4 Subjects and specialisation |
40. The choice of subjects included in the EBac
has been one of the most controversial aspects of its existence,
featuring in a very large number of submissions to our inquiry.
In considering the evidence, we recognise that, in compiling any
list of 'preferred' subjects, there is likely to be understandable
opposition from teachers of, or those with a special interest
in, other subjects. Concerns ranged from the exclusion of individual
subjects - most notably religious educationthrough to broader
worries about the absence of creative, practical and technical
subjects. Currently, to achieve the EBac students must have a
GCSE, at grades A* to C, in the following subjects:
At least two sciences (having entered all three)
or double award science
History, geography or ancient history (but not classical
A modern or classical language
The list of precisely which qualifications are eligible
is available at Appendix 1.
Rationale for the chosen subjects
41. Three predominant explanations for the final
choice of EBac subjects have been forthcoming from the Government.
The Minister of State for Schools, Nick Gibb MP, told us that
the EBac was a conscious method of improving take-up:
In 2002, something like three quarters of the whole
cohort took a modern foreign language to GCSE. Last year, that
figure was 43%, and if you strip out the independent sector it
is just above a third. That is a concern. Geography has fallen
from 45% of students taking it in 1995 to 26% of students taking
it in 2010. History is down from 39% to 31%. So we are trying
to address some very real concerns...
The Minister also explained that some schools appear
to have dismissed these subjects completely:
These subjects are entitlement subjects... Most of
them are actually compulsory and must be studied to the age of
16. And yet there are 175 secondary schools where no pupils were
entered for all the English Bac subjects; there were 169 schools
where there were no French entries, and there were 137 schools
where no pupils were entered for geography.
42. Secondly, the Minister explained that the
EBac is about delaying specialisation:
It is about delaying specialisation until 16 and
keeping options open as long as possible, so that people are not
closing down opportunities post-16. There has been a tendency,
because of the league tables, for some students to be entered
into qualifications that close down those options. They are being
entered for those qualifications solely because of the league
table position of the school. It is trying to redress that perverse
incentive that is part of the reasoning behind the English Baccalaureate.
The evidence we received demonstrated some support
for this principle, as did Alison Wolf's recent report of vocational
education, which recommended a core academic curriculum pre-16.
What concerned some witnesses, however, was that the EBac would
leave too little time in the curriculum for the pursuit of other
subjects, whether academic or vocational. The Minister told us
that the EBac will occupy 70-80% of curriculum time,
allowing "ample time in the curriculum for other subjects".
However, considering there are other statutory subjects, some
witnesses have argued that, in reality, the EBac dictates the
whole curriculum, as headteacher Andrew Chubb explained:
The academy I lead is a Church of England academy
so RE [religious education] is compulsory for all students...
By the time you add in PE [physical education], which is a requirement,
and PSHE [personal, social and health education], which is essential,
in our academy you are left with about 10% of the time to deliver
anything outside what we would call the core plus EBac.
43. If this scenario is replicated elsewhere,
the consequences of the EBac will not chime particularly comfortably
with the words of Mr Gibb's Ministerial colleague, Lord Hill of
Oareford who said, in response to a question about the award:
I think that everyone would accept that children
are different, that there is no right way for any particular children
and that vocational options as well as academic options should
be fully available. It would be wrong if schools were forcing
children to do things that were not right for them or were forcing
them to change subjects halfway through their course.
Unfortunately, this may be happening already as a
result of the EBac's introduction, particularly in relation to
44. The third rationale for the final choice
of subjects is, as we saw in the previous chapter, that the EBac
subjects are very similar to those considered by the Russell Group
to facilitate entry to its universities, and the EBac could therefore
play a role in enabling more students, including those from poorer
backgrounds, to progress to those universities and the benefits
that accrue from completion of their degrees. Related to that,
we note that Alison Wolf, in her review of vocational education,
said that too many students have been following courses which
have little or no labour market value.
