DfE ignores report which finds little support for EBac

Janet Downs's picture
Most of the evidence “was striking in its lack of support for the EBac as it currently stands,” wrote the Education Select Committee in its report which:

1 Found that the countries which the DfE claimed had “broadly similar arrangements to the EBac were not all directly comparable examples.

2 Expressed concern about the lack of consultation: the top-down prescription was as at odds with Mr Gove's belief that "headteachers and teachers—not politicians and bureaucrats—know best how to run schools.”

3 Believed that announcing which subjects were included in the EBac would prejudice the outcomes of the curriculum review.

4 Found the Department's evidence offered no analysis of the impact that other countries’ EBac-type arrangements had made on disadvantaged students. The Committee was not convinced there was any positive link.

5 Agreed that the EBac performance measure could encourage schools to focus on wealthier students because they tend to do better in EBac subjects. This could provide incentives for schools to divert resources away from poorer pupils.

6 Cited evidence suggesting that the EBac does not differentiate between good and outstanding performance: it was only necessary for pupils to gain grade C.

7 Concluded that the EBac is a simplistic threshold measure likely to mean that schools will devote more resources to borderline C grade students. This would be detrimental to both weaker pupils and high-achievers.

8 Thought that a focus on a fairly narrow range of subjects, demanding considerable curriculum time, could have negative consequences on the uptake of other subjects.

9 Acknowledged that several submissions had suggested that the retrospective introduction was a politically rather than educationally driven move, as it would, in the words of the Catholic Education Service, "allow the Government to show significant 'improvement' in future years".

The Education Select Committee has found the much vaunted EBac to be badly flawed. It is unlikely to achieve what it is supposed to do – raise standards particularly among disadvantaged pupils. Instead, results are likely to cluster on the C threshold. And the Committee found there was insufficient international evidence to support the Government’s view that the EBac would benefit disadvantaged pupils.

As well as making unsubstantiated claims based on deficient data and obscuring what many believe to be the real reason for a retrospective introduction ie producing a low baseline from which the Government can claim considerable progress, the DfE behaved in such a manner during the enquiry that the Committee accused the Department of being guilty of “deliberate obfuscation or a lack of co-ordination”.

The DfE is also burying its collective head in the sand. It has ignored the Committee’s findings.

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Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 08/11/2011 - 17:53

Sounds like Gove has not effectively cleared out anyone who is both capable of both making a grounded and intelligent comment and is not totally deferrent to Mr Gove.

There's been plenty of evidence suggesting such a process taking place recently.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 11/11/2011 - 12:34

'now effectively cleared out' rather than 'not effectively cleared out' oops!

Alan's picture
Wed, 09/11/2011 - 19:55

Point 6 is contradictory to the announced plans for abolishing modular GCSE examination from September 2012. Whilst EBacc C grades support school tables there will be no second chances for stressed out students.

Davis Lewis's picture
Thu, 10/11/2011 - 13:28

Point 5 is interesting, why is that wealthier children tend to do these subjects? Should this not be changed? Why should poorer children not pursue ebacc subjects? It this elitism that needs to be challenged.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 10/11/2011 - 14:43

The Select Committee is not saying that poorer children should not pursue EBac subjects. What it is saying is that schools may steer resources away from already disadvantaged children because these pupils tend to do worse than more advantaged children. In the race for league table glory schools could concentrate only on those pupils most likely to achieve Grade C or even discourage disadvantaged pupils from applying to the school.

Global research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that socio-economic background accounts for a large proportion of educational underachievement and has listed ways in which this might be addressed so that disadvantaged children can nevertheless succeed. This is discussed in more depth here:




Davis Lewis's picture
Fri, 11/11/2011 - 08:57

What many schools do in their quest for league tables glory is to steer children away from subjects which may prove challenging often the academic subjects. They often encourage poor students to do subjects which do not have much currency in the real world.
I really have a problem with GCSE ICT being the equivalent of four GCSE's when it is not four times as difficult as say, Maths, German or Physics and when there is not even an examination. It is all course work which is almost impossible to fail.
If we really want to improve education in this country and if we are really serious about learning lessons from our Scandinavian neighbours then we should go for a comprehensive reform of our system and accept that this wiol cost money and that we should be prepared to invest in our children and tomorrows citizens by paying higher taxes. Some of my reforms would include;

