The English Baccalaureate - Education Committee Contents


1  Introduction to the report

1.  The English Baccalaureate (EBac) was first announced by the Secretary of State for Education in a speech at the Westminster Academy on 6 September 2010. At that event, Mr Gove argued for a new certificate which would "create special recognition for those students who secure good passes in a balanced range of rigorous qualifications" and "ensure that all children—especially those from less privileged backgrounds—have a chance to gain a base of knowledge and a set of life chances too often restricted to the wealthy".[1] The Secretary of State further emphasised that, while the English Baccalaureate would not replace existing performance measures, it would be "a valid expectation of most young people in the 21st century" and "could reinvigorate the culture of learning in this country".[2] He was clear on the sorts of subjects which might be included (although the list later changed), based on international evidence from high-performing countries' experiences, but similarly clear that the measure would "not preclude the study of other GCSEs outside of this core or any vocational qualifications that would be of genuine benefit".[3]

2.  The Schools White Paper, published later in 2010, provided more detail about the nature and scope of the EBac:

[W]e will introduce a new award—the English Baccalaureate—for any student who secures good GCSE or iGCSE passes in English, mathematics, the sciences, a modern or ancient foreign language and a humanity such as history or geography. This combination of GCSEs at grades A*-C will entitle the student to a certificate recording their achievement. At the moment only around 15 per cent of students secure this basic suite of academic qualifications...[4]

The White Paper went on to explain that that the English Baccalaureate would serve as a performance measure alongside the existing 'five good GCSEs' measure.[5] The first use of the EBac performance measure was when it was retrospectively applied to the 2010 league tables published on 12 January 2011.

3.  The data revealed by the application to the 2010 league tables showed that, in that year, "22% of pupils took the required subjects and 15.6% of pupils achieved the English Baccalaureate."[6] The Fischer Family Trust's evidence revealed that, over the past few years, the number of students entered for the combination of subjects leading to an EBac has been declining, although the proportion of those who would have been awarded the EBac as a percentage of those entered for it has been on the rise:

Table 1: Number and proportion of all students entered for, and achieving good GCSEs in, EBac subjects, 2004-10[7]
Year
Number of students in cohort
Students entered for EBac suite of subjects

(number, and percentage

of cohort)
Students attaining A*-C grades in those subjects

(number, and percentage

of cohort)
Percentage of those entered who attained the required grades
2004
591,301
235,042
39.8%
105,725
17.9%
45%
2005
588,699
192,622
32.7%
100,785
17.1%
52%
2006
598,911
164,401
27.5%
94,269
15.7%
57%
2007
601,135
147,038
24.5%
88,547
14.7%
60%
2008
597,390
130,948
21.9%
85,248
14.3%
65%
2009
577,621
128,232
22.2%
86,412
15.0%
67%
2010
577,073
126,379
21.9%
87,600
15.2%
69%

The Fischer Family Trust's evidence also makes clear that students are performing better in certain EBac subjects:

Table 2: Number and proportion of students in maintained schools (England) achieving grade C or better for each EBac subject, 2004-10[8]
Year
English
Mathematics
Science
Humanities
Languages
2004
321,076
54.3%
280,277
47.4%
264,903
44.8%
189,216
32.0%
193,947
32.8%
2005
327,905
55.7%
293,172
49.8%
261,382
44.4%
187,795
31.9%
188,384
32.0%
2006
339,583
56.7%
308,439
51.5%
262,922
43.9%
189,256
31.6%
173,684
29.0%
2007
349,259
58.1%
323,411
53.8%
265,101
44.1%
188,155
31.3%
163,509
27.2%
2008
357,239
59.8%
335,733
56.2%
259,865
43.5%
186,983
31.3%
160,698
26.9%
2009
356,970
61.8%
339,641
58.8%
254,731
44.1%
181,951
31.5%
160,579
27.8%
2010
380,868
66.0%
360,671
62.5%
263,722
45.7%
184,086
31.9%
159,849
27.7%

4.  Not least due to the considerable public and media interest in the EBac, we announced an inquiry into the new award on 9 February 2011, inviting written evidence by 8 March. The Committee also took oral evidence from two expert panels and from the Minister of State at the Department for Education.[9] The terms of reference for our inquiry included the purpose and benefits of the EBac as well as the choice of included subjects, the implications for pupils, schools and employers, and any international comparisons with the EBac.[10]

5.  In this report, we look at the reasons given by the Government for the creation of the EBac. These appear to fit into three broad categories: to improve opportunities for students' social mobility; to ensure a core, academic curriculum offer for all students; and to provide another performance measure for use by parents and in tables, as part of the Government's drive for transparent and publicly available data.[11] This report offers a chapter on each of these rationales for the EBac, and examines the Government's position as well as the evidence we received. First, however, we consider the evidence base for our inquiry, before looking at the manner in which the EBac was introduced, which was the subject of much of the evidence we received.

6.  As ever, the Committee has benefited from the involvement of its advisers, Professor Alan Smithers and Professor Geoff Whitty CBE, and we are grateful to them for their expertise.[12]

The evidence base for our inquiry

7.  The response to our call for evidence was unusually high for a Select Committee inquiry: 362 submissions were received, together with 346 letters (following a common template provided by the Incorporated Society of Musicians) as part of a campaign calling for music to be included within the list of EBac subjects. This campaign was also highly unusual: the Committee does not often receive such a number of letters on a single issue. Submissions came from a variety of sources, including teachers and parents, schools and colleges, representative and subject associations, employer and faith-based organisations, and local authorities.