45. Some employers raised particular concerns
about the exclusion of technical subjects from the EBac suite.
David Bell, Chief Corporate Development Officer at JCB, told us
as a recruiter that the EBac will mean "fewer people doing
the subjects that I want them to be doing".
ADS, the trade organisation advancing the UK's aerospace, defence,
security and space industries, told us that the existing EBac
configuration "may have a potentially adverse impact on engineering
and technology qualifications";
the National Committee for 14-19 Engineering Education of the
Royal Academy for Engineering agreed that the EBac "does
nothing to promote practical and technical experience outside
of mathematics and science" and, consequently, "does
not do enough to support productive industry in the UK".
46. Specific concerns were raised by a number
of witnesses around the exclusion of information and communication
technology [ICT] and design technology from the EBac. One teacher
summed up fears of the impact this could have on employers and
ICT skills particularly are an area in which developed
nations should be looking to lead in. When taught well ICT is
an enabling subject which improves the capacity of students and
provides them with the tools required to function in a digital
age. The announcement of the EBac has directly led to a reduction
of almost half in the number of students opting to study ICT [at
my school], which will have a knock on effect in future years
on the number of A-level and then Degree entrants.
47. The Association of Colleges, amongst others,
has called instead for a parallel 'technical baccalaureate', which
it argues would be "more motivating for quite a number of
However, it was suggested to us that while the 'TechBac' would
be "better than nothing", the "deep culture that
we have in this country"as noted, for example, in
the Wolf Reviewwould
mean the "EBac will be for the bright kids, and the TechBac
will be for the less bright kids."
There is, therefore, a concern that a 'TechBac' would perpetuate
the myth, as described by Lord Baker, that "the grammar school
on the hill was always better than the school in the town with
48. As we recommended in our
recent report on participation by 16-19 year olds in education
and training, the Department for Education "should consider
whether a 40%/60% split between time spent on specifically vocational
or technical study and on core academic curriculum would best
suit 14 year olds who take up vocational options while at school."
However, we have not seen any evidence that the problems associated
with the introduction and mission of the EBac could be avoided
if a Technical Baccalaureate were introduced along similar lines,
despite the support this won from some witnesses. For these reasons,
we do not recommend the creation of such a baccalaureate at this
49. The exclusion of religious education [RE]
from the humanities category of the EBac has been perhaps the
most hotly contested aspect of the award's introduction. A vigorous
parliamentary campaign calling for the inclusion of RE attracted
the signatures of over 100 MPs, echoing the views of many on the
front line. The Catholic Education Service summed up many of these
concerns, arguing that religious education "has a strong
claim to be the humanity, par excellence as it demands
knowledge and skills in history, textual criticism, anthropology,
ethics, philosophy and theology" and that "its omission
from any measure which seeks to ensure that pupils receive a genuinely
broad education is indefensible".
50. Two defences have, nonetheless, been offered.
The Minister of State for Schools has said that "the reasoning
behind our decision not to include RE" is that "it is
already compulsory by law";
indeed, as he also noted, "it is the only subject that has
been a compulsory part of the school curriculum since 1944."
Secondly, the Minister has argued that the EBac aims to encourage
increased take-up of those subjects where fewer students were
achieving, or even entering for, GCSEssuch as history,
geography and languageswhich is not the case for religious
[R]eligious studies [RS] rose from 16% in 1995 to
28% in 2010... Our concern was that if you included RS or RE as
a component part of the humanities, some schools - and we thought
it would be the schools that we were most concerned about, and
that were already not offering the full range of history, geography
and modern languages to their pupilswould use RS to tick
the box for humanities.
Furthermore we acknowledge that, in an independent
public poll asking which subjects schools' performance should
be judged on, religious studies garnered support from 22% of those
surveyed, where most EBac subjects scored at least 60%.
