Ofsted has softened its stance on the English Baccalaureate, with a senior official saying it is only a "potential" part of a good curriculum, depending on the pupils at a school.
The Department for Education wants 75 per cent of pupils sitting the GCSEs needed to achieve the EBacc in three years' time
Ofsted's draft handbook, released in January, says inspectors should look at how schools are planning to meet this EBacc target when it is judging their curriculum under new inspections.
But the watchdog's head of research, Daniel Muijs, today played down the importance of EBacc targets when asked whether heads should seek to meet them even if they did not believe it was in the best interests of the pupils.
“The government’s ambitions is for 75 per cent of pupils to study the EBacc," he told a Westminster Insight conference into the new inspection framework. “In terms of what we are looking at we do expect it to be appropriate for the pupils you have.
"I mentioned earlier there is not an Ofsted curriculum there is not a curriculum we expect you to do. We expect you to have ambitious curriculum and EBacc is potentially a part of that.
“Do we expect every school to reach the same level by 2022? Well, that will obviously depend on what is the best curriculum for the pupils that you have and we would have that conversation when we came in to inspect.
“We do believe that the EBacc has a lot of value in terms of providing a good and ambitious curriculum for pupils so that is why we do mention it in the framework.”
The DfE wants three-quarters of pupils sitting EBacc subjects by 2022 and for this to rise to 90 per cent.
The EBacc is a school peformance measure that requires good GCSE grades in English language and literature, maths, the sciences, history or geography and a modern language.
It was created under former education secretary Michael Gove to encourage schools to teach core academic subjects.
A joint statement by the Headteachers’ Roundtable group and the WorthLess? Campaign says the inclusion of the Ebacc in the inspection handbook implies that Ofsted has "a lack of independence” from the government.
In a draft of the new framework, Ofsted says: “At the heart of an effective key stage 4 curriculum is a strong academic core: the EBacc.
“The government’s response to its EBacc consultation confirmed that the large majority of pupils should be expected to study the EBacc.
"It is, therefore, the government’s ambition that 75 per cent of Year 10 pupils in state-funded mainstream schools should be starting to study EBacc course nationally by 2022 (taking examinations in 2024) rising to 90 per cent in 2025 (taking their exams in 2027).
“It is important that inspectors understand what schools are doing to prepare for this to be achieved, and they should take those preparations into consideration when evaluating the intent of the school curriculum.”
However, this was strongly criticised by Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, who warned that there weren't enough foreign language teachers in the system to meet the government’s goal for the EBacc – which requires at least one language GCSE.
He said earlier this year: “It is nonsensical to judge schools on factors that are clearly outside their control and we will be pressing Ofsted to amend this section.”