Nick Gibb writes: ‘The opportunity to study the EBacc must be open to the vast majority of pupils’

If we are to improve social mobility, the core English Baccalaureate subjects must not be the preserve of wealthy, writes the minister for school standards

News article image

In order to ensure our education system drives social mobility, it is important that the vast majority of pupils – whatever their background – have the opportunity to study the suite of core academic subjects that make up the English Baccalaureate – English, maths, science, history or geography, and a language. These are the subjects which, at A level, open more doors to more degrees, according to the Russell Group.

That is why I am delighted that the secretary of state has outlined the government’s ambition for 90 per cent of Year 10 pupils to be studying the full suite of EBacc GCSEs by 2025, with 75 per cent of Year 10 pupils studying this combination of subjects by 2022.

Raising standards in schools has been the driving mission behind the government’s reforms since 2010. And we have made great strides in this endeavour:

However you cut the numbers, England outperformed the rest of the UK in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s most recent Pisa science assessments.

The proportion of pupils studying the EBacc core of academic subjects at GCSE has risen from 22 per cent in 2010 to 40 per cent last year.

Thanks to the hard work of teachers and headteachers, the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their more affluent peers has closed by 9.3 per cent at key stage 2 and 7 per cent at KS4 since 2011.

And, as the education secretary announced earlier this week, we are making an additional £1.3 billion available for school funding, to support even greater improvement in the years to come.

'Spreading opportunity'

But we have much more to do in order to spread opportunity to all. Overall, disadvantaged pupils remain almost half as likely to be entered for the EBacc subjects as their peers who are not disadvantaged.

A recent Sutton Trust study found that pupils in a set of 300 schools that increased their EBacc entry, from 8 per cent to 48 per cent, were more likely to achieve good English and maths GCSEs, more likely to take an A level, or an equivalent level 3 qualification, and more likely to stay in post-16 education. The authors of that study noted that "pupil-premium students benefited most from the changes at these schools".

That is why this policy is so important. Lower participation from disadvantaged pupils in core academic subjects can have a negative effect on social mobility.

Respondents to the government’s consultation noted two potential challenges, which must be addressed.

Firstly, the arts have always – and will always – be crucial components of a broad and balanced curriculum. And today, the government has published further analysis into the relationship between EBacc entry and the arts. Not only has the proportion of pupils entering at least one arts subject slightly increased since the EBacc was introduced, but also at school level we found a small positive correlation, suggesting that schools where EBacc entry has increased tended to have also seen an increase in their arts uptake.

Secondly, there has been concern about the teachers needed to meet the EBacc ambition. We are in no doubt of the challenge that some schools face in recruiting high-quality MFL teachers, but we are working to address this. And it is crucial that we succeed. In 2000, 76 per cent of pupils entered a language GCSE. Even after the progress made since 2010, this figure is still below 50 per cent, meaning too few pupils have the opportunity to study a language.

This is what this policy is about, ensuring that the opportunity to study the EBacc is enjoyed by the vast majority of pupils. These opportunity-granting subjects must not be the preserve of wealthy – they should be an entitlement for all.

Nick Gibb is minister for school standards

Want to keep up with the latest education news and opinion? Follow Tes on Twitter and like Tes on Facebook

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Latest stories

Stand Up Straight jacket cover

Book review: Stand Up Straight

New teachers should be made to read books that are not about teaching, says David James. Stand Up Straight would be a good place to start

David James 23 Feb 2020
Councillor Judith Blake, the chair of the Local Government Association's Children and Young People's board.

The 'deeply challenging' fall-out from academisation

Tes profiles Judith Blake, who speaks for the Local Government Association on education, who says local authorities are being left with responsibility for schools but without any power

John Roberts 23 Feb 2020