Call to scrap ‘worthless’ EBacc over drop in arts GCSEs

Ex-DfE adviser says government wants to promote creative industries but EBacc ‘works in precisely the opposite direction’

Martin George

The report from Tom Richmond has called for the EBacc to be scrapped.

The “worthless” EBacc should be scrapped after helping to drive a big fall in the number of pupils taking GCSEs in arts subjects, a former Michael Gove adviser has said.

A report from the education think tank EDSK, published today, examines trends in exam entries and results since the performance measure was introduced in 2010.

Written by EDSK director and former Department for Education adviser Tom Richmond, it finds that subjects included in the EBacc have seen “substantial increases” in GCSE entries since 2010, with the exception of French and German.

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However, art and design, dance, drama, media studies, music and design and technology, which are not in the combination of subjects, “have all seen a decline in entries and are now falling year-on-year”.

The report says the EBacc as well as Progress 8, “will have contributed to this decline in terms of encouraging schools to prioritise EBacc subjects over other options”, but acknowledges that financial pressures may also have had a role.

It notes that the creative industries feature prominently in the government’s industrial strategy, and adds: “It seems strange that for the last nine years the government has pursued a method of holding schools to account that works in precisely the opposite direction.”

The government wants 75 per cent of Year 10 pupils in state schools to study the EBacc combination of GCSEs by 2022, rising to 90 per cent by 2025.

Mr Richmond said: “The worrying trends across almost every non-EBacc subject regarding GCSE entries and teacher numbers can no longer be ignored.

“Removing the EBacc will not necessarily lead to an immediate upsurge in the number of pupils taking GCSEs in creative arts subjects, but the advent of new ways to measure secondary schools such as Progress 8 has provided the government with a perfectly sufficient tool for promoting their view of the subjects that schools should be prioritising – rendering the EBacc worthless.

“As teachers and school leaders are already facing significant workload issues, the EBacc should be scrapped to allow them to concentrate on improving the quality of teaching and learning instead of chasing meaningless and unattainable targets.”

The report also recommends that the DfE should consider reforming Progress 8 to increase the take-up of arts subjects.

Commenting on the report, Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: "The EBacc simply isn’t necessary. Enforcing a strait jacket of choices does not help students achieve their potential – one size does not fit all.

"Education professionals are best placed to help students consider what courses are best for them and we should seek to create a system which is flexible enough to enable that."

A DfE spokesperson said: “The EBacc encourages young people to take core academic subjects which are essential for keeping their options open for further study and future careers. Since its introduction in 2010, we have seen a rise in the proportion of young people entering the EBacc and achieving grade 4/C or above in these subjects.

“We are clear that the EBacc should be studied alongside additional subjects, like the arts, that reflect pupils’ individual interests and the proportion of young people taking at least one arts GCSE has remained broadly stable since 2010.

“Music, art and design are compulsory in the national curriculum up to the age of 14, and we are investing nearly half a billion pounds into a range of music and cultural programmes between 2016 – 2020.”

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Martin George

Martin George

Martin George is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @geomr

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