Schools restricting EBacc to brightest

Legal action over this summer's GCSE English fiasco moved has a step closer after the exams regulator vowed to "rigorously defend" its decisions.
Legal action over this summer's GCSE English fiasco moved has a step closer after the exams regulator vowed to "rigorously defend" its decisions.
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SOME schools are encouraging only brighter pupils to take more traditional academic subjects at GCSE, a new Government survey has suggested.

It reveals that a student’s prior attainment is the key factor in determining whether they are offered the chance to take English Baccalaureate subjects.

The EBacc is awarded to pupils who score at least a C grade at GCSE in English, maths, two sciences, a foreign language and either history or geography.

The new Ipsos MORI survey, commissioned by the Department for Education, surveyed 618 secondary teachers to examine take-up of EBacc subjects among pupils who were in Year nine in 2011/12, perception of the EBacc, and the impact it has had on schools, parents and pupils.

Interviews were also carried out with a number of pupils and teachers.

The findings show that this year, almost half of year nine pupils – 49 per cent have chosen a combination of GCSEs which could lead to them achieving the EBacc when they sit their exams in 2014.

This is up slightly from 46 percent in 2011. The DfE said the numbers have risen significantly since 2010, the year the EBacc was first announced, when 22 per cent of pupils took an EBacc combination of GCSEs.

The survey findings show that the average proportion of pupils selecting each of the EBacc subjects, and an EBacc combination of subjects, is higher in selective schools than in non-selective schools.

It is also higher in schools with low numbers of pupils on free school meals (FSM) – a key measure of poverty.

Overall, in schools with a relatively high number of FSM pupils, around 41 per cent of students on average have chosen subjects that will go towards achieving the EBacc, compared with 60 per cent of pupils in schools with lower numbers of FSM youngsters.

The research says: “Pupil attainment is largely the determining factor in whether the EBacc is offered to pupils. Sixty-three per cent of teachers surveyed whose schools do not offer the EBacc combination to all pupils say this is because they do not offer it to lower-attaining pupils.

“Teachers involved in the case studies felt that pupils should focus on subjects where they will earn higher grades and for lower-attaining pupils these may not be EBacc subjects, or at least the full EBacc combination of subjects.”

The Government plans to scrap GCSEs and replace them with a new exam which will also be called the English Baccalaureate. The new Ebacc announced by Education Secretary Michael Gove last month would see the retaking of modules scrapped, coursework cut back and pupils expected to sit more rigorous end-of-year exams. If the reforms are approved pupils would begin Ebaccs in English, maths and science in 2015, sitting exams in 2017.

Labour yesterday played down claims that it is considering axing all GCSEs other than English and maths as part of a move away from assessing pupils at 16 as the school leaving age increases to 18.

A spokesman said : “All (Shadow Education Secretary) Stephen Twigg has said so far is that we need an exam system that reflects pupils staying on until 18, which Michael Gove’s new exams do not address. That includes developing a gold standard vocational system via a technical baccalaureate and all pupils studying English and Maths until the age of 18.”