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Education: English Baccalaureate

Volume 767: debated on Monday 14 December 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what impact the introduction of the English Baccalaureate has had on the number of young people studying science and mathematics.

My Lords, all state-funded schools are required to teach science and maths to pupils up to the age of 16 as part of a broad and balanced curriculum. Since the introduction of the EBacc in 2010, the proportion of pupils taking GCSEs in maths has remained stable at 97%. For science counted in the EBacc, the proportion has increased from 63% to 74%. We have also had a substantial increase of 15% or more in the number of pupils taking maths and science at A-level.

That is very good news indeed. Would my noble friend not agree that given the importance of these STEM subjects to the future careers of young people and, indeed, to the economy, it would be very profitable to continue the expansion of maths and science as compulsory subjects into the 17 and 18 year-old age group?

I entirely agree with that, and we are ensuring that this happens for those who have not passed at grade C, certainly for maths. Obviously if pupils wish to continue with science, they can do so.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the latest figures show that almost one in five secondary teacher training places for September has not been filled, and on non-EBacc courses, less than two-thirds of the number of trainees required have been recruited, with design and technology being the hardest hit. Does he think that the concentration on STEM and EBacc subjects will accelerate the decline in the number of art teachers in schools, which has already fallen 11% since 2010?

The position in relation to teachers is no different from what it has been several times over the past 15 years: a less than 1% shortfall. The substantial increase in the number of pupils taking maths A-levels—18% in maths and 27% in further maths—gives us good hope that we will see more maths teachers in future.

Does my noble friend agree that a rise of 6% to 18% in the proportion of youngsters now entering school with English as their second language has had an effect on the studying of science?

I agree that it gives schools certain challenges, but evidence suggests that once those pupils have mastered English, they are actually more aspirational than are, sadly, some white working class boys in particular.

My Lords, the Minister will no doubt be pleased at the increase in the number of pupils studying science and maths. He used the phrase “broad and balanced”. He will also be aware that the creative industries are really important to the UK economy. Is he not concerned that we are seeing a decline in the creative and cultural subjects being taught at secondary school? If it continues apace, will he consider recommending that a creative or cultural subject be part of the EBacc offer?

We are not considering the noble Lord’s second point. There is no evidence that EBacc has had a detrimental impact on arts subjects. Since 2007, the percentage of pupils taking at least one arts GCSE has increased by 6%. A number of free schools—School 21, East London Arts & Music academy, Plymouth School of Creative Arts and the LeAF Studio School—specialise in arts and media.

My Lords, will my noble friend do everything he can to encourage the use of the baccalaureate? Under the old A plus system, at 15, children had effectively to choose whether to become artists or scientists. The result has given us a great raft of illiterate scientists and unscientific artists. The baccalaureate gives one a broad education up to at least 17 or 18. No one can consider themselves to begin to be educated unless they have a good grounding in both the arts and the sciences, and I hope that he will continue to promote the sort of exams that encourage that.

I am grateful for my noble friend’s comments. Of course, our Progress 8 measure will encourage a wider scope of subjects rather than what Tristram Hunt described as the great crime of the C/D borderline. On average, pupils take 11 subjects in total at key stage 4.

My Lords, I suspect that the Minister did not give us all the information. At A-level, although there has been a welcome increase in the number taking maths and science, what he did not tell the House was that the trend for increased numbers in those subjects significantly predates the introduction of the EBacc in 2010, and the pace of increase since then has actually slowed. Between 2002 and 2009, numbers in maths increased by 58%; since the introduction of the EBacc, they have increased by only a further 13%. In physics, between 2006 and 2010, numbers increased by 18%; since then, by 16%. The Minister also did not reveal that English and modern languages are also EBacc subjects, but take-up has fallen since 2010.

Last year, the director-general of the CBI said that,

“we have no debate at all about the 14-18 curriculum—only a debate about exams … we need curriculum reform, not just exam reform”.

Was not he right?

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that those concerned with music education are worried about the impact of the EBacc on music education in schools. That is partly because schools faced with hard choices on budget priorities are less concerned about recruiting music teachers. Is he willing to speak to people from the music education industry about those concerns?

The Minister will be aware of the huge shortage of engineers in this country and, particularly, in the Navy, Air Force and Army. What is being done to translate that increase in science and maths into engineering and to try to encourage that?

I know that we have a number of UTCs specialising in that, including one where I know that the Royal Navy is actively engaged.

Having failed to answer my noble friend Lord Watson in his first attempt, could the Minister now try again?