Skip to main content

Education: English Baccalaureate

Volume 795: debated on Monday 21 January 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the performance of pupils taking the subjects that make up the English Baccalaureate.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as chairman of the Royal College of Music.

My Lords, the Department for Education publishes school performance tables each year. Since the EBacc performance measure was first introduced in 2010, the proportion of pupils entering the EBacc has increased from 22% in that year to 38%. Research has shown that following an EBacc curriculum can increase the probability of pupils staying in full-time education and allows them to take facilitating subjects at A-level.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer, but is not the truth that the EBacc is fundamentally flawed? The Government set a target of 75% of state-school pupils to sit it by 2022 but last year, as he said, only 38% did so. That figure has been completely static for five years and shows no sign of increasing to anywhere near the target. At the same time, the EBacc is destroying arts and creative subjects in state schools, with take-up of GCSEs in art, design and technology, drama, performing arts and, perhaps most worryingly, music—in other words, all the subjects needed to start a career in the creative economy—significantly down. That is a lose-lose scenario: all pain, no gain. Does my noble friend agree with Margot James, the Minister of State at the DCMS, that the impact on music and creative subjects is “very concerning” and that the EBacc bears some responsibility for that? If so, what will the Government do about it?

I am afraid that I disagree with my noble friend. The EBacc has been transformational, particularly in helping disadvantaged pupils. In 2011, only 8.6% of disadvantaged pupils sat the EBacc, while in 2017 the figure had risen to 25.4%. As I said in my Answer, we know that this is of direct benefit to the number of disadvantaged pupils able to get into good universities. I reassure him that the hours spent teaching music have barely changed over the past seven years. Indeed, in 2010, 3.1% of teachers taught music while last year it was 3%. There were 2.4% of teaching hours given over to teaching music in 2010 and it was 2.3% last year. We have put great emphasis on the arts and do not feel that they are disadvantaged by the EBacc.

My Lords, one does not need to be an avid follower of the news to realise the huge impact that religion has for good and for ill geopolitically in our world. That is happening at the same time as we see a level of unprecedented and increasing religious illiteracy in our own society. Does the Minister regret the exclusion of RE from the baccalaureate, given the drop in numbers studying the subject at GCSE? Would its inclusion not assist in community cohesion as well as in an understanding of our world?

I do not agree with the right reverend Prelate that we should include religious education in the EBacc. There is tremendous demand from various quarters to include a number of different subjects, but we are adamant that all schools should teach a broad and balanced curriculum. That is further emphasised by the changes to the Ofsted inspection framework that will come into force in September. It will put particular emphasis on academies, which have not had the same level of requirement placed on them previously. However, they will now be judged in inspections on the teaching of a broad and balanced curriculum, which will of course include religious studies.

My Lords, following in the vein of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Black, I offer the Minister a quote:

“Design and technology is an inspiring, rigorous and practical subject, Using creativity and imagination, pupils … draw on disciplines such as mathematics, science, engineering, computing and art … High-quality design and technology education makes an essential contribution to the creativity, culture, wealth and well-being of the nation”.

I found that earlier today on the Department for Education website yet, since the introduction of the EBacc, GCSE entries for design and technology have fallen off a cliff by more than 50%. That is largely the result of government ideology, which now dictates that studying geography is somehow of greater relevance. I wonder if the Minister can explain the logic of that and, more broadly, how adopting the curriculum of a 1950s grammar school is likely to serve the needs of a post-EU economy and of our ever-changing working life?

My Lords, there has indeed been a decline in the proportion of pupils studying design and technology, but great changes have been made to the subject. As I mentioned in response to a Question last week, we have created a different and additional subject called food preparation and nutrition, which has attracted 46,000 entries. It was part of the old design and technology course. We have worked with the James Dyson Foundation, the Design and Technology Association and the Royal Academy of Engineering on the content of the design and technology curriculum. However, in the spirit of collaboration with the noble Lord, I shall quote an eminent left-wing academic on the sociology of education, Professor Michael Young of UCL, who says that social justice demands that children from low-income backgrounds have as much access to knowledge as their advantaged peers.

My Lords, I will follow on from the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Black. Schools are currently rated and funded largely on academic criteria; that is, EBacc, GCSE, A-level and university entrance. However, the country is facing an acute shortage of people with creative and technical skills. What are the Government doing to incentivise schools to encourage not just their EBacc pupils but those who are technically and creatively skilled, to ensure that they fulfil their potential?

My Lords, we have put great emphasis on the technical aspects of education through apprenticeships and T-levels. We have also carried out substantial reforms to technical education and the qualifications that go with it. In the past two years we have introduced technical award entries, which are designed to be more practical in their teaching, while in 2017-18 some 194,000 pupils entered for these vocational subjects. They include practical studies such as business, which had 29,000 applicants, while information communication technology had 51,000.