Department for Education - The effects of the English Baccalaureate

First published on Wed, October 10, 2012.

Introduced in 2010, the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) is not a qualification in itself, but a term applied to the achievement by a student at GCSE level of five ‘core’ subjects at grade C or above. These core subjects are English, maths, history or geography, the sciences and a language.

This report examines the effect introduction of the EBacc has had on take-up and provision of various subjects across the curriculum, and finds that the new award – which is also used as a league table performance metric - is having a significant impact on which subjects schools choose to teach and how they structure their timetables.

Key findings:

•  In 2012 49% of Year 9 pupils selected a combination of GCSE subjects that could lead to them achieving the EBacc in 2014. In 2010 under a quarter (22%) of GCSE pupils were entered for the EBacc.

•  Pupils at selective schools (84%) are more likely than pupils at comprehensive schools (48%) to select a combination of subjects leading to the achievement of the EBacc.

•  A significant proportion of schools (16%) are targeting the EBacc at their most academically able students, and 6% of schools who have changed their curriculum this year indicate that they have created a two-tier pathway.

•  Almost half of all schools indicated that the EBacc will have an impact on the curriculum they offer over the forthcoming academic year, and a similar proportion indicate that they will have made changes to their option blocks to encourage students to take particular subjects or combinations of subjects.

•  Just over a quarter (27%) of schools say that some courses have been withdrawn or failed to recruit enough pupils for the 2012/13 academic year due to the introduction of the EBacc. In 2011, nearly half (45%) of teachers indicated that a course or subject had been withdrawn, suggesting that there have been greater changes in the availability of various non-EBacc subjects over the past two years than this year’s statistics alone would suggest.

•  Creative subjects have fared poorly: the most commonly withdrawn subjects are drama and performing arts, which had been dropped in nearly a quarter of schools where a subject had been withdrawn (23%), followed by art (17%) and design technology (14%). Vocational routes have also suffered, as a fifth of schools (20%) say that they have withdrawn a BTEC (but do not specify the subject). 

Last month, the Government indicated that it intends to introduce new EBacc qualifications to replace GCSEs. This move has raised concerns that ongoing emphasis on ‘core’ subjects will reinforce the idea that the creative subjects are less valuable or rigorous than other subjects in the timetable. The full report can be read here.

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