Spielman’s EBacc inspection claims don’t seem to stand up

Inspectors criticise schools' low EBacc take-up - despite Spielman's claims

Inspectors criticise schools' low EBacc take-up - despite Spielman's claims

23 Jun 2023, 2:00

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Ofsted’s chief inspector has said it does “not translate” the government’s EBacc ambition “into an expectation for schools”, despite critiquing low take-up of the qualifications in inspection reports. 

Speaking to the House of Lords education for 11 to 16-year-olds committee on Thursday, Amanda Spielman said Ofsted did not judge schools on the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) in line with the government’s aims “because it is not a value-added measure”. 

The government wants 90 per cent of pupils entering the full suite of qualifications – English, maths, science, history or geography and a language – by 2025.

“There’s no basis on which we could link a national ambition of 90 per cent to an appropriate aspiration for an individual school,” Spielman said. 

“So to the extent it comes up, it’s in the context of a school offering a broad and balanced curriculum to all pupils aged 16. Not as a thing in itself.”

EBacc goal features in Ofsted reports

But examples of reports seem to contradict this. 

In an inspection for King James’s School in North Yorkshire in January, inspectors said: “Leaders…offer a broad range of curriculum subjects. The breadth of the offer means the number of pupils following the English Baccalaureate sometimes falls below national expectations.” 

Meanwhile, the proportion of pupils at Avon Valley School in Warwickshire who choose EBacc subjects was “much lower than the government’s ambition”, a March inspection said.

In a report for Debenham High School in Suffolk, which also took place in March, inspectors noted that “the take-up of the English Baccalaurate is low. This is because only a third of pupils choose to study a language at GCSE”. 

The inspection framework states that the government’s EBacc ambition is “not a target for any individual school”.

“Inspectors will not make a judgment about the quality of education based solely or primarily on the school’s progress towards the EBacc ambition.”

‘Remove subject choice to get kids studying tech’

But it adds that EBacc take-up is an “important factor” in understanding a school’s ambition for pupils. 

Inspectors “should take those preparations into consideration when evaluating the intent of the school’s curriculum”. 

Clarifying Spielman’s comments, Ofsted said that “as a result” of the position outlined in the framework “inspection reports may sometimes make reference to EBacc take up”.

During the hearing, Spielman also countered criticisms that the EBacc had led to a decline in pupils studying technology, instead suggesting one issue was the amount of choice pupils had at GCSEs. 

“I’m concerned that not enough children are choosing the path that would appear to put them on the best track for technological education,” she said. “Almost every child in this country is able to select themselves out of many GCSE subjects or many other curriculum subjects at age 13 or 14.

“If we want more children taking technology subjects throughout the system, then probably removing some of that flexibility of freedom of choice…is the only sensible way of achieving that.”

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