Nearly nine in 10 school leaders oppose compulsory EBacc in its current form

26 August 2015

Nearly 90 per cent of school leaders disagree with a Government reform to require every pupil to sit GCSEs in five English Baccalaureate (EBacc) subjects, according to a survey.

They expressed concern that it does not suit the needs of every pupil and does not leave enough room for creative and vocational subjects. However, 73 per cent said they would be more inclined to support the requirement if there was more flexibility in the choice of subjects.

The reform, announced by Education Secretary Nicky Morgan in June, will apply to pupils starting secondary school from this September and will mean they must study English, maths, science, history or geography, and a language up to GCSE level. The first students affected will sit their GCSEs in 2020.

In a survey conducted by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), which drew nearly 1,000 responses, 24 per cent disagreed with the reform, and 63 per cent strongly disagreed – a total of 87 per cent opposed to the requirement as it stands.

The survey also revealed that 74 per cent of respondents say their school does not have enough teachers in the EBacc subjects, highlighting a serious teacher supply problem across the country. The subjects causing the most difficulty were languages, with 69 per cent of respondents saying they will have recruitment difficulties.

ASCL Deputy General Secretary Malcolm Trobe said: “We understand that ministers intend to consult widely during the autumn over their plan for compulsory EBacc, and we are very pleased that they are doing so. We hope that this will lead to them building more flexibility into this system.

“It is clear from our survey that the vast majority of school leaders are concerned that the current proposals are too rigid and will restrict their ability to offer a curriculum which suits the needs of all their pupils. We are concerned that creative, technology and vocational subjects are in danger of being squeezed out and we must ensure there is room in the curriculum for them.

“It needs to be recognised that the EBacc will not suit some pupils whose interests and talents may lay in other areas, and who will be demotivated by being forced to take GCSEs in which they have little interest. We hope that ministers will not therefore require that every pupil takes the EBacc and will allow that a proportion are better served by other options.

“We also think that the range and choice of EBacc subjects is too restrictive. It should be widened, particularly to include other humanities such as religious studies, and there should be greater freedom over the combinations of subjects that pupils are allowed to take to make up their EBacc.

“This approach would better suit the individual interests and strengths of students, while ensuring they receive the traditional academic grounding the Government wants to see.

“Our survey clearly shows that a more flexible approach would be supported by many school leaders and we would be very happy to work with the Government to make sure that all young people have access to the qualifications which suit their needs in 21st century Britain.”

Compulsory EBacc is part of a series of changes which will also see the introduction of new GCSEs and A levels over the next few years, the ‘decoupling’ of A levels and AS levels and the introduction of a new awarding system for GCSEs in which they will be graded from 9 to 1 instead of A* to G.

Some of the reformed GCSE and A level courses will begin in September, with others following in later phases.

In the ASCL survey, which took place in July, we asked members how manageable they had found implementing these changes. Most had experienced problems. Fifty five per cent said the changes had been “difficult to manage but we have coped”, 33 per cent said the changes had been “unmanageable and there is still much work to do” and four per cent said the changes were “unmanageable and we will not be ready in time.”

The biggest problem was “cumulative overload caused by changes over several years” which was cited by 75 per cent of respondents.

The Government’s recent decision to raise the standard for a ‘good GCSE’ - with the new Grade 5 standard being more challenging than the existing C grade – has also been badly received. Forty two per cent of respondents disagreed with the decision, and 29 per cent strongly disagreed.


The survey results are as follows:

Q1. Pupils starting secondary school in September must study the English Baccalaureate subjects of English, maths, science, history or geography, and a language at GCSE. How do you feel about this reform?

Strongly support - 2.49% (24 responses)
Support - 7.37% (71)
Neither support nor disagree - 3.22% (31)
Disagree - 23.57% (227)
Strongly disagree - 63.34% (610)

Total respondents: 963

Q2. If you support this change, do you feel it will:

Help to raise standards - 43.10% (50 responses)
Improve employability and university prospects for students - 58.62% (68)
Ensure more pupils get good qualifications - 55.17% (64)
Other - 35.34% (41)

Total respondents: 116

Q3. If disagree, what are your concerns:

Required range of subjects is too inflexible - 81.17% (707 responses)
Will leave less room for creative/ vocational subjects - 85.76% (747)
Does not suit every pupil - 96.56% (841)
Unfair performance measure on schools - 58.32% (508)
Other - 25.14% (219)

Total respondents: 871

Q4. If you have concerns, would more flexibility in the choice of EBacc subjects make you more inclined to support this requirement?

Yes - 73.55% (670 responses)
No - 26.45% (241)

Total respondents: 911

Q5. Do you have a sufficient supply of teachers in the EBacc subjects?

Yes - 26.30% (252 responses)
No - 73.70% (706)

Total respondents: 958

Q6. If not, in which subjects do you, or will you, have difficulty?

English - 39.95% (292 responses)
Maths - 58.55% (428)
Science - 57.73% (422)
Languages - 69.22% (506)
Geography - 34.61% (253)
History - 22.02% (161)

Total respondents: 731

Q7. In September, revised courses in some GCSEs and A levels begin, as well as the ‘decoupling’ of some A levels and AS levels. How manageable have these changes been?

Easily manageable - 0.31% (3 responses)
Manageable - 7.80% (75)
Difficult to manage but we have coped - 54.53% (524)
Unmanageable and there is still much work to do - 33.09% (318)
Unmanageable and we will not be ready in time - 4.27% (41)

Total respondents: 961

Q8. Have you had any problems in preparing for these changes?

No problems - 1.87% (18 responses)
Shortage of teachers in key subject areas - 42.68% (411)
Lack of money to buy new resources e.g. textbooks and handouts - 70.92% (683)
Cumulative overload caused by changes over several years - 75.49% (727)
Insufficient time in which to implement changes - 74.35% (716)
Teacher workload - 73% (703)
Other - 15.26% (147)

Total respondents: 963

Q9. The standard for a “good GCSE” is being raised, with the new Grade 5 standard being more challenging than the existing C grade. How do you feel about this decision?

Strongly support - 1.14% (11 responses)
Support - 9.78% (94)
Neither support nor disagree - 18.52% (178)
Disagree - 42.14% (405)
Strongly disagree - 28.41% (273)

Total respondents: 961

Q10. If you support this change, do you feel it will?

Help to raise standards - 62.43% (108 responses)
Improve employability and university prospects for students - 23.12% (40)
Ensure pupils can compete with top performers in the world - 38.73% (67)
Other - 30.06% (52)

Total respondents: 173

Q11. If you disagree, what are your concerns?

Likely to increase pressure and stress on students - 74.18% (589 responses)
Detrimental to borderline students - 69.27% (550)
Additional confusion caused by change - 78.59% (624)
Unfair performance measure on schools - 62.47% (496)
Other - 23.17% (184)

Total respondents: 794