8.  We note that the majority of the evidence we received came from education professionals, rather than the wider public: 107 responses came from individual teachers, 49 from individual headteachers, and 31 from schools, as well as over 100 from representative groups, subject associations, and the higher education sector. However, that evidence painted a somewhat different picture to the findings of two YouGov polls.[13] While a proportion of the evidence we received was broadly in favour of a core, academic curriculum for all students, the majority also raised significant concerns about the EBac. Many of these were focussed on the precise choice of subjects included, which we discuss in Chapter 4. Only ten submissions (including that of the Department for Education) were wholeheartedly supportive of the EBac.

9.  Some of the evidence we received welcomed aspects of the EBac, or made a point of agreeing that a core, academic curriculum should be more commonly available than is currently the case. Two independent polls have suggested that the subjects included in the EBac are considered by the public to be broadly those on which school performance tables should focus. A YouGov poll conducted for The Sun in January 2011 asked which subjects should count towards a "school's league table positions"; the total results are shown below.

Table 3: Results of a YouGov poll, January 2011, asking which subjects should count in measuring a school's league table position[14]
Mathematics86%
English language85%
Science79%
English literature 67%
History66%
Geography64%
French, German, Spanish or other modern languages 61%
Information and Communication Technology 55%
Economics45%
Design and Technology 38%
Business Studies37%
Law33%
Home Economics32%
Art and design25%
Religious Studies22%
Sociology22%
Latin19%
Media Studies15%
Drama13%
Dance8%
None of them3%
Don't know7%

The survey found that the EBac subjects (with the exception of Latin, which scores low, and other classical languages, which are not featured in the poll)were considered the most important by the public when measuring a school's performance. This is supported by a further YouGov poll, conducted for The Sunday Times, which showed 69% of those polled were in favour of "changing school league tables to concentrate on core subjects of English, maths, science, humanities and a foreign language".[15] As we will see later in this report, these subjects are also very similar to those A level subjects considered by the Russell Group as facilitating entry to its universities.

10.  In its submission, the Department for Education drew attention to the "broadly similar arrangements to the English Baccalaureate" which it says exist in a number of countries, including Singapore, Germany, France, Japan, Sweden, Canada and the Netherlands. However, the Committee finds that these are not all directly comparable examples. The Department's full evidence can be found at page Ev 36 of this volume. In the context of the United Kingdom's recent decline in the international education performance tables, we agree with the Government that learning from best practice around the world is important,[16] and we have considered this evidence further in our report.


1   Speech by the Secretary of State for Education, at Westminster Academy, 6 September 2010, available at http://www.education.gov.uk/inthenews/speeches/a0064281/michael-gove-to-westminster-academy Back

2   Ibid. Back

3   Ibid. Back

4   The Importance of Teaching - The Schools White Paper 2010, p. 44 Back

5   See The Importance of Teaching - The Schools White Paper 2010, p. 44 Back

6   Ev 36 (Department for Education) Back

7   Adapted from table shown at Ev w357 (Fischer Family Trust), and additional information received from the Fischer Family Trust. Percentages have been rounded. Back

8   Adapted from table shown at Ev w356, and additional information received from the Fischer Family Trust. Percentages have been rounded. The complete list of subjects and qualifications which count towards the EBac is available at Appendix A; in the context of this table, therefore, 'Humanities' refers to those subjects and qualifications which count towards the 'humanities' component of the EBac, 'Languages' to the relevant language qualifications, and so on. Back

9   A list of witnesses and written evidence received can be found at the back of this report Back

10   The announcement of the inquiry can be viewed at http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/education-committee/inquiries/the-english-baccalaureate/ Back

11   More information on the Government's programme to improve the transparency and availability of data, specifically within education, can be found at www.number10.gov.uk/news/letter-to-cabinet-ministers-on-transparency-and-open-data/, and in The Importance of Teaching - The Schools White Paper 2010, pp. 66-69. Back

12   Professor Geoff Whitty has declared an interest as a Trustee of the IFS School of Finance. Back

13   See paragraph 9 below Back

14   Table adapted from the poll results, available at http://today.yougov.co.uk/sites/today.yougov.co.uk/files/YG-Archives-Pol-Sun-LeagueTables-130111.pdf. 1,518 people were polled. Back

15   The complete results of this January 2011 poll, which asked a range of questions about the Government's policies and performance, including on education, can be found at http://today.yougov.co.uk/sites/today.yougov.co.uk/files/YG-Archives-Pol-ST-results-21-230111.pdf  Back

16   See the Foreword by the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister to The Importance of Teaching - The Schools White Paper 2010 (November 2010): "In the most recent OECD PISA survey in 2006 we fell from 4th in the world in the 2000 survey to 14th in science, 7th to 17th in literacy, and 8th to 24th in mathematics. The only way we can catch up, and have the world-class schools our children deserve, is by learning the lessons of other countries' success." (p. 3) Back


 
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Prepared 28 July 2011