Yesterday, the Government finally published its response to the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) consultation, which closed 18 months ago! The EBacc is a combination of ‘core academic’ GCSE qualifications – English, maths, science , a modern foreign language and either history or geography. Over the course of 2011 to 2015, having introduced the EBacc as a school performance measure (it is not a qualification in its own right), the Government shifted its position and announced its intention to make this combination of subjects compulsory. Compulsory has subsequently become 90% of students, 90% has become 75% and the time-scale for achieving this measure has been shifted back 5 years.
There are few people who do not support the argument that, as is the case without the EBacc, English, maths and science should sensibly be included in the school curriculum for all young people. There are also compelling arguments for the place of languages and humanities subjects in the curriculum (though many question the specific choice of history or geography, rather that RE or other humanities-based courses). However, as English and science courses are typically double or triple qualifications, a full EBacc combination comprises seven or eight GCSEs, leaving very little space for creative and performing arts, other humanities, technology/engineering, other vocationally orientated courses, PSHE (personal, social and health education), citizenship / enterprise and careers education. In particular, the drop in entries for creative arts and technology-related subjects has resulted in many industry leaders calling for a re-think, on the basis that the UK will lose its competitive edge in these economically important industry sectors.
My view is that schools can be expected to design their curricula so that students can choose from a broad range of courses and that could sensibly include ensuring that students have an entitlement to study a combination of GCSEs, including languages, arts and humanities subjects. However, compelling schools to impose an EBacc curriculum on all (or the great majority of) students is, it seems to me, misconceived. Students need: to be supported through strong information, advice and guidance; to be given gradually increased responsibility for their choices; to have opportunities to develop employability skills; and to be able to undertake courses that enable them to be successful. These characteristics, together with the core academic subjects of English, maths and science, seem to me to be a more suitable basis for the curriculum experience of young people aged 15/16 . We’ll have to see how it all works out but, as far as possible, I hope that schools will be able to make decisions on the basis of what they believe to be in the best interests of the students themselves.