The English Baccalaureate - Education Committee Contents

4  Subjects and specialisation

40.  The choice of subjects included in the EBac has been one of the most controversial aspects of its existence, featuring in a very large number of submissions to our inquiry. In considering the evidence, we recognise that, in compiling any list of 'preferred' subjects, there is likely to be understandable opposition from teachers of, or those with a special interest in, other subjects. Concerns ranged from the exclusion of individual subjects - most notably religious education—through to broader worries about the absence of creative, practical and technical subjects. Currently, to achieve the EBac students must have a GCSE, at grades A* to C, in the following subjects:



At least two sciences (having entered all three) or double award science

History, geography or ancient history (but not classical civilisation)

A modern or classical language

The list of precisely which qualifications are eligible is available at Appendix 1.

Rationale for the chosen subjects

41.  Three predominant explanations for the final choice of EBac subjects have been forthcoming from the Government. The Minister of State for Schools, Nick Gibb MP, told us that the EBac was a conscious method of improving take-up:

In 2002, something like three quarters of the whole cohort took a modern foreign language to GCSE. Last year, that figure was 43%, and if you strip out the independent sector it is just above a third. That is a concern. Geography has fallen from 45% of students taking it in 1995 to 26% of students taking it in 2010. History is down from 39% to 31%. So we are trying to address some very real concerns...[73]

The Minister also explained that some schools appear to have dismissed these subjects completely:

These subjects are entitlement subjects... Most of them are actually compulsory and must be studied to the age of 16. And yet there are 175 secondary schools where no pupils were entered for all the English Bac subjects; there were 169 schools where there were no French entries, and there were 137 schools where no pupils were entered for geography.[74]

42.  Secondly, the Minister explained that the EBac is about delaying specialisation:

It is about delaying specialisation until 16 and keeping options open as long as possible, so that people are not closing down opportunities post-16. There has been a tendency, because of the league tables, for some students to be entered into qualifications that close down those options. They are being entered for those qualifications solely because of the league table position of the school. It is trying to redress that perverse incentive that is part of the reasoning behind the English Baccalaureate.[75]

The evidence we received demonstrated some support for this principle, as did Alison Wolf's recent report of vocational education, which recommended a core academic curriculum pre-16.[76] What concerned some witnesses, however, was that the EBac would leave too little time in the curriculum for the pursuit of other subjects, whether academic or vocational. The Minister told us that the EBac will occupy 70-80% of curriculum time,[77] allowing "ample time in the curriculum for other subjects".[78] However, considering there are other statutory subjects, some witnesses have argued that, in reality, the EBac dictates the whole curriculum, as headteacher Andrew Chubb explained:

The academy I lead is a Church of England academy so RE [religious education] is compulsory for all students...[79] By the time you add in PE [physical education], which is a requirement, and PSHE [personal, social and health education], which is essential, in our academy you are left with about 10% of the time to deliver anything outside what we would call the core plus EBac.[80]

43.  If this scenario is replicated elsewhere, the consequences of the EBac will not chime particularly comfortably with the words of Mr Gibb's Ministerial colleague, Lord Hill of Oareford who said, in response to a question about the award:

I think that everyone would accept that children are different, that there is no right way for any particular children and that vocational options as well as academic options should be fully available. It would be wrong if schools were forcing children to do things that were not right for them or were forcing them to change subjects halfway through their course.[81]

Unfortunately, this may be happening already as a result of the EBac's introduction, particularly in relation to certain subjects.

44.  The third rationale for the final choice of subjects is, as we saw in the previous chapter, that the EBac subjects are very similar to those considered by the Russell Group to facilitate entry to its universities, and the EBac could therefore play a role in enabling more students, including those from poorer backgrounds, to progress to those universities and the benefits that accrue from completion of their degrees. Related to that, we note that Alison Wolf, in her review of vocational education, said that too many students have been following courses which have little or no labour market value.[82]

Technical subjects

45.  Some employers raised particular concerns about the exclusion of technical subjects from the EBac suite. David Bell, Chief Corporate Development Officer at JCB, told us as a recruiter that the EBac will mean "fewer people doing the subjects that I want them to be doing".[83] ADS, the trade organisation advancing the UK's aerospace, defence, security and space industries, told us that the existing EBac configuration "may have a potentially adverse impact on engineering and technology qualifications";[84] the National Committee for 14-19 Engineering Education of the Royal Academy for Engineering agreed that the EBac "does nothing to promote practical and technical experience outside of mathematics and science" and, consequently, "does not do enough to support productive industry in the UK".[85]

