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English Baccalaureate

Volume 546: debated on Monday 18 June 2012

4. What estimate he has made of changes in the number of pupils taking science, language, history and geography courses following the introduction of the English baccalaureate. (111835)

13. What estimate he has made of changes in the number of pupils taking science, language, history and geography courses following the introduction of the English baccalaureate. (111845)

Independent research commissioned by the Department for Education and published in August 2011 suggests that the English baccalaureate is having an immediate impact, with the number of pupils taking core academic subjects rising from 22% last year to 47% this year. That includes increases of 8 percentage points in pupils taking history, 7 percentage points in pupils taking geography, 9 percentage points in pupils taking languages and 12 percentage points in those taking triple science.

What reassurance can my hon. Friend give the House that this Government are committed to religious education in our schools, given the disappointment in certain quarters that that subject was not included in the English baccalaureate?

RE entries continue to rise, with 32% of students being entered for a GCSE in religious studies last year, up from 28% the year before. RE is already a compulsory subject, and one intention behind the E-bac is to encourage wider take-up of geography and history in addition to, rather than instead of, compulsory RE. The E-bac will not prevent any school from offering the RS GCSE, but we will keep the issue under review.

Does the Minister agree that the baccalaureate policy will be critical for future social mobility, because it will provide, for once, a common platform for pupils of whatever background for access to university and higher skills?

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. The academic subjects in the baccalaureate reflect the knowledge and skills that young people need to progress to further study or employment. In fact, the E-bac subjects are what the Russell group calls the “facilitating subjects” at A-level, the ones that are most likely to be required or preferred for entry to degree courses and keep more options open.

On social mobility, it cannot be right that children from the poorest backgrounds are significantly less likely to have the opportunity to take the baccalaureate subject GCSEs. Just 8% of children eligible for free school meals took that combination of subjects last year, compared with 24% of pupils overall.

I welcome increases in the number of pupils studying science, but they need to be at all levels and across all abilities. Does the Minister not agree with the president of the Institution of Engineering and Technology that by downgrading the engineering diploma in the face of almost universal industry opposition, he is failing our young people by not providing a non-academic route into engineering and science?

I am afraid that the premise of the hon. Lady’s question is wrong. We have not downgraded engineering. The principal learning unit of the engineering diploma is still very important in the performance tables. We asked Alison Wolf to examine all the vocational qualifications, and she has streamlined them, driven out the weaker ones that do not lead to progress and employment and left us those of much higher quality. We have 150 very high-quality vocational qualifications, including the principal learning element of the engineering diploma, which we value very highly indeed.