English Baccalaureate Consultation Briefing

18 January 2016

The DfE is currently consulting on some new education reforms concerning the English Baccalaureate.

You can download the consultation form here.  It closes on 29 January 2016 at 5:00pm.

What do we need to do?

It is critical that as many people as possible:

  • send personalised consultation responses to the Department of Education
  • send a letter to their Member of Parliament asking them to write to Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education, and Nick Gibb, Minister for Schools, on this issue – copying in John Whittingdale, Secretary of State for Culture, and Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Media and Sport and Digital Industries – on their behalf.
  • Brief their board, staff, audiences, influential friends and patrons on this issue – asking them to respond themselves and to use their influence. Organisations could consider using their websites social media or e-bulletins to spread the word further.
  • Use media opportunities to get this message heard.

The Bacc for the Future campaign has prepared a template letter to MPs and a consultation response that you can use if you really do not have time to draft your own (it’s better if you do in both cases, even if it’s only a few lines).

It is worth noting that the DfE is asking for views on how to implement the reforms, not for views on whether they should be made. However, the Cultural Learning Alliance believes that the reforms:

  • are needlessly bureaucratic and will reduce parent and student choice
  • will have a further, significant detrimental impact on the teaching and learning of the arts in schools
  • are unambitious and will widen the disadvantage gap
  • are not based on robust evidence
  • will materially affect the UK economy, society and our international standing

We believe that the reforms should not be implemented and are calling on the government to scrap these proposals.

The answer is not to add the arts to the EBacc – we don’t want to create more restrictions on schools and teachers in an already desperately crowded accountability system – it’s to rethink the accountability system and simplify it so that the arts are supported, championed and taught by qualified expert teachers in every school.

The briefing paper below gives you a brief outline of each of our core arguments, with links to data sources and further organisations and information. Do use it to build and inform your own response to the consultation

Download this briefing and the summary of arguments against the government’s current proposals.

We would like this to be a live document, so if you have any further information, links, resources or a differing view then please contact Lizzie

A brief history of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc)

The Coalition Government introduced the concept of the English Baccalaureate in 2010. Schools were required to publish the number of students that achieved A-C grades across 5 subject areas at GCSE level: English, Maths, Science, Modern Foreign Languages and Humanities (History and Geography). These are generally known as the 5 Pillars of the English Baccalaureate. The arts are not included.

This new league table was the first indication of the Department of Education’s policy to promote and increase the study of this combination of subjects. They believed it was essential to improving teaching and learning and young people’s life chances.

The initial introduction of the EBacc immediately had a significant impact on what children studied at secondary school – an early poll from Ipsos Mori showed that 27% of schools cut courses as a direct result of its implementation. Historic analysis from the Cultural Learning Alliance in 2013 revealed that this disproportionately affected arts courses – especially for pupils in disadvantaged areas.

Since 2010 the Education System has seen widespread reform. GCSEs and the National Curriculum have been re-designed to focus on knowledge, rather than skills and understanding. Assessment of subjects has moved largely towards final examination and away from coursework. 

In 2016, secondary schools are already being asked to perform against a large number of different measures and the key measure of success is no longer ‘five A-Cs at GCSE’. The Government introduced new measures in 2013: Progress 8 and Attainment 8 (see our briefing on how they work).

Although we broadly welcomed Progress and Attainment 8 when they were unveiled, as they have the potential to support arts learning, we have noted that the EBacc subjects are given special priority and weighting within these measures already (you have to take the EBacc to score highly in both) and schools are also already assessed separately on their students’ EBacc performance (so schools are currently judged three times on the EBacc).

What are the new proposals?

This consultation is on DfE proposals for the English Baccalaureate to become even more central to secondary school education. It is proposed that:

  • 90% of pupils in mainstream secondary schools will enter the EBacc
  • Schools will have to report as further headline measures:
    • number of pupils entering the EBacc
    • EBacc achievement

In addition,

  • The EBacc will take 'a more prominent role' in Ofsted assessment
  • New league-tables will be compiled and published on the average EBacc point score of each school

Our conclusion

This is not a coherent accountability strategy, nor is it an evidenced plan to raise attainment or to close the disadvantage gap. The DfE must rethink this approach completely to ensure that it offers a gold-standard STEAM education to all children, meets its own stated aims for reform, and aligns itself with the vision and strategy of the rest of government.