46.  Specific concerns were raised by a number of witnesses around the exclusion of information and communication technology [ICT] and design technology from the EBac. One teacher summed up fears of the impact this could have on employers and business:

ICT skills particularly are an area in which developed nations should be looking to lead in. When taught well ICT is an enabling subject which improves the capacity of students and provides them with the tools required to function in a digital age. The announcement of the EBac has directly led to a reduction of almost half in the number of students opting to study ICT [at my school], which will have a knock on effect in future years on the number of A-level and then Degree entrants.[86]

47.  The Association of Colleges, amongst others, has called instead for a parallel 'technical baccalaureate', which it argues would be "more motivating for quite a number of individuals."[87] However, it was suggested to us that while the 'TechBac' would be "better than nothing", the "deep culture that we have in this country"—as noted, for example, in the Wolf Review[88]—would mean the "EBac will be for the bright kids, and the TechBac will be for the less bright kids."[89] There is, therefore, a concern that a 'TechBac' would perpetuate the myth, as described by Lord Baker, that "the grammar school on the hill was always better than the school in the town with the workshops".[90]

48.  As we recommended in our recent report on participation by 16-19 year olds in education and training, the Department for Education "should consider whether a 40%/60% split between time spent on specifically vocational or technical study and on core academic curriculum would best suit 14 year olds who take up vocational options while at school."[91] However, we have not seen any evidence that the problems associated with the introduction and mission of the EBac could be avoided if a Technical Baccalaureate were introduced along similar lines, despite the support this won from some witnesses. For these reasons, we do not recommend the creation of such a baccalaureate at this time.

Religious education

49.  The exclusion of religious education [RE] from the humanities category of the EBac has been perhaps the most hotly contested aspect of the award's introduction. A vigorous parliamentary campaign calling for the inclusion of RE attracted the signatures of over 100 MPs, echoing the views of many on the front line. The Catholic Education Service summed up many of these concerns, arguing that religious education "has a strong claim to be the humanity, par excellence as it demands knowledge and skills in history, textual criticism, anthropology, ethics, philosophy and theology" and that "its omission from any measure which seeks to ensure that pupils receive a genuinely broad education is indefensible".[92]

50.  Two defences have, nonetheless, been offered. The Minister of State for Schools has said that "the reasoning behind our decision not to include RE" is that "it is already compulsory by law";[93] indeed, as he also noted, "it is the only subject that has been a compulsory part of the school curriculum since 1944."[94] Secondly, the Minister has argued that the EBac aims to encourage increased take-up of those subjects where fewer students were achieving, or even entering for, GCSEs—such as history, geography and languages—which is not the case for religious education:

[R]eligious studies [RS] rose from 16% in 1995 to 28% in 2010... Our concern was that if you included RS or RE as a component part of the humanities, some schools - and we thought it would be the schools that we were most concerned about, and that were already not offering the full range of history, geography and modern languages to their pupils—would use RS to tick the box for humanities.[95]

Furthermore we acknowledge that, in an independent public poll asking which subjects schools' performance should be judged on, religious studies garnered support from 22% of those surveyed, where most EBac subjects scored at least 60%.[96]

51.  There is, however, concern that faith schools—to which the Government has said it is "committed"[97]—are indirectly discriminated against by the EBac's exclusion of religious studies. The Church of England Board of Education explained the dilemma to us:

Church of England schools, many of which maintain a commitment to full course GCSE RS for all students, are now faced with an impossible choice. Keeping RE as part of the core for all students may well be seen as too risky. At the very least there will be extreme pressure on the timetable if RE is to be maintained alongside the acceptable English Baccalaureate subjects.[98]

A survey of nearly 800 schools, conducted by the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE), recently found that almost one in three secondary schools plans cuts to RE teaching.[99]

52.  Others have argued that the absence of religious education in the EBac will encourage schools—despite its standing as a compulsory subject—to treat the subject less seriously, which could have a detrimental effect on students' wider education. Headteacher Hugh O'Neill predicted that "for a non-faith school" religious education will become "an extremely rare choice, if the EBac stays as it is",[100] despite being—in the words of another Headteacher—"as rigorous academically at GCSE as history and geography."[101] Ben Thomas, Headmaster of Thomas's Battersea, added:

Tolerance will surely come only through understanding of each other's religions, and understanding through education.[102]

The creative arts

53.  The Committee received over 340 similarly-worded letters as part of a campaign to have Music GCSE included in the EBac,[103] as well as a large number of other submissions on the creative arts, from a variety of sources. The Department for Education's decision not to include music and art in the EBac could be seen as odd in light of the Government's view that "Involvement with the arts has a dramatic and lasting effect on young people", [104] but perhaps even more so considering Michael Gove's own words when announcing the EBac last year:

