*If you are looking for basic info on the EBacc (e.g. subjects included, how it affects certification) this post about ‘what is the ebacc’ might be more appropriate). If you want to know the reasons for the subjects included, read on!*
Schools must now publish on their websites the % of pupils passing the ‘English Baccalaureate’ – a set of 5 GCSEs that must include English, Maths, Science, a Modern Foreign Language and either History or Geography. While I agree with Eng, Maths & Sci, I remain sceptical on MFL and entirely bemused by the inclusion of ‘History or Geography’. I’ve never fully understood why this group of subjects was chosen and below are some of the reasons I have heard for the choice and why, so far, I have found them entirely unconvincing.
1. The Russell Group universities say they are facilitating subjects: Which means you need to do two of them at A-Level in order that you are in the best position to get onto an RG course. Two of them. Not five of them. And only if you want to go to an RG uni. And only at A-Level. The booklet is quite clear that GCSE subject choices rarely come into it. Furthermore, why do the Russell Group name these EBacc subjects as being the ‘facilitating’ A-Level subjects? Given that the people sitting in these universities are highly able academics one might presume that their view is based on research showing that doing these subjects gives an extra edge while studying for a degree. But does that research exist? Not as far as I know and I have asked about it a lot.
2. The reason the RG say they like them is because these are the core subjects needed for admittance onto degree courses. The argument goes like this: If you want to study Maths at degree, you need Maths A-Level (and ergo GCSE maths), but to do Media Studies you don’t need Media A-Level. Okay, how about this: To do Geography AT OXFORD you do not need Geography A-Level. If you can cope at Oxford without it, I am pretty certain you can cope anywhere without it. To read Music at Oxford what do you need…. That’s correct, music. But is Music a facilitating subject? No. Is it in the EBacc? No. So we are keeping Geography and not Music in the EBacc on the basis of…..?
3. These are the subjects done at 16 by high-performing countries. No they’re not. I’ve covered this in more detail here, but trust me on it, they’re not.
4. The EBacc subjects are more rigorous. Nonsense. The research by Coe at the CEM Centre on which GCSEs are hardest (often mentioned by the sorts of people who like to argue that there are ‘rigorous’ and ‘non-rigorous’ subjects) show that ‘IT’ and ‘Business Studies’ are tougher than Geography, Citizenship is harder than Double Science and almost anything is more difficult than English GCSE.
5. The EBacc subjects are naturally ‘academic’ and develop important critical thinking and writing skills not found in other subjects. Incorrect again, any subject can be critical and involve writing. My Film Studies A-Level essays are here. Download one, read it and see if you still have the nerve to say they didn’t require critical thinking and strong writing. On the other hand I have seen some exam board’s Science GCSE coursework completed in a manner befitting a cook following a recipe rather than a child learning. ‘Academicness’ is not inherent to a subject, it is the content covered in the course that counts and there’s no evidence at all to suggest EBacc subjects are the ones pitching above the others on that front.
5. It’s what the private school kids do. Well, they also snort cocaine at higher levels and suffer more eating disorders. On its own, this isn’t an argument.
6. It’s what the private school kids do *and* it is the reason they get into top unis at a higher rate and therefore all state school kids should study these subjects too. Two things are wrong here. One, anyone who thinks the types of subjects private school students study is the the reason why they get more top uni places is either being wilfully ignorant or massively naive. Private school kids bag top uni places for lots of reasons, including but not limited to: Them getting better grades, applying at higher rates, being better prepared for interviews, having more help with personal statements and a tendency for being more articulate. If subjects studied plays *any* part in their success rates it is very, very far down the list.
Secondly, even if I do assume the ridiculous and agree that private school students get in “because of their chosen subjects”, it is still not necessary that every state school student should do them too. At one time the reason why many private school students got into top unis was because their parents were friends of the Master (or Bursar, or some other archaically-named figure). Was the necessary follow-up to this that everyone was encouraged to use personal connections as the best way of elbowing their child into university? No. Society instead decided that such prejudice was not in the best interests of the wider public and discouraged bestowing advantage in such ways. In the case of subjects might it be equally pertinent to suggest the universities change their outlook rather than accepting the idea that EBacc subjects are somehow inherently better, when – in fact – there is still no evidence at all that shows this is true.
That’s the end of the points. This blog remains open for any other challenges. I am willing to have my mind changed on this, I genuinely want to understand where these EBacc subjects come from and I hope that they are not as arbitrary as they seem, but so far all reasons used to justify their inclusion have failed to do that.