51. There is, however, concern that faith schoolsto
which the Government has said it is "committed"are
indirectly discriminated against by the EBac's exclusion of religious
studies. The Church of England Board of Education explained the
dilemma to us:
Church of England schools, many of which maintain
a commitment to full course GCSE RS for all students, are now
faced with an impossible choice. Keeping RE as part of the core
for all students may well be seen as too risky. At the very least
there will be extreme pressure on the timetable if RE is to be
maintained alongside the acceptable English Baccalaureate subjects.
A survey of nearly 800 schools, conducted by the
National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE),
recently found that almost one in three secondary schools plans
cuts to RE teaching.
52. Others have argued that the absence of religious
education in the EBac will encourage schoolsdespite its
standing as a compulsory subjectto treat the subject less
seriously, which could have a detrimental effect on students'
wider education. Headteacher Hugh O'Neill predicted that "for
a non-faith school" religious education will become "an
extremely rare choice, if the EBac stays as it is",
despite beingin the words of another Headteacher"as
rigorous academically at GCSE as history and geography."
Ben Thomas, Headmaster of Thomas's Battersea, added:
Tolerance will surely come only through understanding
of each other's religions, and understanding through education.
The creative arts
53. The Committee received over 340 similarly-worded
letters as part of a campaign to have Music GCSE included in the
EBac, as well
as a large number of other submissions on the creative arts, from
a variety of sources. The Department for Education's decision
not to include music and art in the EBac could be seen as odd
in light of the Government's view that "Involvement with
the arts has a dramatic and lasting effect on young people",
 but perhaps even
more so considering Michael Gove's own words when announcing the
EBac last year:
I'm proposing that the Government look at how many
young people in each secondary school secure five good GCSEs including...
a humanity like history or geography, art or music.
The White Paper published two months later referred
only to "a humanity such as history or geography".
No specific rationale for that change of heart has been forthcoming,
although the Minister acknowledged that it "is a difficult
judgment call whether to include music and art as well".
Darren Henley, who was commissioned by the Government to conduct
a review of music education, recommended that "Music should
be included as one of the subjects that go to make up the new
English Baccalaureate", when the award's "constituent
parts are next reviewed".
A January 2011 YouGov poll, cited previously in this report, asked
the public which subjects ought to count when measuring schools'
performance, and music was omitted from the list; however, other
arts subjects scored low with only 25% of those surveyed supporting
art and design, 13% drama, and 8% dance.
54. The vast amount of evidence calling for the
arts to be recognised in the EBac included, unusually, a submission
from the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Policy Committee for Culture,
Olympics, Media and Sport. It argued that the arts "are valuable
academic subjects in their own right; that they can significantly
improve performance in literacy, numeracy and foreign languages;
and that they are vital to the future of our creative industries"
and opined that the EBac, as it stands, may well "have a
negative impact on the schools arts provision."
55. There is some evidence that this decline
in provision has already begun, as a result of the EBac, as a
small study by the National Association of Music Educators told
As early as January 2011 60% of the 95 music teachers
who responded indicated that their schools had already taken action
that would reduce the uptake of the music GCSE in September 2011.
In some cases, this involved reducing the number of subjects that
pupils could choose to two; in others, it involved putting music
in option blocks against EBac subjects, so that pupils had to
choose between them.
This evidence, like that of the Church of England
Board of Education, seems to contradict the Minister's view that
the EBac allows "plenty of time in the curriculum20%
or 30%, or more time" to study "a vocational subject,
music and art, RE and so on."
56. Other evidence has argued that music, for
example, is as rigorous an academic subject as history and geography.
The Incorporated Society of Musicians, citing research from the
Institute of Education, told us that:
Music education has been shown repeatedly to have
a positive impact on pupils' perceptual and language skills, literacy,
numeracy, intellectual development, attainment, social and personal
development, physical skills and health. One can assume that with
a decline in the availability of music in schools, a similar decline
will be noticed in these core areas.