I'm proposing that the Government look at how many young people in each secondary school secure five good GCSEs including... a humanity like history or geography, art or music.[105]

The White Paper published two months later referred only to "a humanity such as history or geography".[106] No specific rationale for that change of heart has been forthcoming, although the Minister acknowledged that it "is a difficult judgment call whether to include music and art as well".[107] Darren Henley, who was commissioned by the Government to conduct a review of music education, recommended that "Music should be included as one of the subjects that go to make up the new English Baccalaureate", when the award's "constituent parts are next reviewed".[108] A January 2011 YouGov poll, cited previously in this report, asked the public which subjects ought to count when measuring schools' performance, and music was omitted from the list; however, other arts subjects scored low with only 25% of those surveyed supporting art and design, 13% drama, and 8% dance.[109]

54.  The vast amount of evidence calling for the arts to be recognised in the EBac included, unusually, a submission from the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Policy Committee for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport. It argued that the arts "are valuable academic subjects in their own right; that they can significantly improve performance in literacy, numeracy and foreign languages; and that they are vital to the future of our creative industries" and opined that the EBac, as it stands, may well "have a negative impact on the schools arts provision."[110]

55.  There is some evidence that this decline in provision has already begun, as a result of the EBac, as a small study by the National Association of Music Educators told us:

As early as January 2011 60% of the 95 music teachers who responded indicated that their schools had already taken action that would reduce the uptake of the music GCSE in September 2011. In some cases, this involved reducing the number of subjects that pupils could choose to two; in others, it involved putting music in option blocks against EBac subjects, so that pupils had to choose between them.[111]

This evidence, like that of the Church of England Board of Education, seems to contradict the Minister's view that the EBac allows "plenty of time in the curriculum—20% or 30%, or more time" to study "a vocational subject, music and art, RE and so on."[112]

56.  Other evidence has argued that music, for example, is as rigorous an academic subject as history and geography. The Incorporated Society of Musicians, citing research from the Institute of Education, told us that:

Music education has been shown repeatedly to have a positive impact on pupils' perceptual and language skills, literacy, numeracy, intellectual development, attainment, social and personal development, physical skills and health. One can assume that with a decline in the availability of music in schools, a similar decline will be noticed in these core areas.[113]

57.  One head of a school with music specialism, said he was "furious" that the EBac offered no praise for the "often exceptional achievement of our students in the Arts", asking, "Why does discussing Tudor politics give 'credit' for the EBac while discussing the impact of the Spanish Civil War on artistic movements in Europe does not?"[114] Similar concerns were expressed around art and drama. Art and design educators at Birmingham City University wrote to us that:

If the English Baccalaureate as it is proposed is imposed on schools, lasting damage will occur to the cultural education of thousands [of] pupils... In a complex and culturally diverse society it is essential that cultural understanding and global perspectives are fostered through education. The arts subjects are uniquely placed to make crucial inputs to this understanding.[115]

Meanwhile, Theatre for Young Audiences emphasised that drama and theatre can "teach children the essential skills that employers are increasingly seeking", as well as improving students' technical and intellectual rigour alongside each other.[116]

58.  Evidence also intimated that the exclusion of a creative component within the EBac could have a detrimental effect on the creative industries and on employers.[117]

Other issues of subject choice

59.  In addition to the concerns highlighted about religious education, the arts, and technical subjects, a number of other concerns around the EBac subjects and qualifications were raised during the course of our inquiry. It is impossible for us to address each one here; instead, we have drawn attention to those where the body of evidence was most substantial and where potentially serious repercussions could be forthcoming for schools, employers and pupils if the Government does not consider the issues further.


60.  The first of these was around the composition of language qualifications. Most linguists who provided evidence warmly welcomed the EBac's inclusion of modern languages. However, concerns were expressed over the nature of the qualifications themselves. Headteacher Richard Curtis suggested to us that "as currently taught to GCSE, languages are decidedly 'non-academic'—being almost entirely focused on gaining functional skills",[118] which is potentially at odds with the Government's desire for the EBac to be an academic wrapper. The Association for Language Learning suggested that "if more pupils from all backgrounds and across ability ranges are to be engaged by languages and do well in them, GCSE languages examinations will need to be reviewed to ensure that there is appropriate and stimulating content."[119] By contrast, Chris Morecroft (President of the Association of Colleges) suggested that, for many employers, applied, less academic language courses were more useful: "It could be business language for travel and tourism. It would not necessarily have to be rigorous GCSE French or German or Mandarin."[120] Similarly, the inherent skills associated with modern, as opposed to classical, languages, are seen by some employers as very different. David Bell, Chief Corporate Development Officer at JCB, said that "if I were employing somebody who had those [BRIC country modern] languages, that would be a big tick in the box for me" but that if "they had Latin and Greek it would probably be a big negative tick".[121]