a) starting schools at 6 or 7 years of age
b) additional language learning throughout schools life from 6 to 18
c) Revamp of teacher training - higher qualifications
d) headteachers to lead teaching and learning and no function as CEO - not getting involved in HR, empire building, construction and financial management
e) Teacher deployment to be managed centrally by LA so that teachers can be deployed to schools according to need i.e. the best teachers working in the most challenging schools to raise standards
f) free schools, grammar schools, independent schools abolished so that we have just one type of school. All of these excellent teachers in these schools therefore working with all types of children
g) Closer links between schools and industry
h) properly thought out GCSE vocational subjects
i) A non- partisan approach to education - 'unlikely I know but one can only wish'.
j) The teaching profession taking back control of education from the politicians
h) Education for profit to be outlawed - companies should not be allowed to run schools for profit ' after all it is the children who ultimately deliver the outcomes and they do not share in these profits unlike the shareholders. Capita, Serco and co should be removed from education.

These are a few of my thoughts about how I believe education ca be improved in this country.

Davis Lewis's picture
Thu, 10/11/2011 - 13:38

What has the select committee got say about the curriculum being delivered in grammar schools, independent schools and those schools in the more affluent areas? Not a lot I imagine as these schools always seem to escape government interference.
We still accept this apartheid of curricula where rich kids pursue a different curriculum from their poorer cousins. I do not agree with very much of what Gove promotes but Labour did little to address this apartheid and they failed to introduce any vision in education. Just look at the appointments they made, Balls and Kelly were particularly bad appointments and let's face it, was Balls really interested?
As educationalists we need to eschew partisanship and attempt to be objective about how we improve the lot of all of children. How do we for instance enable more children from poor backgrounds to study at Russell Group universities? Would an ebacc type of curriculum enhance or hinder their chances? Or are we saying that it will always and only be the children from affluent backgrounds who will be able to attend these universities?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 10/11/2011 - 14:53

Hello David,

As a teacher working in schools in tough areas I have grappled extensively with the issues involved in social mobility. It is essential to understand and work with the realities schools face as they attempt to compensate for strong negative cohort effects and the impoverished intellectual home environments of many children.

I found the joint effects of excellence cluster funding (which gave intervention funding to ensure that high quality top sets remained in school where they would be diluted by providing for them to be small if necessary) and aim higher (which provided intervention funding to expose children from challenging backgrounds to the benefits of higher education from a young age) extremely supportive to the work I did as a teacher in trying to raise student aspirations.

Please could you explain your criticism of these initiatives and why this government's proposals will be more effective?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 10/11/2011 - 14:54

The EBacc is skewed towards academic subjects which are those traditionally offered by grammar and independent schools. However, as the Select Committee discovered, focussing on EBac subject which are likely to take up a great deal of curriculum time can force out other, equally valuable subjects.

Ways in which education can be improved for all children are regularly discussed on this site - a trawl through "Views" will verify this. In particular, see threads about what countries which perform well in international tests are doing. These countries are often moving in the opposite direction to the way England is going (remember, Gove's "reforms" only take place in England).

Alan's picture
Fri, 11/11/2011 - 12:44

An ebacc pathway will be of limited use students in secondary modern schools with no sixth forms in selective counties unless concrete arrangements are made for transfer to FE in grammar schools. This is particularly important for equality of opportunity in areas of high deprivation where secondary modern schools / high schools / technical colleges are located alongside grammar schools.

On a similar vein, the value added by secondary modern schools in deprived areas should be considered for lower fees and admission arrangements into universities.

Davis Lewis's picture
Fri, 11/11/2011 - 08:38

Hello Rebecca, I have not said that the government proposals will be more effective. I am all for inititiatives such as Aim Higher. I am glad you have referred to 'impoverished intellectual home environments' though I feel this is more about the powers that be using the media to inculcate paople with anti-learning and anti-intellectual values. It is no coincidence that the terms 'nerds' and boffs are terms of insults. Unfortunately the massess are being fed the message that to be academic, diligent or intellectual is a crime. The 'what I call 'the boffin syndrome' is one of the greatest challenges facing our society today.
I am also concerned about this school of thought that children are either 'academic' or 'vocational' whereas I think we all have the capacity to be both.
Finally Rebecca, I have never voted conservative and never will that is not to say that I disagree with everything they propose but I can never support a party that views mass unemployment as a form of worthwhile collateral damage and a prty that has cabinet members involved in tax avoidance on a massive scale not to mention its approach to tuition fees

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 11/11/2011 - 12:52

I'm wondering if you are missing the insight into the way students interpret, connect, construct and take ownership of the knowledge they are taught far more effectively if they have experienced and discussed many of the practical contexts in which it makes sense David?

