Not necessarily affecting the Curriculum Review


The Government believes that the expansion of qualifications options coupled with the equivalence attached to different qualifications for performance measurement has distracted some schools from offering options based on the value of qualifications for progression to further study and work.   The Education Secretary had been profoundly concerned at the fall in numbers of pupils taking core academic subjects and evidence that some schools were gaming, in other words entering pupils for what he sees as soft non-academic subjects in order to secure a good position in the league tables. Enter the Ebacc.  The English Baccalaureate is a performance measure for schools in England. Let’s be clear though. It is definitely not a new examination or qualification. Nor is it compulsory. It aims to measure the achievement of pupils who have gained GCSE or iGCSE passes, graded A*-C, in English, mathematics, two sciences, a modern or ancient foreign language and a humanity (history or geography). It is seen as just one new piece of information in the achievement and attainment tables although schools worry that in practice it will become a key measure. Many Academies measure poorly against the Ebacc.  The Government acknowledges that other subjects remain valuable in their own right. Nevertheless, it wants pupils to have the opportunity to study a core of subjects, which the English Baccalaureate represents. The English Baccalaureate was included in the 2010 school performance tables (published in January 2011), which showed about 15% of pupils that year achieving the measure. The Government said that it would review the definition of the English Baccalaureate for 2011; however, the Secretary of State announced in July 2011 that he was minded to leave the subject composition of the measure the same in 2011 as it was in 2010. This is expected to remain the case at least until the first changes to the National Curriculum are introduced in 2013.  The introduction of the English Baccalaureate has been controversial. Concern has focussed particularly on the subjects covered, the timing of its introduction (given that the National Curriculum is currently being reviewed), lack of consultation preceding its introduction and the decision to apply it retrospectively to the 2010 performance tables. So what subjects are included in the EBacc package?

Maths and English at GCSE C Grade or above

Enter all three Science GCSE subjects and get a C or better in two of them

Or achieve a C or better in both science and additional science GCSE

History or Geography a C or better at GCSE

Languages a C or better in one modern or ancient language

In addition to GCSE the following exams in the  above subjects also count

A pass in the relevant AS Level taken before the end of KS 4

A C grade in an accredited version  of an existing CIE or Edexcel IGCSE . Ofqual has formally accredited these as Level 1’/Level 2 certificates. Similar newly developed qualifications  will be considered for tables’ eligibility under the proposed 14-16 characteristics. No candidates are sitting newly developed qualifications this year so this will not affect the 2011 tables

In terms of subject inclusion various subject groups have been keen to stake their claim.   Music and the Arts feel particularly aggrieved. The Church has lobbied robustly for the inclusion of Religious Studies and ICT specialists believe that their exclusion is a big setback for schools ICT.   The English Baccalaureate is very different in purpose from the National Curriculum Review and is not necessarily affected by its decisions. That Review will determine what subjects will be made compulsory and at what ages, along with any content that should be taught to all young people. It is worth re-stating that the Ebacc is not compulsory and is aimed at ensuring that  parents know  the achievement of their children in key academic subjects, while also obviously seeking to nudge schools towards focussing more on academic subjects.

Stephen Twigg , the shadow education secretary ,  has given  qualified praise to the measure, which he said might reverse the decline in children studying languages. But he also expressed concerns that it might crowd out other subjects.

Note 1 A statutory consultation will take place on the proposals offered as result of Phase 1 of the National Curriculum Review. This covers the design and content of the programmes of study for maths, English Science and PE and this will take place early 2012.   Following this Ministers will make decisions on the programmes of study and will set out which other subjects will form part of the new curriculum. Phase 2 will involve a call for evidence on these other curriculum subjects and the development of proposals and the design and content of Programmes of Study for these subjects. The consultation on Phase 2 will happen in 2013.

Note2  Tim Oates, in charge of the review, told a conference of academics and school leaders that schools suffer not only “an acute overload which has led teachers to move with undue pace through material”, but also a failure to learn from international developments, and repetition of material within the curriculum. The Department for Education apparently agrees: it is their intention to reduce the curriculum so that it “reflects the essential body of knowledge which all children should learn and does not absorb the overwhelming majority of teaching time in schools”.



  1. In recent years I have had two memorable conversations, with two entirely separate heads, of schools Ofsted rated outstanding. One in the North and one in London. Both these heads told me the same story about how they played the equivalence game to perfection, to secure a good league table place. But more shockingly, both also told me that virtually none of their GCSE pupils sat a single, formal exam. The equivalence loophole meant that they could achieve all those required C grades almost entirely through coursework.

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