Former Tory education secretary Lord Baker attacks government's EBacc target

Richard Vaughan

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A former Conservative education secretary has attacked the government’s target for 90 per cent of pupils to study the English Baccalaureate, branding it a “narrow academic” curriculum unchanged for more than a century.

Lord Baker – education secretary from 1986 to 1989 – has criticised the government’s emphasis on the EBacc, which he said would not help prime minister Theresa May to fulfil her promises in boosting social mobility.

The mastermind behind University Technical Colleges, which offer a vocational curriculum to 14- to 19-year-olds, also lamented the fact that he did not end the national curriculum at the age of 14 when he introduced it as education secretary.

In a new report published today by the Edge Foundation, called 14-19 Education: A New Baccalaureate, Lord Baker condemns the government’s current focus on the EBacc, which he says will not provide young people with the necessary skills in the 21st century workforce.

“This narrow academic curriculum is regressive and will severely limit learning of the technical and creative subjects we desperately need in our new digital age,” Lord Baker writes.

The report continues: "The government wants 90 per cent of children to study this suite of seven academic subjects, almost exactly the same curriculum set in 1904." 

The document adds that students with lower attainment, who are more likely to be disengaged, are entered for just 6.9 GCSEs on average, meaning their entire curriculum will be made up of purely academic subjects.

The Edge report states that the EBacc allows little room for pupils to study subjects such as design and technology, art or music, which it says are the “very subjects that give young people the creative and technical skills that will be most in demand from employers”.

Lord Baker added that he should have been more radical when he introduced the national curriculum in 1988.

“With hindsight, I now wish I had ended the national curriculum at 14,” Lord Baker said. “This narrow-minded view persists that ‘technical’ and ‘vocational’ forms of education are for those who fail to achieve academically; in reality, the countries with the lowest youth unemployment and the most highly skilled workforce are those where technical subjects are studied side-by-side with academic subjects.”

In a statement, the Department for Education said the EBacc is studied as part of a "broad curriculum and provides a strong academic foundation, while allowing students to study additional subjects that reflect their individual strengths and interests".

"We agree that subjects like technology are important and have worked closely with employers to review the curriculum to make sure young people have the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century," a DfE spokesperson said.

“Thanks to our changes, pupils now start learning the basics of coding from the age of five and we have transformed design and technology so children are kept up to speed with the latest innovations, such as 3D printers."


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Richard Vaughan

Richard has been writing about politics, policy and technology in education for nearly five years after joining TES in 2008. He joined TES from the building press having been a reporter and then later news editor at the Architects’ Journal. Before then he studied at Cardiff University’s school of journalism. Richard can be found tweeting at @richardvaughan1

Find me on Twitter @RichardVaughan1

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