The most successful primary schools in tough areas recognise that students are lacking much of that context and deliberately create a curriculum which provides the experiences before the abstractions are made and the concrete knowledge taught.

We used to teach secondary maths in ways which also understood this reality and were considered to be international best practice, but these were wiped out by the National Curriculum and Ofsted (do feel free to ask if you would like me to explain this in detail).

Students aged 14-16 are difficult to teach and motivate if they are forced into subjects they do not want to study David. Many become far more motivated and engaged with school when they feel able to choose subject they believe are relevant to them and when the subjects they have chosen help them to connect with role models and build future images of themselves they feel are worthwhile.

Many students choose to study heath and social care, leisure and tourism, business, design technology or another vocational subject as one of their GCSEs. Many also really like RE as it gives them a chance to reflect on their experience of life and society holistically. As a maths teacher I see the benefits of my students being happy, motivated, engaged and inspired in their other subjects.

I don't students as being 'academic' or 'vocational' (this is only one of their choices) and I don't see why you do? - although of course the Ebacc will clearly demark them as such. But I do clearly see the realities of students who hate languages being forced to study them instead of a being able to choos subject they want to study and feel is relevant to them.

Alan's picture
Fri, 11/11/2011 - 08:11

Janet, sorry for a basic question point 6, but can you confirm lack of differentiation is for league tables only, that students will receive grades for each subject?

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 11/11/2011 - 08:48

Pupils will still be graded A*-C. However, as a performance measure for schools only the number of pupils who pass all the EBac subjects will be recorded, probably as a percentage. If a school, say, gets 50% of its pupils through EBac, there's no way of knowing how many of the 50% just scraped a C or how many gained the top grades. That was what concerned the Select Committee - that measuring EBac pass rate in this way failed to differentiate between A* and C candidates. This in turn led the Committee to be worried that schools would concentrate more resources on getting as many pupils over the C threshold which would be to the detriment of both high-flying pupils and weak ones.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 11/11/2011 - 08:54

The EBac is not an exam like the International Baccaleaureate. It is a collection of subjects bundled together in a package. Will pupils gain a separate certificate saying they've passed the EBac subjects? If so, what will it look like? What measures have exam boards taken to certificate EBac? How much will it cost? The cost will, of course, be handed down to schools - in a time of budget restraints, is this one cost schools could do without? As EBac is a retrospective measure, will pupils who gained EBac subjects in 2010 and 2011 be given certificates retrospectively?

The Select Committee found no evidence that the Government had considered the questions above which suggests it's a half-baked idea foisted on schools with little thought about the implications.

Alan's picture
Fri, 11/11/2011 - 10:57

You raise important points on certification (as well as performance measures). Obviously students will continue to be graded A*-C but subject grades should still be presented in such a way as to be meaningful for future prospects and effort. As a comparison, Access to HE certificates were going to be introduced to include subject specific grades i.e., pass, merit or distinction rather than a standard specification.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 11/11/2011 - 13:01

It's all the more complicated because when this was introduced education consultations were all working towards and Ebacc which was to be similarly structure to a Welsh Bacc. The EPQ and the like were all working in that direction.

Some context here - everyone likes the IBacc but its too expensive for state educaiton so Wales came up with a Welsh bacc which was a wrap around qualification for flexible component parts. The Ebacc thinking was along the lines of the equivalent of 2A2s, at least one mathematical AS, perhaps at least one AS which involved writing, perhaps a language at AS, an EPQ and some life experience.

No-one was expecting an Ebacc which was GCSE standard.

Davis Lewis's picture
Fri, 11/11/2011 - 09:27

My wish list would also include;

All primary schools having reading tutors - to ensure that all children are reading at age related levels

An extensive drive to recruit and train good quality Maths teachers - this is where we could look at our Eastern European neighbours and maybe learn something.

