’s accountability measures, he added.
He called for both Progress 8 and the EBacc to be scrapped, and for schools to be inspected on a “case-by-case” basis on their outcomes in all subjects and the depth and breadth of their curriculum.
His words echo calls by Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman not to sacrifice rich curriculums to hit accountability measures this week.
Susan Coles, of the National Society for Education in Art and Design, demanded once again that the EBacc be scrapped, pointing to a report by the Education Policy Institute that showed a continuing decline in the number of children enrolling into arts GCSEs last month.
Meanwhile, Kevin Courtney, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said the drop in entries “confirms the DfE must abandon the delusional expectation that 90 per cent of children will take it” by 2025.