The English Baccalaureate - Education Committee Contents

5  The EBac as a measure of performance

70.  In our report on the role and performance of Ofsted, we welcomed the Government's desire for "more publicly available information on schools, including more comprehensive attainment tables."[134] We stand firmly by that conclusion, and have therefore considered very carefully the potential merits of the EBac as a performance measure. A significant amount of evidence we received supported a core, traditional curriculum in schools; it might follow, logically, that those witnesses therefore support schools being judged on their ability to deliver that curriculum. However, two key concerns around the EBac's role as a performance measure were raised with us: its retrospective application, and the attempt to draw a distinction between performance and accountability measures.

The EBac's retrospective introduction

71.  The EBac performance measure was applied retrospectively to the 2010 performance tables, which has caused considerable consternation in education circles: the move means that publicly available information—for the use of parents and the wider community—is based on criteria teachers and schools did not know they were being judged on. Matt Brady, assistant headteacher at Tile Hill Wood School and College in Coventry, argued that "when you introduce a measure that nobody's aware of, you will move the goalposts, and people will be fairly upset by it."[135] Ian Johnson, head of Ramsgate's Marlowe Academy, argued that, far from being able to apply the performance measure retrospectively, a good two years' interval is needed as it is "impossible to change [the curriculum accordingly] for the class of 2012, because they've already made their choices".[136] In the meantime, as another headteacher told us, pupils will only gain the EBac by "happy coincidence"[137] or, as the Association of School and College Leaders explained, because of the specialism of the school they attend.[138] Gerard Kelly, editor of The Times Educational Supplement, summarised the situation thus (in an otherwise positive article about the EBac):

It is easy to understand the hurt and outrage that many teachers feel about the Government's decision to rate their schools retrospectively against a measure they were only made aware of a few weeks [before]. As one headteacher said, it's like teaching pupils one syllabus for two years and testing them on another in the exam. "Only one in six pupils passes the English Bac", concluded the press, which neglected to mention that students didn't even know they had taken it.[139]

72.  The Department for Education recognises that "it will take time for schools to change their curriculum", which, it argues, is why the current performance measures will remain "for the time being" (despite the White Paper's intimation that the EBac will sit "alongside" existing measures, rather than replace them).[140] In April 2011, the Minister of State for Schools was adamant that the "inclusion of the English Baccalaureate measure in the 2010 performance tables has already had a positive impact on GCSE choices in schools."[141] As was seen in chapter 4, this does not appear to be a universal picture.

73.  In a speech in January 2011, the Secretary of State defended the retrospective introduction of the EBac as a performance measure, stating that it was "introduced this year to allow us to see how the schools system has performed in the past—in a way which manifestly can't have been gamed."[142] Several submissions 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".[143]

74.  The Secretary of State is right to recognise the distortions created by 'gaming' of the system by schools. However, our evidence shows significant resentment on the part of schools at the retrospective application of the EBac to 2010 data, and we recommend that, in future, the Government gives schools sufficient warning of any change to the criteria on which their performance is to be judged by parents and the wider public.

Performance versus accountability

75.  The exact role of the EBac as a measure, and the importance attached to it, does not seem clear to professionals or parents. As we noted in chapter 3, there is little evidence at present that the EBac will play any part in university admissions procedures. However, its role in judging schools' performance is less clear. The Minister of State for Schools told us in his oral evidence that there will be no automatic consequence for schools with low EBac attainment:

There are 175 secondary schools where no pupils at all were entered for the EBac but, in terms of the schools that the Department is monitoring and is concerned about, we are not looking at those 175 unless they also happen to be in the group that is achieving less than 35% getting five or more GCSEs, including English and maths. That's why there is a difference between a performance measure and an accountability measure.[144]

The Minister also confirmed that "there will be no intervention measures from Government for schools that are achieving a low percentage in terms of the English Baccalaureate", stating that this was rather "a measure to give information to parents".[145] However, the Minister did not categorically state that Ofsted would not judge schools on their EBac success:

I'm sure Ofsted will look at a whole range of performance measures, and I am sure it will look at the English Baccalaureate as well as the five or more.[146]

That also raises the question of whether or not the EBac will eventually replace the existing "five or more good GCSEs" measure: the Government has said this will continue to be used "for the time being", but implies this is largely because schools need time to change their curriculum to refocus on the EBac.[147] However, in oral evidence the Schools Minister said that there will be "more of these accountability measures, not fewer, in the future".[148]

76.  As well as that lack of clarity, and the subsequent fears that schools will be held to account at some future date because of their EBac performance, concerns have been aired that the EBac is not a suitably robust performance measure as it stands. As the evidence in chapter 3, from St Marylebone School, shows, the EBac does not necessarily show how well a school is catering for all its pupils: indeed, in the examples provided by St Marylebone School, the EBac could actively skew the school's academic reputation by diminishing the achievements by high-performers such as 'Pupil B'.

77.  We welcome the Government's reassurance that it is not using the EBac as a trigger for intervention, and to that extent it is not an accountability measure, but that would not necessarily change the way it would be viewed by the public (we have no substantial evidence thus far of how in fact the measure is perceived by the public). We are concerned that the EBac is not yet part of a balanced score-card which gives equal weight to the progress of every child, focussing instead on those who have a realistic prospect of gaining the award. We would encourage the Government to press ahead with its stated intention to develop performance measures which assess the progress of all pupils, including those on free school meals, and consider that future performance measures need to be part of a coherent and cohesive strategy for school reform, rather than appearing piecemeal. We re-iterate our desire, which we believe supports the Government's, for more performance measures, amongst (rather than above) which the EBac might sit.

