The Department for Education has deleted a suggestion that the country’s top universities endorse taking EBacc subjects as a successful route to getting on to a degree.
A page on the department’s website promoting the EBacc (English Baccalaureate) has been changed today to remove reference to support from Russell Group universities.
It had previously said that the Russell Group says taking EBacc subjects at A-level “opens more doors to more degrees.”
Inspection: Ofsted softens stance on schools' EBacc progress
However, the DfE has now removed this statement after the group of top research-led universities scrapped its list of facilitating subjects – A levels that might help students secure a place at a top university.
The DfE has replaced the reference to Russell Group support with a general statement, which says: “The EBacc is made up of the subjects which are considered essential to many degrees and open up lots of doors.”
The change comes amid major criticism of the EBacc from a group of education heavyweights.
Lord Baker, who introduced GCSEs in 1986, is one of three former education secretaries – along with Lord Blunkett and Baroness Morris of Yardley – who have written to current education secretary Gavin Williamson calling for the EBacc to be scrapped.
EBacc 'a damaging experiment'
The letter has also been signed by former Ofsted chiefs Sir Michael Wilshaw and Sir Mike Tomlinson, as well as former Labour schools minister Lord Adonis and the current chair of the Commons Education Select Committee, Conservative MP Robert Halfon.
To be counted towards a school's EBacc score, a pupil must have studied English language and literature, maths, at least two sciences, geography or history, and a language at GCSE.
However, the letter calling for the EBacc to be abolished blamed the GCSE league table measure for "squeezing out" technical, cultural and creative subjects from schools.
It describes the EBacc as a "costly and damaging experiment" that has "failed and is virtually indefensible".
A DfE spokesperson said: "The EBacc is at the core of our mission to drive up social mobility by encouraging all young people to take the core academic subjects, giving them a broad range of options.
“The Ebacc has also been instrumental in halting the decline in uptake of modern foreign languages at GCSE, which will make sure young people are able to communicate in an increasingly global marketplace.
“The Russell Group still maintains that these A level subjects are essential for many degrees and can keep lots of doors open for pupils.”
In May this year the the Russell Group dropped its list of “facilitating subjects”.
This list, which included maths, English, history, geography and the sciences, was intended to help pupils choose A levels considered essential by many of the country’s most selective universities.
But the Russell Group said it would no longer be publishing this list. Instead, its new website suggests A-level subjects relevant to specific degrees.
Explaining the change, it said: “We have sometimes heard other people suggest that facilitating subjects are the only subjects pupils should consider to get into a Russell Group university, or that you must take them for any degree. This has never been the case.”
The EBacc was introduced by former education secretary Michael Gove in 2010 as a way of promoting core academic subjects.
Tes reported earlier this year that the government was well short of its targets for the uptake of EBacc subjects.
The DfE has set the target of three-quarters of pupils being entered into the subjects needed to achieve the EBacc by 2022.
However, figures from its own survey earlier this year showed that schools expected less than half of pupils to be entered into all EBacc subjects by 2020.
And the majority of schools questioned said they expected this figure to remain roughly the same by 2021.
The DfE's most recent figures state that currently 38 per cent of pupils are taking the EBacc.