More on the EBacc

Martin Allen

Concern over EBacc continues.  Gove’s complaint that just 22% of GCSE stage students were being entered for EBacc  requirements in 2010 was rightly ridiculed by National Union of Teacher’s   General Secretary Christine Blower who pointed out that the qualification did not exist at that time.

A DfE survey however shows 47% of young people beginning GCSEs this year will be taking an EBacc combination of subjects. These estimates, if they are correct, show that Headteachers, concerned as much about their future league table positions as much as they are the education of their students, are anxious to jump when Gove calls them to attention.

There is though, a more important debate to be had about the nature of the upper secondary curriculum.  According to the NUT  General Secretary , EBacc “undermines” the breadth of what schools offered to pupils. “The EBacc is a blunt instrument that takes a narrow view of education. Talking down the value of arts subjects for instance neglects the huge contribution made to the UK economy by theatre, design and   music”. ( Labour education spokesperson Andy Burnham has made similar statements.

It’s true that subjects like theatre, design and music may be ‘squeezed,’ yet current statistics show that this year only 22000 students entered a GCSE in creative arts and 50 000 in music- with the latter subject entry heavily concentrated in private and selective schools that have always offered the EBacc subjects anyway.  There are also big questions to be answered about the decline of languages in the curriculum, something which the NUT ‘continues to have grave concerns about’ –  urging the Government to ‘come up with a coherent policy for ensuring that all young people acquire at least one Modern Foreign Language’. (press  statement  18/08/11 (

This in no way suggests that we should be supporting the EBacc –  particularly the way in which it is imposed   It does mean however that without an alternative model of the curriculum we end up supporting New Labour’s version –  something that was neither ‘broad’  or balanced’  and where, rather than learning about theatre, music and ‘creativity’  thousand of kids were pushed on to ‘vocational alternatives’ that even the esteemed Professor Alison Wolf;  one of Gove’s curriculum advisors considers a waste of time.

I don’t know of anybody who doesn’t think young people shouldn’t study humanities, science or learn something about another language;   but neither have I come across any who subscribe to  Gove’s model. We need to reclaim the curriculum and take back the bacc.

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