57. One head of a school with music specialism,
said he was "furious" that the EBac offered no praise
for the "often exceptional achievement of our students in
the Arts", asking, "Why does discussing Tudor politics
give 'credit' for the EBac while discussing the impact of the
Spanish Civil War on artistic movements in Europe does not?"
Similar concerns were expressed around art and drama. Art and
design educators at Birmingham City University wrote to us that:
If the English Baccalaureate as it is proposed is
imposed on schools, lasting damage will occur to the cultural
education of thousands [of] pupils... In a complex and culturally
diverse society it is essential that cultural understanding and
global perspectives are fostered through education. The arts subjects
are uniquely placed to make crucial inputs to this understanding.
Meanwhile, Theatre for Young Audiences emphasised
that drama and theatre can "teach children the essential
skills that employers are increasingly seeking", as well
as improving students' technical and intellectual rigour alongside
58. Evidence also intimated that the exclusion
of a creative component within the EBac could have a detrimental
effect on the creative industries and on employers.
Other issues of subject choice
59. In addition to the concerns highlighted about
religious education, the arts, and technical subjects, a number
of other concerns around the EBac subjects and qualifications
were raised during the course of our inquiry. It is impossible
for us to address each one here; instead, we have drawn attention
to those where the body of evidence was most substantial and where
potentially serious repercussions could be forthcoming for schools,
employers and pupils if the Government does not consider the issues
60. The first of these was around the composition
of language qualifications. Most linguists who provided evidence
warmly welcomed the EBac's inclusion of modern languages. However,
concerns were expressed over the nature of the qualifications
themselves. Headteacher Richard Curtis suggested to us that "as
currently taught to GCSE, languages are decidedly 'non-academic'being
almost entirely focused on gaining functional skills",
which is potentially at odds with the Government's desire for
the EBac to be an academic wrapper. The Association for Language
Learning suggested that "if more pupils from all backgrounds
and across ability ranges are to be engaged by languages and do
well in them, GCSE languages examinations will need to be reviewed
to ensure that there is appropriate and stimulating content."
By contrast, Chris Morecroft (President of the Association of
Colleges) suggested that, for many employers, applied, less academic
language courses were more useful: "It could be business
language for travel and tourism. It would not necessarily have
to be rigorous GCSE French or German or Mandarin."
Similarly, the inherent skills associated with modern, as opposed
to classical, languages, are seen by some employers as very different.
David Bell, Chief Corporate Development Officer at JCB, said that
"if I were employing somebody who had those [BRIC country
modern] languages, that would be a big tick in the box for me"
but that if "they had Latin and Greek it would probably be
a big negative tick".
61. The languages category also raised another
potential consequence of the EBac. While Latin GCSE is included
in the list of 'eligible' subjects, the WJEC Level 2 Certificate
in Latin is not. The Certificate, which WJEC told us was accredited
under the same processes as iGCSEs, has had a positive effect
on the uptake of the subject:
Even in the short time of their availability those
schools using the Certificates in Latin have reported a significant
rise (a doubling or tripling) in the number of students studying
Latin at KS4 and intending to study Latin at KS5. For the first
full entry this summer there will be over 5,000 unit entries from
over 150 centres. Inclusion of the Certificates in Latin would
promote this growth, whereas exclusion will cause a reduction
in the number of students studying Latin in England.
62. From this evidence, it could be understood
that the EBac, far from increasing the uptake of Latin, could
have the opposite effect. This view was expressed in many submissions,
including that of classics teacher Rowan Stephenson:
The WJEC Level 2 Latin certificate needs to be included
in the EBac languages list because there are many state schools
like mine where there is not enough time available either in or
outside the curriculum to cover the ground needed for the current
OCR Latin GCSE... If the certificate is excluded from the EBac
it will discourage state schools from introducing Latin and give
the impression that the language study involved is of less value
than [other languages].
