The English Baccalaureate - Education Committee Contents

2  Introduction of the EBac

Rationale for the EBac

11.  Three main purposes have been given by the Government as rationale for the EBac's creation: to have a positive impact on social mobility and the closing of the achievement gap between richer and poorer students, to act as a new performance measure, and to ensure a core, academic curriculum offer for all students. We will discuss these purposes, and others, in subsequent chapters. The Department published an Addendum to its Statement of Intent concerning the EBac,[17] and announced the EBac in the Schools White Paper;[18] however, some of its reasoning is to be found in Ministerial speeches and other announcements, and we acknowledge that this has contributed to a certain degree of confusion among schools and the wider public as to the purpose of the EBac.

12.  Whilst the EBac is not a complete curriculum, nor even a compulsory subset of subjects, the concept of the EBac does make explicit for the first time in England the proposition that, even going beyond English and Maths, and within subjects that can be broadly described as 'academic', some subjects have a higher average worth than others. Can this be justified?

13.  The Committee was presented with very little evidence on any differential 'value' (in either a narrow economic sense or a broader sense) of various subjects to the individual student. But, looking at what external evidence is available, it does appear that some subjects do have a higher perceived value than others, and that those subjects approximately equate to the set of subjects included in the EBac. That external evidence includes:

  • the Russell Group's 2011 publication Informed Choices, which lists those A-level subjects viewed as 'facilitating' entry to Russell Group universities, and which is discussed in further depth in Chapter 3;[19]
  • a similar list of 'non-preferred subjects' published by the London School of Economics; that list features exclusively subjects not included in the EBac;[20]
  • the Department for Education's July 2011 report on the Youth Cohort Study, which shows that 19% of young people who had achieved good passes in all of the exams of the EBac were not in Higher Education, versus 32% of the larger group who had got five or more GCSEs (or equivalents) at grade C or above (including English and mathematics);[21]
    • and
  • public perceptions of various subjects' worth; as demonstrated through the YouGov poll quoted in the previous chapter, the subjects included in the EBac were seen by those polled as more important to count towards schools' league table positions.

14.  We were pleased to hear the Minister of State for Schools say that the EBac is "not an accountability measure",[22] although it is clearly being viewed as such by many; at the same time he said that is was a "measure to give information to parents"[23] but without a target figure being set for the number of students achieving the award.[24]

Creation and consultation

15.  Many submissions were concerned about the lack of consultation undertaken in relation to the EBac's introduction. The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) told us that it had "rarely received such a high level of communication from members expressing concern and dismay about a government initiative", and that those members, while expressing different views on the detail of the EBac, were "united in expressing their anger about its hasty introduction without any consultation".[25] Other bodies have agreed with the ASCL's view; the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, for example, emphasised that "consultation with the education profession ... would have ensured a more accurate understanding of the existing educational offer, including in relation to raising standards and educational attainment".[26]

16.  Asked in a Parliamentary Question what consultation had been undertaken "prior to introducing the English Baccalaureate into performance tables",[27] the Minister of State for Schools suggested that the measure itself was introduced without consultation, but that schools were invited "to submit their comments by the end of the year".[28] However, this invitation appears to have been solely the letter from the Secretary of State to headteachers, on 24 November 2010, which gave just over two weeks for recipients to offer their "initial thoughts and reactions" on the White Paper, and which made no specific reference to the EBac.[29] On the other hand, the Minister of State explained to the Committee that it was made "very clear before the election that we were concerned about perverse incentives in the league tables" and that, if the accountability measure of five or more GCSEs were to be changed "there would be much more consultation."[30]

17.  The Secretary of State has explained that the EBac's manner of introduction means that the first year's results "manifestly can't have been gamed".[31] However, a top-down, non-consultative methodology could nonetheless be seen as at odds with the Secretary's of State's clearly-articulated belief that "headteachers and teachers—not politicians and bureaucrats—know best how to run schools."[32]

18.  We acknowledge the Secretary of State's rationale for the retrospective introduction of the EBac. However, we also recognise the tension between the lack of consultation concerning the EBac's introduction, and the Government's aspiration to afford greater autonomy and respect to the education profession. Consultation with teachers, as well as the further and higher education sectors and employers, might have avoided a number of the concerns which are now being raised, and may have secured support for the EBac rather than generating the mainly negative response which our inquiry has seen. In future, the Government should aim to give appropriate notice of, and undertake consultation with key stakeholders and the wider public on, any new performance or curriculum measures.

