The English Baccalaureate. Vol.2, Additional written evidence

Document type
Corporate author(s)
Great Britain. Parliament. House of Commons. Education Committee
Date of publication
28 July 2011
House of Commons papers, session 2010/12; HC 851
Education and Skills, Children and Young People
Social welfare
Material type

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The English Baccalaureate or EBac has two principal functions namely to act as a new performance measure for use by parents and the wider public, and as a certificate of achievement for individual students. To achieve the EBac, a student would need GCSEs (at grades A*–C) in English, mathematics, at least two sciences, history or geography, and a modern or classical language. The EBac performance measure records the percentage of each school’s population which achieves the award. The EBac was applied to the 2010 league tables, and revealed that around 5.6% of students that year achieved the EBac. The Government appears to have three main reasons for creating the EBac. The Minister of State for Schools said that the EBac is a “key component” of the Government’s approach to narrowing the attainment gap between the richest and the poorest students. It is also designed to ensure that all students have access to a broad, academic curriculum, and within that to increase uptake of particular subjects. Finally, it contributes to the Government’s clearly-articulated desire for more performance measures and more publicly available information about schools. Much of the evidence the Committee received—in itself an unusually high volume of submissions for a Committee inquiry—focussed on concerns around one or more of these stated objectives. However, there were also concerns about the manner of the EBac’s introduction: without consultation, but with retrospective application to the 2010 performance tables. The Committee recognises 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.It therefore recommends that, in the 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 report welcomes the recently launched review of the National Curriculum and understand the Government’s wish to introduce reform with all speed, but regret the launch of the EBac before the curriculum review was completed. Finally, in our chapter on the EBac’s introduction, it recommends that the Government should assess the extent to which the EBac’s name might cause confusion; it is not a baccalaureate as generally understood. The Committee fully supports the Government’s stated intention to improve the attainment of the poorest young people. However, the evidence is unclear as to whether entering more disadvantaged students for EBac subjects would necessarily make a significant contribution to this aim. Concentrating on the subjects most valued for progression to higher education could mean schools improve the attainment and prospects of their lowest-performing students, who are disproportionately the poorest as well; other evidence, though, suggests that the EBac might lead to a greater focus on those students most likely to achieve it, and therefore have a negative impact on the most vulnerable or disadvantaged young people. It is essential that the Government confirms how it will monitor the attainment of children on free school meals in the EBac. The report also recommends that the Government should provide further international evidence, and analysis of it, to inform debate on the merits of the EBac: the evidence we received does not suggest a link in other countries, between the prescribed study of certain academic subjects and improved attainment and prospects for poorer students.The choice of subjects included in the EBac has been one of the most controversial aspects of its creation. The report acknowledges that certain academic subjects studied at A-level are more valued by Russell Group universities than others. We encourage the Government to examine carefully the evidence presented to us and to reconsider the composition of the EBac on conclusion of the National Curriculum Review. 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.

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