Even schools that have most enthusiastically embraced the government’s English Baccalaureate (EBacc) measure do not support the government’s view that it should be taken by for the vast majority of pupils, according to a new Sutton Trust report.
The social mobility charity is calling on ministers to reconsider a policy that would require at least 90 per cent of pupils to take the EBacc, in which pupils must study five traditional academic subjects at GCSE.
The report, Changing the Subject, is based on a study of 300 schools, known as “curriculum change schools”, which transformed their curriculum for Key Stage 4 pupils between 2010 and 2013 in order to increase the number of pupils studying these subjects.
Those schools increased the proportion of pupils entering the EBacc from 8 per cent to 48 per cent in that period, and “largely benefitted” from this, the report found.
Despite this they did not believe schools should have to enter 90 per cent of their pupils for the EBacc group of subjects – English, maths, science, history or geography and a language – at GCSE, as announced by Nicky Morgan, then education secretary, in November.
“Our survey of headteachers confirms that delivering the EBacc to 90 per cent of students is beyond the reach of many schools given specialist teacher shortages,” the report said. “Moreover, these headteachers believe that it is not appropriate for many students.”
It said few of the 300 enthusiastic EBacc adopters had reached the 90 per cent target and most of the headteachers of these schools “expressed significant reservations about achieving such high entry rates”. Most said they would not be aiming for 90 per cent of their pupils to take EBacc subjects.
"To implement the EBacc for all or even a significant majority shows a lack of understanding of the needs and aspirations of young people,” one of the headteachers said. “One size does not fit all and we need to ensure the curriculum is as broad as possible to cater for the needs of many diverse children."
The government ran a consultation on plans for 90 per cent of pupils to take EBacc subjects, but it closed in January and a government response has yet to be published.
“There is little point in having a government target that schools are incapable of meeting due to severe shortages of teachers in EBacc subjects," the Sutton Trust report says.
“Where there are teacher shortages, they are more likely to fall on schools serving disadvantaged communities, thus exacerbating inequalities. The government has a duty to resolve these shortages before imposing mandates on schools.”
It also urged the government to do more to create a technical baccalaureate option.
The report also found that the 300 early adopter schools were able to change their curriculum at an “amazing” speed and that pupil premium students benefited the most from the changes because their take-up of the Ebacc subjects rose the most.
But it warned that many disadvantaged pupils were still missing out on EBacc subjects, with 15,000 disadvantaged pupils that should be expected to take either history or geography but did not.
Dr Becky Allen, director of Education Datalab and the report’s lead author, said: “In schools that have led the way in re-orientating their curriculum towards EBacc subjects, students seem to have benefitted.
“They are now more likely to achieve a good GCSE in maths and English and less likely to drop out at age 16, refuting claims that the more academic curriculum would distract focus from these core subjects. The challenge now is to consider what sort of key stage 4 curriculum is appropriate for students who are not entering the EBacc.”