The concerns were summed up the University of Cambridge
School Classics Project:
Latin teaching in UK schools, which has seen significant
growth over the last decade, will enter another period of decline
if the WJEC Level 2 Certificates in Latin are not rapidly included
in the Language component of the EBac... The negative impact on
Classical subjects of the EBac in its current form will be felt
in both the state and independent sectors, but more severely in
the state sector.
63. Concerns about the EBac's potential impact
on science have been expressed to us as well. Currently, to receive
the award, students would need to pass two single sciences at
grade A*-C, but to have been entered for all three, or to pass
double award science with an A*-C. The CBI's Susan Anderson felt
that, if the EBac drove more schools to offer three separate sciences,
businesspeople would consider that "a good thing",
but that, at present, too many state schools "only offer
double science, which is not a good preparation for A-level."
SCOREa partnership focussed on science educationsuggested
the EBac would do little to reverse this trend:
The introduction of the English Baccalaureate as
it stands may well reduce the number of pupils taking GCSEs in
three separate sciences. Timetabling pressures caused by accommodating
the English Baccalaureate subjects may restrict the amount of
teaching time available such that some schools are not able to
offer the separate sciences alongside Science and Additional Science...
The science measure for the English Baccalaureate (for those students
taking three separate sciences) will be the top two grades from
the three separate sciences. There is a concern that schools might
concentrate pupils efforts on the two sciences either for which
they have specialist teachers or based on their results in early
64. Furthermore, this method of crediting science
achievement could lead to potentially perverse consequences for
individual students. For example, a student with a C grade in
Double Science would be able to achieve the EBac, where a student
with A*s in two sciences, and a host of other good GCSEs, would
not unless they had entered the third science as well. This could
become an active disincentive to study three separate sciences
if, as one headteacher told us, schools start to think that "Double
Science is 'enough'".
65. That negative impact on pupils could extend
to other subjects, as highlighted in Hugh O'Neill's comments concerning
history and geography:
My students will have no chance to get the English
Baccalaureate this year. We got zero in 2010 because the subjects
that we doshort course history and geographywere
not recognised, and neither was the GCSE in religious studies...
The first students at St Benedict's school who will actually achieve
an English Baccalaureate will pass it in 2013. There are three
years of collateral damage.
66. A further concern raised in the humanities
'bracket' of the EBac was the inclusion of GCSE Ancient History
but not Classical Civilisation. One head of Classicsrepresenting
many more witnesses who raised the issueargued the benefits
of the qualification to us:
The course is rigorous and demanding, but the variety
of units available (a mix of historical and literary topics) gives
pupils a wide taste of the Classical world... I have looked at
the specification for Ancient History and I am convinced it would
lead to fewer students at KS4. Although I love ancient
History, the course is so much narrower than the Classical Civilisation
The University of Cambridge School Classics Project
anticipates that this will have a very real impact on the take-up
of the course, predicting a "32% drop in the number of students
studying Classical Civilisation by 2014."
67. Evidence received for our inquiryas
seen throughout this chaptersuggests that schools are already
realigning their curricula in order to increase uptake of EBac
subjects, which could have a significant effect on teacher supply.
The Department for Education has recognised this:
The biggest impact for schools will be on the change
of the curriculum and the impact on staffing in terms of deployment
and training. We recognise that this will not necessarily be a
simple task and may take time for some schools to achieve, particularly
if they need to recruit teachers in areas where shortages already
exist, such as physics, or areas where we would expect there to
be high demand, such as language teachers...
The Department went on to state that it is "currently
working with the Training and Development Agency for Schools to
increase the number of newly trained teachers coming into key
EBacc areas where there is likely to be high demand."
68. We acknowledge that certain
academic subjects studied at A-level are more valued by Russell
Group universities than others. The EBac is founded on that university-based
curriculum. However, our inquiry has uncovered significant issues
with the EBac's current composition, and there are certain subjects
and qualifications where we are not clear on the rationale behind
their exclusion. A focus on a fairly narrow range of subjects,
demanding considerable curriculum time, is likely to have negative
consequences on the uptake of other subjects. We encourage the
Government to examine carefully the evidence presented to us,
and suggest that it reconsiders the composition of the EBac on
conclusion of the National Curriculum Review. More importantly,
future performance measures must be well thought through.