78.  The Government should consider the publication of unique learner numbers which would enable the analysis of entry for, and attainment in, particular subjects and combinations of subjects within a school: information such as this could allow a fuller picture to emerge of how to meet Ministers' aims.


79.  We understand the introduction of the EBac was, in part, designed to address concern about the over-valuing of some non-GCSE equivalent qualifications in performance tables. These equivalencies, many argued, have provided an incentive for schools to encourage pupils to take these alternative qualifications, regardless of whether they helped pupils to progress thereafter. The issue is discussed in depth by Alison Wolf in her review of vocational education.[149] Some respondents to our inquiry suggested that the EBac might help counter the problem of equivalencies.[150] In oral evidence to the Committee the Schools Minister, Nick Gibb MP, agreed, saying:

There has been a tendency, because of the league tables, for some students to be entered into qualifications that close down those options (post-16). 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.[151]

80.  However, schools witnesses disagreed that the EBac was an appropriate response to issues with equivalences. Andrew Chubb, Principal of Archbishop Sentamu Academy, suggested that:

We need either to remove or revalue those qualifications in some way, so that they have the correct equivalence. The answer is not to introduce something else which will lead to a different type of gaming.[152]

Meanwhile, Matt Brady, Assistant Headteacher of Tile Hill Wood School and College, commented that:

the EBac sets out to achieve something slightly different, and that is not a resetting of the standard in terms of equivalence; it is looking at broadening the core curriculum.[153]

81.  In its response to the Wolf Review, the Government has said that it will "identify the best vocational qualifications for this age group (14-16) and will recognise them in performance tables. In this way we will break free from the old equivalency based performance tables and include only a set of clearly defined vocational qualifications which have the greatest benefit for this age group."[154]

82.  The Government needs either to remove or revalue qualifications appropriately within the performance tables. We therefore welcome the Government's response to the Wolf review with regard to vocational qualifications and their league table tariffs. However, we remain unconvinced that the EBac is an effective way to redress the perverse incentives generated by existing performance measures (indeed in some ways it risks generating its own perverse incentives) and we feel that the EBac serves as a distraction rather than a solution in this context.


83.  As a measure of individual students' performance, the Government intends "to mark individual students' future achievements through a certificate."[155] One school suggested to us that "it is a major failing of this measure to award pupils a certificate that is of no more value than its constituent parts and to suggest that this award is the measure of an academic education"; furthermore, no other performance measure currently results in a similar certificate.[156] The Association of School and College Leaders argues that arrangements for the certification, were it to go ahead, are unclear, and could involve a "costly process":

When the Secretary of State first spoke about the EBac, he described it as a performance measure and a certificate for pupils. It has since become clear that no planning had been done on the introduction of a certificate for young people and no time scale for its introduction has been announced. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine how such a certificate could be produced since the relevant qualifications will have been achieved through different awarding organisations, possibly at different times, and there is currently no process for the collation of awards to individual 16 year olds.[157]

As well as cost, there are other logistical concerns to do with the award of a certificate: for example, it is unclear whether qualifications taken early (before the age of 16) will count, either towards an individual's performance in the EBac or for the school in performance tables.

84.  We are concerned that an EBac certificate might give too much emphasis to one performance measure in a balanced score-card, and for this reason suggest that plans for certification should be shelved. We have not seen any evidence, either, that the cost and logistics of certification have been fully thought through.

134   The role and performance of Ofsted, Second Report of the Education Committee, Session 2010-12, HC 570-I, p. 45 Back

135   Q6 Back

136   Quoted in 'Anger as ministers move goalposts on new 'English Bac'', in The Times Educational Supplement, 7 January 2011 Back

137   Ev31 (Hugh O'Neill) Back

138   Ev w195 Back

139   Writing in 'It got off to a truly terrible start, but that shouldn't blind us to virtues of EBac', in The Times Educational Supplement, 21 January 2011  Back

140   See Statement of Intent Addendum from the Department for Education, December 2010, and The Importance of Teaching - The Schools White Paper 2010, pp. 44-45 Back

141   HC Deb 1 April 2011 col 544W Back

142   Speech by the Secretary of State for Education to the Education World Forum, 11 January 2011, available at Back

143   Ev w243 Back

144   Q 114 Back

145   Q 86 Back

146   Q 115 Back

147   See Statement of Intent 2010 - Addendum (English Baccalaureate), see Appendix 1  Back

148   Q 91 Back

149   See Review of Vocational Education- The Wolf Report (March 2011), Parts 3 and 5 Back

150   See, for example, Ev w11 (James Reeve), Ev w17 (Damien Graham), Ev w29 (Jane Crow) and Ev w40 (Andrea Lea) Back

151   Q125 Back

152   Q51 Back

153   Ibid. Back

154   Wolf Review of Vocational Education: Government Response, p. 5 Back

155   Statement of Intent (Addendum); see Appendix 1 Back

156   Ev w295 (St Marylebone School) Back

157   Ev w195 Back

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Prepared 28 July 2011