Careful monitoring of procurement practices re;ICT equipment - to ensure that there is real value for money

A long term strategy to recruit and train high qualiy STEM teachers

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 11/11/2011 - 12:40

What are your views on the MEC David? I've taught on it and have found its effects on students to be profound and transformational. They spend 6 or 9 months learning A-level, Further Maths and First year degree contenet which is taught using best practice from secondary school type teaching and during it they are constant asked to reflect on how they have been taught and the effect it has had on them as learners.

It seems to have worked exceptionally well from my point of view - how would you change it?

Davis Lewis's picture
Fri, 11/11/2011 - 09:30

Plus removing exam boards from the private sector. How do these exam boards currently increase market share? They will not be telling schools that their exams are more challenging, that's for sure.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 14/11/2011 - 17:28

Although Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister, told the Education Select Committee that EBac was not an accountability measure, he's now contradicted himself. He told a debate in Westminster Hall last week: "The E-bac sets a high benchmark against which parents can hold schools to account, and it helps to narrow the gap between those from the poorest backgrounds and those from the wealthiest backgrounds."

Did Nick Gibb mislead the Education Select Committee, or has he just changed his mind?


Alan's picture
Mon, 14/11/2011 - 23:03

Ebacc students will continue to receive subject grades as for A Levels but there will be no ebacc certification. Lack of differentiation A*-C, and the C threshold, as above.

Alan's picture
Mon, 14/11/2011 - 23:19

meant to write 'Ebacc students will continue to receive subject grades as for GCSEs'. No matter. Will this mean no GCSE certification - no record of achievment, except for a slip of paper?

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 15/11/2011 - 08:31

Alan, your question about whether EBac will eventually supersede GCSE certification is an important one but I can't answer it. It may be an unintended consequence otherwise exam boards would have to double certificate - one certificate listed GCSE grades and another saying the pupil had gained EBac. The Select Committee found no evidence that certification of EBac or the cost of certification had even been considered. And now it seems that Nick Gibb is confused as to whether EBac is an accountability measure or not.

The whole thing is a mess and the victims are the pupils.

Alan's picture
Wed, 16/11/2011 - 14:28

Apparently, "The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) is not a new qualification. It is a new certificate that will be awarded to any student who secures good GCSE or accredited Certificate passes in English, maths, the sciences, a modern or ancient foreign language and a humanity - such as history or geography.

The Government intends the EBacc to become one of the main measures of achievement for schools in the future." (Pearson 2011)


Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 16/11/2011 - 17:22

Thanks for the link Alan. Edexcel said on another page (see link below): "The thinking behind the EBacc was prompted by an influential Paper published in December 2009 by the Reform think-tank which spelt out that, in most European countries, young people are expected to achieve a minimum of four or five ‘core’ subjects by the age of 16 whereas, in England, the minimum requirement was just two."

When the Education Select Committee studied the international evidence cited by the government to uphold the above claim, the Committee found that the evidence was not comparable. It appears, then, that the Government is basing its EBac "reform" on a report published in late 2009 which it took at face value.


Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 16/11/2011 - 17:43

Thanks for this information Janet. 'Reform' seems to be a huge liability as a think tank. I've heard several people who've come out of their education policy department talk and in each case their level of their ignorance combined with their personal assurance that their own credibility is so unquestionable they don't actually need to talk to anyone who does the job is simply eye-watering. (More details on the Top Trumps thread in the UK Education group on linkedin.com).

Here's Bronowski on the theme of of this kind of human behaviour.

Alan's picture
Thu, 17/11/2011 - 13:28

Pleased it was useful Janet. The Statistical First Release provides provisional analysis of the Ebac with no differentiation between selective and non-selective schools (Main text: SFR 26/2011, p.17) http://www.education.gov.uk/researchandstatistics/statistics/a00198393/d...

As things stand, Ebac arrangements will make little or no difference to students in secondary modern schools with no sixth forms. Conversely, C grade provides even more latitude for those coached into grammar school.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 17/11/2011 - 14:33

It appears that Mr Gove’s claim that the rise in triple science is due to the introduction of the EBac is false. The last government set a target in 2007 that 90% of schools should offer triple Science. This was introduced because of fears that Double Award Science, which covered Chemistry, Biology and Physics, didn’t prepare pupils sufficiently well to embark on A level courses. In early 2010, it was estimated that 70% of schools offered triple science and the 2010 GCSE results showed an upward trend in the numbers taking separate sciences. The 2011 GCSE results show that this upward trend is continuing while numbers taking Science and Additional Science are falling.