The timing of the EBac's introduction

19.  A full review of the National Curriculum was trailed in the White Paper[33] and announced on 20 January 2011;[34] the Wolf Review, which made significant recommendations concerning curriculum and qualifications, was published in March 2011; and the process of reforming the education accountability system, including changes to Ofsted's inspection regime, was underway by the time the EBac was introduced. Evidence submitted to our inquiry expressed some concerns about how well the EBac was aligned with these other reforms; for example, the CBI's Susan Anderson argued that the "debate needs to take place as part of the curriculum review",[35] while the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said:

We believe that any considerations of the choice of subjects included in the EBac in fact prejudices the outcomes of the curriculum review and precludes the latter from being an independent and open-minded re-evaluation. We are very disappointed with what is either a deliberate obfuscation or a lack of co-ordination within the Department for Education.[36]

20.  We welcome the recently-launched review of the National Curriculum. We hope this will lead to a considered, coherent rethinking of the curriculum allowing full consultation with, and input from the teaching profession, parents, employers, colleges and universities. We understand the Government's wish to introduce reform with all speed, but regret the launch of the EBac before the curriculum review was completed. Any measure which examines schools' performance in particular subjects would be better introduced once the curriculum itself has been defined and finalised.

The EBac's name

21.  Evidence submitted to this inquiry has raised some concerns about the naming of the EBac, which is potentially misleading. Universities UK wrote to us that:

It is not a true Baccalaureate but a collection of existing subjects and as such could give rise to misconceptions both in the UK and abroad. In the UK we have Welsh, Scottish, European and International Baccalaureates being taught at Level 3 which are qualifications and, as such, form part of the higher education admissions requirements. The English Baccalaureate, however, is at Level 2 and is only an award and generally not a requirement by universities.[37]

This, some universities feel, "could be confusing for potential applicants".[38] The Association of School and College Leaders, in its written evidence, argues that the EBac "is not a baccalaureate as understood internationally", not least because a true baccalaureate usually assesses "achievement in both knowledge and skills" in practical as well as academic fields. [39] Furthermore, the word 'baccalaureate' in modern usage implies a qualification in itself, which the EBac—a combination of a performance measure and a certificate—does not seem to us to be.[40] As Philip Parkin, General Secretary of the union Voice, has written

[The EBac's] name suggests that it is an actual programme of study like the challenging International Baccalaureate. Instead, if you've got some GCSEs, you will get another piece of paper to wrap the certificates in— no extra work involved.[41]

22.  We do not believe the EBac— the hybrid of a certificate and a performance measure, named after a qualification—is appropriately labelled: it is not a baccalaureate, and as it stands the name can therefore be misleading to parents, professionals and pupils. The Government should assess the extent to which the name might cause confusion: a concern, like some others, which consultation before the EBac's introduction could have identified.

17   See Appendix 1  Back

18   See The Importance of Teaching - The Schools White Paper 2010, pp. 44-45 Back

19   Informed Choices can be read online at Back

20   The LSE's list, and fuller admissions guidance, can be viewed at Back

21   The study, published on 7 July 2011, is available at; the statistics quoted are on page 16 Back

22   Q 85 Back

23   Q 86 Back

24   Q 88 Back

25   Ev w195 Back

26   Ev w213 Back

27   HC Deb 4 April 2011 col 703W Back

28   Ibid. Back

29   The letter can be seen on the Department for Education website, at  Back

30   Q 98 Back

31   Speech by the Secretary of State for Education to the Education World Forum, 11 January 2011, available at Back

32   Ibid. Back

33   See The Importance of Teaching - The Schools White Paper 2010, p. 41 Back

34   See Back

35   Q 79 Back

36   Ev w215 Back

37   Ev 41  Back

38   Ibid. Back

39   Ev w196; see also Ev w310 (1994 Group) Back

40   The word 'baccalaureate' has its roots in the Latin word baccalaureus, meaning an advanced student. Nowadays, the word is most familiar to educators in the 'International Baccalaureate' concept. The IB is "(a qualification awarded for satisfactory performance in) a set of examinations intended to qualify successful candidates for higher education in any of several countries." (The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 1993 edition) On that definition, the EBac is batting zero for two: it is not a qualification in its own right, and - being at age 16 rather than 18 - does not automatically make successful candidates eligible for higher education without further study. Back

41   Writing in a letter to The Times Educational Supplement, 28 January 2011 Back

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Prepared 28 July 2011