69. We are glad that the Department
for Education has recognised the potential impact of the EBac
on teacher supply, and is working on solutions to any adverse
effect this might have. However, academic subjects are not the
only path to a successful future, and all young people, regardless
of background, must continue to have opportunities to study the
subjects in which they are likely to be most successful, and which
pupils, parents and schools think will serve them best.
73 Q 96 Back
Q 93 Back
Q 125 Back
See Review of Vocational Education - the Wolf Report (March
2011), p. 109 Back
See Q 119: the Minister explains that schools will have "20%
or 30%, or more time" to teach everything not included in
the EBac. Back
HC Deb 7 February 2011 col 7 Back
As the Minister has pointed out, religious education is a statutory
subject. See paragraph 50 below. Back
Q 6 Back
HL Deb 5 May 2011 col 568 Back
See Review of Vocational Education - The Wolf Report (March
2011), p. 21 and elsewhere Back
Q 58 Back
Ev w194 Back
Ev w135 Back
Ev w245 (Mr J. Partridge) Back
Q 60 (Chris Morecroft) Back
In his introduction to Professor Wolf's 2011 review of vocational
education, the Secretary of State for Education wrote that England
has always "struggled with our failure to provide young people
with a proper technical and practical education". Back
Q 62 (David Bell) Back
Lord Baker, 'Wolf's backing of vocational training is great, but
she ducks the question of how much it will cost', The Times
Educational Supplement, 25th March 2011 Back
Participation by 16-19 year olds in education and training,
Fourth Report from the Education Committee, Session 2010-12, HC
850-I, paragraph 34 Back
Ev w242 Back
HC Deb 17 May 2011 col 50WH Back
Ibid., col 48WH Back
Q 109 Back
The complete results of this January 2011 poll can be found at
HC Deb 17 May 201 col 48WH Back
Ev w198 Back
See 'RE teaching time slashed in English Bac scramble', in The
Times Educational Supplement, 4 February 2011 Back
Q 22 Back
Q 24 (Caroline Jordan) Back
Ev w343 (Jane Ellison MP) Back
Orchestrated by the Incorporated Society of Musicians, which provided
a template letter. Back
Website of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport: http://www.culture.gov.uk/what_we_do/arts/7205.aspx
Speech by the Secretary of State for Education, at Westminster
Academy, 6 September 2010, available at http://www.education.gov.uk/inthenews/speeches/a0064281/michael-gove-to-westminster-academy
The Importance of Teaching - The Schools White Paper 2010,
p. 44 Back
Q 117 Back
Music Education in England: A Review by Darren Henley for the
Department for Education and the Department for Culture, Media
and Sport (February 2011), paragraph 3.6, available at https://www.education.gov.uk/publications/eOrderingDownload/Music%20Education%20in%20England%20-%20Review.pdf
The complete results of this January 2011 poll can be found at
Ev w210 Back
Ev w122 Back
Q 119 Back
Ev w110-111 (submitted in conjunction with Conservatoires UK) Back
Ev w11 (Richard Curtis, Headteacher, St Bede's School) Back
Ev w264 Back
Ev w252 Back
See, for example, Ev w201 (Creative and Cultural Skills- sector
skills council), Ev w217 (National Association for Gallery Education,
also known as Engage) and Ev w218 (Crafts Council) Back
Ev w10 Back
Ev w209 Back
Q 65 Back
Q 65 Back
Ev w236 Back
Ev w47 Back
Ev w228 Back
Q 58 Back
Ev w343 Back
Ev w253 (Catherine Darnton) Back
Ev w30 (Mrs Barbara Roden) Back
Ev w228 Back
Ev 39 Back