61.  The languages category also raised another potential consequence of the EBac. While Latin GCSE is included in the list of 'eligible' subjects, the WJEC Level 2 Certificate in Latin is not. The Certificate, which WJEC told us was accredited under the same processes as iGCSEs, has had a positive effect on the uptake of the subject:

Even in the short time of their availability those schools using the Certificates in Latin have reported a significant rise (a doubling or tripling) in the number of students studying Latin at KS4 and intending to study Latin at KS5. For the first full entry this summer there will be over 5,000 unit entries from over 150 centres. Inclusion of the Certificates in Latin would promote this growth, whereas exclusion will cause a reduction in the number of students studying Latin in England.[122]

62.  From this evidence, it could be understood that the EBac, far from increasing the uptake of Latin, could have the opposite effect. This view was expressed in many submissions, including that of classics teacher Rowan Stephenson:

The WJEC Level 2 Latin certificate needs to be included in the EBac languages list because there are many state schools like mine where there is not enough time available either in or outside the curriculum to cover the ground needed for the current OCR Latin GCSE... If the certificate is excluded from the EBac it will discourage state schools from introducing Latin and give the impression that the language study involved is of less value than [other languages].[123]

The concerns were summed up the University of Cambridge School Classics Project:

Latin teaching in UK schools, which has seen significant growth over the last decade, will enter another period of decline if the WJEC Level 2 Certificates in Latin are not rapidly included in the Language component of the EBac... The negative impact on Classical subjects of the EBac in its current form will be felt in both the state and independent sectors, but more severely in the state sector.[124]


63.  Concerns about the EBac's potential impact on science have been expressed to us as well. Currently, to receive the award, students would need to pass two single sciences at grade A*-C, but to have been entered for all three, or to pass double award science with an A*-C. The CBI's Susan Anderson felt that, if the EBac drove more schools to offer three separate sciences, businesspeople would consider that "a good thing",[125] but that, at present, too many state schools "only offer double science, which is not a good preparation for A-level."[126] SCORE—a partnership focussed on science education—suggested the EBac would do little to reverse this trend:

The introduction of the English Baccalaureate as it stands may well reduce the number of pupils taking GCSEs in three separate sciences. Timetabling pressures caused by accommodating the English Baccalaureate subjects may restrict the amount of teaching time available such that some schools are not able to offer the separate sciences alongside Science and Additional Science... The science measure for the English Baccalaureate (for those students taking three separate sciences) will be the top two grades from the three separate sciences. There is a concern that schools might concentrate pupils efforts on the two sciences either for which they have specialist teachers or based on their results in early assessments.[127]

64.  Furthermore, this method of crediting science achievement could lead to potentially perverse consequences for individual students. For example, a student with a C grade in Double Science would be able to achieve the EBac, where a student with A*s in two sciences, and a host of other good GCSEs, would not unless they had entered the third science as well. This could become an active disincentive to study three separate sciences if, as one headteacher told us, schools start to think that "Double Science is 'enough'".[128]


65.  That negative impact on pupils could extend to other subjects, as highlighted in Hugh O'Neill's comments concerning history and geography:

My students will have no chance to get the English Baccalaureate this year. We got zero in 2010 because the subjects that we do—short course history and geography—were not recognised, and neither was the GCSE in religious studies... The first students at St Benedict's school who will actually achieve an English Baccalaureate will pass it in 2013. There are three years of collateral damage.[129]

66.  A further concern raised in the humanities 'bracket' of the EBac was the inclusion of GCSE Ancient History but not Classical Civilisation. One head of Classics—representing many more witnesses who raised the issue—argued the benefits of the qualification to us:

The course is rigorous and demanding, but the variety of units available (a mix of historical and literary topics) gives pupils a wide taste of the Classical world... I have looked at the specification for Ancient History and I am convinced it would lead to fewer students at KS4. Although I love ancient History, the course is so much narrower than the Classical Civilisation specification...[130]

The University of Cambridge School Classics Project anticipates that this will have a very real impact on the take-up of the course, predicting a "32% drop in the number of students studying Classical Civilisation by 2014."[131]

Teacher supply

67.  Evidence received for our inquiry—as seen throughout this chapter—suggests that schools are already realigning their curricula in order to increase uptake of EBac subjects, which could have a significant effect on teacher supply. The Department for Education has recognised this:

