Schools minister applies EBacc measure retrospectively to show ‘improvement’

Janet Downs's picture

Now there’s a surprise.  Introduce a new performance measure such as the EBacc and it doesn’t take a genius to realise schools will change tactics to meet it.

Back in 2011, the Education Select Committee said the EBacc measure had little support.  The MPs had received several submissions which suggested the retrospective introduction of EBacc was politically rather than educationally motivated.  This would, in the words of the Catholic Education Service, ‘allow the Government to show significant “improvement” in future years.’

And so it came to pass…

‘… the proportion of pupils taking history or geography GCSE has risen from 48% in 2010 to 77% in 2017, with the proportion taking at least two science GCSEs rising from 63% in 2010 to 91% in 2017.’

That statistic was thrown into the education funding debate by schools minister Nick Gibb in November. 

It’s immediately obvious that Gibb is comparing 2018 with years before the EBacc measure came into force.   This, as predicted, shows ‘improvement’.

But there are other factors which make Gibb’s boasting a little misleading.  Major exam changes have influenced GCSE exam entries:  

  • EBacc lists just two Humanities subjects: history and geography. Religious Studies doesn't count.  Entries for RS dropped 20% between 2017 and 2018 alone.  Combined Humanities GCSE has been discontinued.  These changes channel pupils towards studying either GCSE History or Geography.
  • GCSE further additional science has been discontinued.
  • Only GCSEs count towards EBacc. This, obviously, diverts entries from Level 1 and 2 vocational science exams popular in 2010 (although not always for the right reasons).
  • A few GCSEs (such as ICT) were available for the last time in 2018.  The decline in entries for these suggests schools have moved to subjects which continue to be available.

Entries for non-Ebacc subjects have declined

Entries for all non-EBacc Subjects except art and design showed a decline’ between 2017 and 2018, says Ofqual.   These falls include:

  • 100% decline (obviously) in the two discontinued subjects.
  • 40% fall in other sciences.
  • About 40% plunge in performing/expressive arts
  • Around 30% drop in engineering entries.
  • Around 30% fall in statistics. (A cynic might say this will please politicians who don’t want an electorate skilled in spotting abuse of statistics.)

A government leaflet explaining EBacc to parents says children will still have the opportunity in Key Stage 4 to study one or two ‘further options’ in arts, cultural subjects or PE and technology.  But these optional GCSEs, except art and design, have all seen a decline in entries.  This suggests these ‘further options’ are less important than the academic EBacc.

25 non-Ebacc subjects: pupils can choose one or two

Ofqual lists 25 non-Ebacc subjects*.  Yet the government’s EBacc propaganda thinks being able to choose one or two of these as ‘further options’ is praiseworthy.  It isn’t.  This is especially true for those unfortunate children who start key stage four at age 13 in order to maximise the school’s chances of hitting accountability targets.

This is nothing for ministers to crow about.



* Ofqual lists non-Ebacc subjects as follows (I have omitted the two discontinued subjects): Art and design subjects; Business & comm systems; Business studies; Citizenship studies; Classical subjects (non-Ebacc); Design & technology; Drama; Economics; Engineering; Food, catering and hospitality; General studies; Health & social care; Home economics; ICT; Leisure & tourism; Manufacturing; Media/Film /TV studies; Music; Other sciences; Performing/Expressive arts; Physical education; Religious studies; Social science subjects; Statistics; Welsh as a second language

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