More than four-fifths of school leaders are against government plans to make 90 per cent of pupils take the English Baccalaureate – and they say it should not be mandatory, a new survey shows.
The research comes after TES revealed last week that the results of the government’s EBacc consultation – which closed a year ago this month – may not now be published until the summer.
But amid the significant delays in releasing the findings, the opposition to the performance measure remains as strong as ever.
A new survey from the NAHT headteachers’ union, shared exclusively with TES, reveals that 93 per cent of secondary leaders believe that the EBacc should not be compulsory.
Meanwhile, 86 per cent of heads oppose the government’s aim for 90 per cent of pupils to be studying EBacc subjects – English, mathematics, history or geography, the sciences and a language.
An email from Conservative MP Heidi Allen’s office last week suggested that the EBacc consultation response may not be published for another six months – more than a year after it was due. Natalie Dilworth, Ms Allen’s parliamentary researcher, wrote: “[The Department for Education] suggested that it is likely to be in the spring/summer 2017 but have stated that it is taking more time because of the huge amount of responses the department received.”
Tim Leunig, chief scientific adviser and chief analyst at the DfE, previously said that it had received more than 2,700 responses.
‘Headache’ for schools
Leading education figures and campaigners are calling on the DfE to urgently release the consultation report to provide clarity, especially for schools which run three-year GCSE courses and whose pupils will need to choose their options this month.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT, said: “Too many policies have been slow in implementation, which creates a real planning headache in schools. We are still waiting for the results of the EBacc consultation. Can it be because the results are fairly unpalatable to the government?”
He added: “It is wrong to set an arbitrary target for an arbitrary selection of subjects. It is self-defeating to demand this without ensuring an adequate supply of qualified specialist subject teachers to deliver this curriculum.”
Campaigners want the government to release the findings to ensure that arts subjects are not sidelined any further. Deborah Annetts, founder of the Bacc for the Future campaign, supported by more than 200 organisations, said: “The continuing uncertainty around the EBacc is damaging the uptake of creative subjects like music, art and design.”
People want clarity over the EBacc – uncertainty adds to the stress
The percentage of pupils entering at least one arts subject in a state school decreased in 2016 by 1.7 percentage points to 47.9 per cent, government figures revealed in October last year.
As the delay continues, opponents are hopeful that the unpopular plans could be dropped. Ms Annetts added: “We hope [it] means the education secretary is listening to the near-universal opposition to the EBacc, not only from headteachers but also from the creative industries.”
Rob Campbell, executive principal at Impington Village College in Cambridgeshire, who is opposed to the “prescriptive element” of the measure, told TES that only half of his students were eligible for EBacc this year.
“The principle of entitlement is a good one but insisting on young people doing it is a bad idea,” he said. “The interesting challenge will be if the government gets to the point where it insists on the EBacc. But I don’t think that they will do this, because of [issues with] recruitment.”
Mr Campbell is hopeful that the controversial plans will be abandoned. He said: “Schools will say [to the government], ‘You are responsible for training the teachers we recruit’. [The government] knows it’s a poisoned chalice: if they say ‘you must’ then we will say ‘well, you must’.
“With grammar schools in the pot there are only a certain number of fronts that the [government] can fight on.”
Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said that questions needed to be answered urgently: “Most times, you get a response within three months. A year is significantly more. People want clarity. Uncertainty adds to the stress.”
If the government’s proposal – that 90 per cent of pupils should enter EBacc from 2020 – is to go ahead, then the students who start three-year GCSE programmes in September need to make their curriculum decisions imminently, he added.
Mr Trobe said: “Members want to know what the target is and what they are going to be measured against. The 90 per cent goal is unrealistic.”
A DfE spokesperson said: “The EBacc is a key part of our drive to extend opportunity for all and is already helping children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to benefit from a rigorous education.
“We expect all schools to offer options outside the EBacc, so that pupils have the opportunity to study subjects that reflect their own individual interests and strengths. We are carefully considering all contributions to the consultation and will publish our response in due course.”