Knowledge Bank - Leadership


We're a secondary school who struggle to meet the floor targets. Now with the EBacc we are faced with another dilemma - should we ignore it and stick to what works for our pupils?

As you probably already know the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) includes:

  • English – GCSE in English/ English Language 
  • Mathematics – GCSE in Mathematics/ Additional Mathematics
  • Science – enter all three single sciences (Biology, Chemistry and Physics)  and achieve grades A*-C in two of them, Science and Additional Science GCSEs, achieve grades A*A* – CC in Science GCSE Double Award 
  • Humanities – History/ Ancient History GCSE, GCSE in Geography
  • Languages – GCSEs in Modern Foreign Languages including Welsh and Welsh as a 2nd language, GCSE in Latin, Classical Greek, Biblical Hebrew, CIE legacy iGCSE in Hindi as a 2nd Language* 

With IGCSEs in these subjects also qualifying. 

The intention is to encourage schools to offer a broader range of academic subjects up to the age of 16 and specifically to increase the uptake of individual sciences and foreign languages. Pupils who are successful in this range of subjects will receive a certificate that records their achievement and the percentage with the qualification are published as part of the league tables. 

This is no additional examination. The EBacc only reflects the options available and the choices of subjects that pupils have made. The subjects themselves remain distinct and there is no check on the balance of skills that are acquired within and between them. The Ebacc bears little resemblance to the qualification in other European countries. 


The coalition government has expressed concern, at a number of venues, that uptake of ‘academic’ GCSEs has fallen. Reluctance to study modern foreign languages and science is a particular issue that it’s hoped the EBacc will address. There has already been extensive media preoccupation with the allegation that secondary schools manipulate the exam system. That easier courses and vocational subjects are pushed to inflate the performance of schools in the league tables.

That the number of pupils achieving A* – C GCSEs in five core subjects has dropped while the number taking vocational qualifications has risen is generally viewed negatively. This is linked to the poor standing that vocational subjects have within our education system.   The coalition government has made no attempt to hide their conviction that teaching of academic subjects and conveying factual knowledge is a priority for them and schools must follow suite. So what should schools do?

The choice for schools

Schools must choose. They might:

  • play the game and chase the EBacc in the same way as other published performance measures
  • make some moves towards improving their EBacc performance but only within the context that their school operates
  • ignore the EBacc and strongly promote other aspects of their performance 

There is perhaps a fourth option. For some schools, and it was clear in the performance tables who these are, there is no decision to make, they are already market leaders. 

For others, the decision will need to be based upon many contextual issues they might face. For example, schools will look at:

  • The extent to which their pupils need EBacc subjects as opposed to the more vocational ones
  • The current positioning of the school relative to other local schools – has it the marketing strength to maintain its attractiveness without playing EBacc games? 
  • Practical considerations such as – does the school have the staff and the timetabling flexibility? Suddenly creating an effective and extensive modern foreign language department may not be a real possibility for some schools at present

There is also some uncertainty out there about the real value that the EBacc will hold. As already mentioned, it is only aimed at influencing choices of subjects not the quality of those courses or their content. Employers and the public might not be so blinkered as to hold their hands up in joy at this new arrangement.    

For one secondary headteacher, Phil Karnavas of Canterbury High School, a new Academy in Kent’s selective education system, a mixed economy of exams is still necessary, “The key thing, it seems to me, is that at the end of 11 (12 or 13) years of compulsory state funded education young people should leave school having enjoyed learning, being equipped to be positive members of their society and capable of achieving economic prosperity.”

The EBacc, he believes is not the solution to his pupils needs. Instead he is moving some way towards it but feels he cannot commit to chasing the EBacc, “What we will do is to offer a core of maths, English, science (enabling children to do double or triple), a humanity and a language for those who want to do it. I cannot make a language compulsory.”

The final decision is down to you and your school. However, whatever you choose you should strongly promote the actions you are taking and demonstrate the reasoning behind them. Use every opportunity you have to take your parents, students and governors with you. Sell your curriculum, justify your decisions and keep a close eye on what other local schools are doing. 

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