'Forget EBac and pick right GCSEs'
Pupils should ignore the English Baccalaureate when deciding which GCSEs to take, a senior Department for Education official has advised.
Previously, Government policy has been that "every" pupil should achieve its new measure.
But Tom Goldman, deputy director of the DfE's qualifications policy division, said: "Students should take the GCSEs that are right for them, whether those be the GCSEs within the English Baccalaureate or whether they are not."
Heads' leaders say that the changes schools are making in response to the EBac - which requires GCSE or IGCSE grade Cs or above in English, maths, a humanity, a language and two sciences - mean pupils' alternative GCSE options are already being limited.
November's education white paper set out the measure as the foundation for the Government's "high expectations", saying "every pupil should have a broad education (the English Baccalaureate)".
The comments come as an NASUWT survey of more than 2,400 teachers found that 43 per cent said the degree of choice over GCSE options for 14-year- olds had been restricted as a direct result of the EBac.
But Mr Goldman, speaking at a Westminster Education Forum event, downplayed its importance. "No targets have been set for the English Baccalaureate," the civil servant said.
"It will not be used as an accountability trigger, either by the Department for Education or by Ofsted. That is not the plan, it is . for information not for accounting for performance management of schools."
Association of School and College Leaders general secretary Brian Lightman said: "Because the EBac is a performance indicator, it is going to influence (pupils') option choices.
"Parents believe it is a qualification so they encourage students to do it and schools encourage students to do it because they believe they are going to be measured on it.
"You can say students should pick the GCSEs that are best for them but the reality of the EBac is that those GCSEs may no longer be available."
OCR exam board's Paul Steer, addressing the same seminar as Mr Goldman, said he was surprised by the speed at which schools had reacted to the EBac by re-considering the curriculum and even "in-flight changes" for pupils who had already started courses.
At the same event, a 14-year-old pupil from the English Secondary Students' Association (ESSA) said the EBac had "really clouded my mind" on deciding which GCSEs to take.
Mr Goldman held out little hope for those calling for RE to be included in the EBac. The National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE) claims the subject is being killed off in schools by its exclusion from the measure.
Mr Goldman said the lobbying had been "a very great campaign" but that RE had "not been a subject in decline".
"It has been a subject with very healthy growth, unlike particularly languages but also certainly history and geography," he said.
"It is that decline in history and geography that ministers really want to see the English Baccalaureate and other things helping to arrest and reverse.
"And I just don't think an English Baccalaureate with religious studies in it would help serve that purpose so well."
A DfE spokesman said ministers had always said that pupils should be entered for subjects in their best interests and not those that would disengage them.
Original headline: Top DfE official: forget EBac and pick right GCSEs