The government has officially abandoned plans to require nine in 10 pupils to sit GCSEs in the core academic subjects that make up the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) by 2020, the education secretary has confirmed.
Justine Greening has said that the government will only expect 75 per cent of pupils to be studying EBacc subjects – English, mathematics, history or geography, the sciences and a language – by 2022.
Under plans set out in the EBacc consultation that closed 18 months ago, 90 per cent of pupils would sit GCSEs in EBacc subjects in 2020.
The Conservative manifesto watered down this target, stating that 90 per cent of pupils would be "studying this combination of academic GCSEs by 2025".
The change came after Tes revealed exclusively in March that the government was looking to change the original target partly because of a dearth of specialist subject teachers.
The consultation response published by the government today clarifies this further. It says: "It is our ambition that 75 per cent of year 10 pupils in state-funded mainstream schools should be starting to study EBacc GCSE courses nationally by 2022 (taking their exams in 2024), rising to 90 per cent by 2025 (taking their exams in 2027)."
In the forward to the consultation response, Ms Greening said: "I know it will take time for our nation’s schools to enter 90 per cent of pupils for the EBacc subjects and I do not underestimate the challenge involved in meeting this ambition from our current position.
"While some schools are already responding to this challenge by significantly increasing their EBacc entry, I appreciate that some will be starting from a much lower point and recognise that the changes they will need to make and challenges they need to overcome will be more significant."
She added: "I also recognise the time needed to meet these challenges and build the right capacity across the whole school system, particularly to ensure that schools have high-quality staff in the right subjects.
"I have considered the way in which some schools have increased entries in the past five years, how best to support schools over the coming years and that pupils taking GCSEs in 2019 will already have chosen the subjects they will study.
"It is therefore my ambition, as set out in the 2017 Conservative manifesto, that 75 per cent of Year 10 pupils in state-funded mainstream schools will start to study GCSEs in the EBacc combination of subjects by September 2022 as an important stepping stone to reaching 90 per cent of Year 10 pupils studying GCSEs in the EBacc subjects by 2025."
The move follows concerns from headteachers about the target, partly due to a shortage of language teachers.
In 2015, ministers already watered down the Conservatives' original pledge to make the EBacc compulsory for all.