So the rise in pupils taking separate sciences began before the present Government came to power.



Davis Lewis's picture
Mon, 21/11/2011 - 16:55

It is all well and good saying that 90% of schools should offer triple science but as always the devil is in the details. How many children within each of these schools will be actually be doing triple science? Once again there is the risk of elitism as we all know that in the main triple science will only be offered to the 'top' students. It is just a shame that triple science is not offered to all students.

jimc's picture
Thu, 17/11/2011 - 14:59

You are absolutely right Janet and shame on Gove for trying to take the credit. You don't even need 3 sciences for the E bacc so I've no idea what he is on about.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 17/11/2011 - 17:08

I'll need your help on this one, jimc. I found a video on line which I think was broadcast at the Conservative conference. It listed individual subjects and said the increased uptake of these was due to government policy, presumably the EBac. Now I can't find it although I've googled several times. If you could track it down and post the link I'd be grateful. In the meantime, I'll do the same if I eventually find it.

Alan's picture
Thu, 17/11/2011 - 16:36

Re: Bronowski on the theme of of this kind of human behaviour.

Time for a Reality Check?

Jacob Bronowski should make us think about the implications of Galton’s obsession with his own academic failure, the dogma which has led to collective deafness of suffering, the suffering of children. The eugenics movement that gave rise to Burt’s notion of educational aptitude and the creation of the 11-plus has also led to the imposition of a final solution. Indeed, a fine line exists between positive and negative discrimination.

Children develop at different rates, as individuals, they may have needs which aren’t easy to identify. If needs go unidentified, reasonable adjustments cannot be made. Thus, a test of ability becomes one of disability. The underrepresentation of children on FSM or with SEN in grammar schools does not chime with equality.


Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 17/11/2011 - 18:28

I'm working hard on two aspects of the weighing and measuring issues Alan.

The first is they way in which the methods of weighing and measuring are defined by Ofsted in contravention of their legal oblications - more information here and in subsequent posts:

The second aspect of my work involves analysing emerging ICT systems and seeing how they can be developed and used to support the appropriate use of weighing and measuring - in ways which promote diversity and personal skills alongside core techniques and vocabulary and which lead to low stakes formative and summative assessment which will hopefully replace SATs.

Alan's picture
Thu, 17/11/2011 - 21:27

Rebecca - thank you for your insight into Ofsted’s assessment of school performance (I will read the Regulator’s Compliance Code). It would appear that schools suffer similar injustices to children taking the 11+, lack of context and subjectivity for the former and cultural bias for the latter. Both are intrinsically linked. For example, the primary curriculum is warped by 11+ ‘familiarisation’, children who do not pass feel deflated and see little point in year 6 SATs. Primary school ratings can then take a dive and poor performance may be passed to attendance – to parents - with no reference to authorisation - all to keep the right side of the line. The effects to academic self-esteem, to progress, at transfer to secondary school are anyone’s guess - an area for further research.

Davis Lewis's picture
Mon, 21/11/2011 - 17:08

Hello Rebecca, The question of relevance is interesting. Who is to say what will be relevant tomorrow? When I was at school all those years ago in the 70s I never knew that I would spend much of my working life and leisure using Microsoft products. Computer Science and Data Processing were just making there way into in but they were totally irrelevant to me at that time or so I thought. Relevance is relative and transient.

I do believe that we should expose young people to as many experiences as possible and taking them out of their comfort zones whether this be emotional, geographical or social. Aim Higher has been very successful in this endeavour and long may this continue.

In terms of student choice as long as students are making informed choices that's Ok with me, I worry when students make ill-informed choices, for example choosing health and social care on the belief that it will provide a route into the health profession or GCSE Law being a the route into the law profession or GSE/A level media being the route into media. These are exciting and interesting subjects but they are not the main routes or even the relevant routes in the aforementioned professions.

I am enjoying this civil exchange of opinions and perspectives.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 21/11/2011 - 19:21

:-) me too.

Relevance in educations is a biggie - that should keep us going for a while - as you can see here David.... https://www.ncetm.org.uk/community/thread/56000

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