The EBACC "was billed as something that the students should be aiming to achieve but in reality they have never been recognised for it"

Posted on: 22 Jan 2016

Adrian Meadows, Headmaster at The Peterborough School, discusses why his view of the English Baccalaureate has changed dramatically...

“So when will my EBACC certificate arrive, Mr Meadows?” It might seem like a silly question but in reality our students have a valid point. When the English Baccalaureate was introduced it was billed as something that the students should be aiming to achieve but in reality they have never been recognised for it. After all it’s just yet another performance measure for schools, awarded when students secure a grade C or above at GCSE level across a core of five academic subjects – English, maths, history or geography, the sciences and a language. It is not a qualification in itself. I very much support the spirit of the EBACC and the aim to encourage schools to offer and engage pupils in academically rigorous GCSEs and indeed initially agreed with the EBACC but it has to be said my view has changed dramatically.

As an independent school we already offered a strong, broad and balanced curriculum and traditionally scored between 60% and 75% on the EBACC, far outstripping the national average, not because we were trying to compete but simply because we felt it was the right thing for most our students. However, I am against making it compulsory or even adopting the expectation that the vast majority i.e. over 90% as recently announced, should achieve it. Why force students to do something that is highly restrictive and assumes that all pupils are the same, with the same talents, areas of interest etc. Surely our gifted academics, talented artists or musicians have a right to follow their passion and harness their talent. Likewise for some students these subjects would present significant challenges.

While we advise our students to follow a broad and balanced curriculum, we have never forced students to take the EBACC subjects and some students did not get it – why force a student with EAL who struggles with English to study French or German too? I also use the example of one of my talented linguist who studied two modern languages and Latin, gaining straight A/A* grades but did not study history or geography and therefore did not gain the EBACC – she never suffered and arguably was better qualified than the student with only 5 C grades and the EBACC! Don’t get me started on the reasons why Religious Education is not included as a humanity either.

To that end we have a problem this year, our EBACCs have disappeared almost altogether and we now fall into that elite group of independent schools whose performance in the DfE Performance Tables has plummeted, despite our actual results being as good as ever. Are we now worse than the rest of the schools out there – of course not. Put simply our students do all the core subjects as listed above but we enter all our students for core science and then most will opt to take separate biology, chemistry and physics thus gaining four Science GCSEs overall – quite impressive you might think? Not so according to the DfE – discounting rules mean that the separate science grades do not allow the students to get the EBACC this year so sadly only 6% gained this dubious ‘qualification’ – they are treated as though they only have core as they took that first. But for some it is the outcome of the core science that will determine whether they take additional science or separate sciences. While I understand the rationale of not allowing core and one separate science (there is content and assessment overlap) I cannot see why the three separate sciences should not count. Am I worried? Well not really; we will continue to make decisions in the best interests of the students and not pander to the DfE tables.

Sadly we are still in search of our student’s EBACC certificates – not that our students have ever missed them.

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