Blog: The English Baccalaureate 2.0: more perverse, still un-evidenced - RSA

Blog: The English Baccalaureate 2.0: more perverse, still un-evidenced

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  • Picture of Deborah Annetts
    Deborah Annetts
    Chief Executive, Incorporated Society of Musicians
  • Creativity
  • Curriculum
  • Schools

This is a guest blog from Deborah Annetts, FRSA. Deborah is the Chief Executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians and coordinator of the Bacc for the Future campaign.

We have been here before. The Department for Education’s curious consultation (a sham according to some) on the English Baccalaureate closes in one week, not asking whether or not we agree with their agenda, but asking how they should implement a deeply damaging proposal…

The new EBacc is far more pernicious than the league table original proposal back in The Importance of Teaching in November 2010.

Becoming a headline accountability measure, the intention is for an arbitrary 90% of pupils to be entered for the EBacc. For a pupil’s entries to count towards this measure they will have to study a minimum of seven GCSEs: English literature and English language, maths, double or triple science, and at least one language and one or history or geography.

The Edge Foundation’s excellent consultation response points out that the average number of GCSEs entered is 8.1.

For those with low prior attainment, and for those from less affluent backgrounds the number is even lower.

For many secondary schools, parental, pupil and teacher choice will be abolished.

The risk, of course, is that the already wide gap between uptake of many of the arts subjects (school type, prior attainment and disadvantage are all significant factors in access to the music at GCSE for example) will become the preserve of those who can afford it.

Cultural confusion?

All this sits at complete odds with a culture minister who has just become the longest serving culture minister ever, Ed Vaizey, and a Chancellor who rightly stated in his spending review that ‘Britain’s not just brilliant at science. It’s brilliant at culture too … One of the best investments we can make as a nation is in our extraordinary arts, museums, heritage, media and sport.’

The reasons given in the Department for Education’s consultation are similarly confused:

  • The footnotes cite the Science Council highlighting the importance of scientific skills. Not a problem as science has been compulsory for some time. The EBacc will not fix this.
  • Another footnote highlights worrying trends in numeracy but the % of pupils achieving a good pass in English and mathematics is already a headline measure.
  • The Wolf Review is cited as a commitment to weeding out less rigorous qualifications, but if this has happened, then why do we now need this perverse EBacc measure?
  • Business concerns from the CBI are cited around the need for language acquisition, and this is only right; but what of the same CBI concerns around the lack of creative options in the EBacc? 

The ultimate rationale behind the EBacc’s list of subjects, that has been disproved time and time again and even that rationale applies to A-level and not GCSE.

The simple fact is that the evidence behind the choice of subjects in the EBacc does not stand up to scrutiny and to undertake such a huge policy shift without evidence could utterly undermine our world beating creative industries.

So what are we going to do next?

We need the Departments of Culture and Business, and the Treasury to pull the Department for Education out of this anti-choice agenda and push the curriculum at Key Stage 4 back to the ‘more meaningful accountability measure’ proposed by Michael Gove in 2013.

Progress 8 allows rigorous, Wolf-proof creative subjects to count, it rewards progress, it enables parental choice and stops ministers from choosing what pupils should and shouldn’t study.

We shall have to wait and see what the consultation response brings. Beyond this, our options are to reject the EBacc altogether as professionals leading our own profession, to look to the National Baccalaureate, and to seek to challenge the EBacc from the ground up.

The campaign against these proposals, the brilliantly titled Bacc for the Future, now has the support of some 23,000 individuals and 160 creative industry and education organisations and is still growing rapidly.

We are urging people to write to their MPs and respond to the consultation as a matter of urgency.

To join the campaign, simply visit


Fact box: Has the original EBacc had a negative impact on creative subjects at GCSE?

Impact on staffing: The Government’s annual workforce surveys suggest that between November 2011 and November 2014 the number of teachers in the England workforce went from 178,884 to 176,343 a drop of just 1.4%. In the same time the number of teachers for creative subjects dropped by an average of 13%, almost ten times as much.

Impact on GCSE numbers: When the EBacc was originally proposed, the number of GCSEs taken in creative industry and arts subjects declined. A small upturn only happened following the introduction of the Progress 8 and Best 8 measures which allowed creative subjects to county towards league tables. See the Cultural Learning Alliance figures.

Whilst not all of this is the result of the EBacc, there is no doubt from various surveys of the teaching workforce, including the DfE’s own commissioned research, the EBacc has exacerbated the decline of arts within our schools.


Deborah Annetts is the Chief Executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians and coordinator of the Bacc for the Future campaign.

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  • Wise words. I'm wondering about the National Association of Head Teachers in this, and what can be done by harnessing the senior leadership community in education?

    • Absolutely - we need strong head teachers to challenge where this policy is going. Both the NAHT and ASCL have been consistent in their frustrations and objections so far: For many of their members, it is galling to prepare your staff for the introduction of a better 'more meaningful' to use Michael Gove's words accountability system (Progress 8) only to have it superseded by a renewed EBacc. I think the NAHT are keen on the National Baccalaureate idea.

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