The English Baccalaureate - Education Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Introduction of the EBac

1.  We acknowledge the Secretary of State's rationale for the retrospective introduction of the EBac. However, we also recognise the tension between the lack of consultation concerning the EBac's introduction, and the Government's aspiration to afford greater autonomy and respect to the education profession. Consultation with teachers, as well as the further and higher education sectors and employers, might have avoided a number of the concerns which are now being raised, and may have secured support for the EBac rather than generating the mainly negative response which our inquiry has seen. In future, the Government should aim to give appropriate notice of, and undertake consultation with key stakeholders and the wider public on, any new performance or curriculum measures. (Paragraph 18)

2.  We welcome the recently-launched review of the National Curriculum. We hope this will lead to a considered, coherent rethinking of the curriculum allowing full consultation with, and input from the teaching profession, parents, employers, colleges and universities. We understand the Government's wish to introduce reform with all speed, but regret the launch of the EBac before the curriculum review was completed. Any measure which examines schools' performance in particular subjects would be better introduced once the curriculum itself has been defined and finalised. (Paragraph 20)

3.  We do not believe the EBac— the hybrid of a certificate and a performance measure, named after a qualification—is appropriately labelled: it is not a baccalaureate, and as it stands the name can therefore be misleading to parents, professionals and pupils. The Government should assess the extent to which the name might cause confusion: a concern, like some others, which consultation before the EBac's introduction could have identified. (Paragraph 22)

The impact of the EBac on progression and social mobility

4.  We support the Government's desire to have greater equality of opportunity for all students, and to improve the attainment of those eligible for free school meals. The evidence is unclear as to whether entering more disadvantaged students for EBac subjects would necessarily make a significant contribution to this aim. Concentrating on the subjects most valued for progression to higher education could mean schools improve the attainment and prospects of their lowest-performing students, who are disproportionately the poorest as well. However, other evidence suggests that the EBac might lead to a greater focus on those students on the borderline of achieving it, and therefore have a negative impact on the most vulnerable or disadvantaged young people, who could receive less attention as a result. At the same time, we believe that the EBac's level of prescription does not adequately reflect the differences of interest or ability between individual young people, and risks the very shoe-horning of pupils into inappropriate courses about which one education minister has expressed concerns. Given these concerns, it is essential that the Government confirms how it will monitor the attainment of children on free school meals in the EBac. (Paragraph 37)

5.  We agree with the Government that, if our education system is to improve, it must take account of best practice internationally. However, the evidence we received does not suggest a link, in other countries, between the prescribed study of certain academic subjects and improved attainment and prospects for poorer students. The Government should provide further such international evidence, and analysis of it, to inform debate on the merits of the EBac. (Paragraph 38)

6.  Universities, further education providers and sixth form colleges have already begun to communicate their position on the EBac, but confusion on its status remains. Information on how it might be used in applications procedures, if at all, should be made readily available to students, parents, and schools. (Paragraph 39)

Subjects and specialisation

7.  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." 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. (Paragraph 48)

8.  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. (Paragraph 68)

9.  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. (Paragraph 69)

The EBac as a measure of performance

10.  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. (Paragraph 74)

11.  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. (Paragraph 77)

12.  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. (Paragraph 78)

13.  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. (Paragraph 82)

14.  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. (Paragraph 84)

Concluding remarks

15.  We think the Government is right to say that all children should have access to a broad and balanced curriculum up to the age of sixteen, including traditional, academic subjects, and that the attainment gap between rich and poor can, and should, be narrowed. The evidence available does suggest that the list of subjects contained in the EBac is, broadly speaking, representative of those that have the highest value to the individual in keeping their options open. However, our inquiry has uncovered significant concerns about:

  • the exact composition of the EBac. We therefore recommend a review of the complement of subjects in the EBac, following the completion of the National Curriculum Review, which should seek input not only from teachers, parents and pupils, but also from higher and further education institutions, employers, and learned societies;
  • the impact the EBac will have on students, including the most disadvantaged, about which the evidence was unclear. We therefore urge the Government to keep the EBac under careful scrutiny, and to consult more widely with the public on how best to measure students' and schools' performance, with a view to developing a range of measures including the reviewed EBac;
    • and
  • the manner of the EBac's introduction, which we believe damaged its potential credibility. We would therefore encourage the Government to take seriously the lessons to be learnt from that introduction, especially if, as we hope, the Government is to be successful in building greater respect for front-line professionals. (Paragraph 87)

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Prepared 28 July 2011