The biggest impact for schools will be on the change of the curriculum and the impact on staffing in terms of deployment and training. We recognise that this will not necessarily be a simple task and may take time for some schools to achieve, particularly if they need to recruit teachers in areas where shortages already exist, such as physics, or areas where we would expect there to be high demand, such as language teachers...[132]

The Department went on to state that it is "currently working with the Training and Development Agency for Schools to increase the number of newly trained teachers coming into key EBacc areas where there is likely to be high demand."[133]

68.  We acknowledge that certain academic subjects studied at A-level are more valued by Russell Group universities than others. The EBac is founded on that university-based curriculum. However, our inquiry has uncovered significant issues with the EBac's current composition, and there are certain subjects and qualifications where we are not clear on the rationale behind their exclusion. A focus on a fairly narrow range of subjects, demanding considerable curriculum time, is likely to have negative consequences on the uptake of other subjects. We encourage the Government to examine carefully the evidence presented to us, and suggest that it reconsiders the composition of the EBac on conclusion of the National Curriculum Review. More importantly, future performance measures must be well thought through.

69.  We are glad that the Department for Education has recognised the potential impact of the EBac on teacher supply, and is working on solutions to any adverse effect this might have. However, academic subjects are not the only path to a successful future, and all young people, regardless of background, must continue to have opportunities to study the subjects in which they are likely to be most successful, and which pupils, parents and schools think will serve them best.

73   Q 96 Back

74   Q 93 Back

75   Q 125 Back

76   See Review of Vocational Education - the Wolf Report (March 2011), p. 109 Back

77   See Q 119: the Minister explains that schools will have "20% or 30%, or more time" to teach everything not included in the EBac. Back

78   HC Deb 7 February 2011 col 7 Back

79   As the Minister has pointed out, religious education is a statutory subject. See paragraph 50 below. Back

80   Q 6 Back

81   HL Deb 5 May 2011 col 568 Back

82   See Review of Vocational Education - The Wolf Report (March 2011), p. 21 and elsewhere Back

83   Q 58 Back

84   Ev w194 Back

85   Ev w135 Back

86   Ev w245 (Mr J. Partridge) Back

87   Q 60 (Chris Morecroft) Back

88   In his introduction to Professor Wolf's 2011 review of vocational education, the Secretary of State for Education wrote that England has always "struggled with our failure to provide young people with a proper technical and practical education".  Back

89   Q 62 (David Bell) Back

90   Lord Baker, 'Wolf's backing of vocational training is great, but she ducks the question of how much it will cost', The Times Educational Supplement, 25th March 2011 Back

91   Participation by 16-19 year olds in education and training, Fourth Report from the Education Committee, Session 2010-12, HC 850-I, paragraph 34 Back

92   Ev w242 Back

93   HC Deb 17 May 2011 col 50WH Back

94   Ibid., col 48WH Back

95   Q 109 Back

96   The complete results of this January 2011 poll can be found at Back

97   HC Deb 17 May 201 col 48WH Back

98   Ev w198 Back

99   See 'RE teaching time slashed in English Bac scramble', in The Times Educational Supplement, 4 February 2011 Back

100   Q 22 Back

101   Q 24 (Caroline Jordan) Back

102   Ev w343 (Jane Ellison MP) Back

103   Orchestrated by the Incorporated Society of Musicians, which provided a template letter. Back

104   Website of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport:  Back

105   Speech by the Secretary of State for Education, at Westminster Academy, 6 September 2010, available at  Back

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

107   Q 117 Back

108   Music Education in England: A Review by Darren Henley for the Department for Education and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (February 2011), paragraph 3.6, available at  Back

109   The complete results of this January 2011 poll can be found at Back

110   Ev w210 Back

111   Ev w122 Back

112   Q 119 Back

113   Ev w110-111 (submitted in conjunction with Conservatoires UK) Back

114   Ev w11 (Richard Curtis, Headteacher, St Bede's School) Back

115   Ev w264 Back

116   Ev w252 Back

117   See, for example, Ev w201 (Creative and Cultural Skills- sector skills council), Ev w217 (National Association for Gallery Education, also known as Engage) and Ev w218 (Crafts Council) Back

118   Ev w10 Back

119   Ev w209 Back

120   Q 65 Back

121   Q 65 Back

122   Ev w236 Back

123   Ev w47 Back

124   Ev w228 Back

125   Q 58 Back

126   Ibid. Back

127   Ev w343 Back

128   Ev w253 (Catherine Darnton) Back

129   Q6 Back

130   Ev w30 (Mrs Barbara Roden) Back

131   Ev w228 Back

132   Ev 39 Back

133   Ibid. Back

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Prepared 28 July 2011