Subject Associations should approach government about EBacc inclusion

One of the most annoying policies of the past few years was the “EBacc”, a list of subjects the government put together as a league table measure, with the aim of encouraging students to take these preferred subjects. The list was annoying because the subjects included made little sense (see why here). What was further annoying was that it felt fixed from the start. Gove was mentioning this particular mix of subjects before he even got into power and though there were warnings that subjects such as RE, or drama and music, might see their numbers go down, these pleas were roundly ignored. The EBacc subjects seemed immutable.

But in today’s speech by Michael Gove at BETT he mentioned that Computer Science was added to the EBacc mix. Gove argued that this was done because the subject was shown to be “sufficiently rigorous”.

This raises a question: How did computer science show it was sufficiently rigorous? For a start, computer science is predominantly coursework assessed (60%); something the Secretary of State has repeatedly criticised in other subject. Also, who looked over the grounds on which it was rigorous? Were other subjects given the same shot?

When pondering this on Twitter, I was tweeted by @OdysseanProject, an account manned by Dom Cummings, the soon-to-depart Special Advisor to Michael Gove. He wrote:

So, there’s the answer. No-one else tried. Hence, if RE, or Drama, or Music, or Psychology want in to the EBacc it appears that what you have to do is approach the DfE and show rigour. Who do you approach? How? In what guise? None of that is clear. But if I was the head of a Subject Association for a non-Ebacc subject I know what the first job on tomorrow’s To-Do List would be….

15 thoughts on “Subject Associations should approach government about EBacc inclusion

  1. I suspect it was more to do with smart lobbying and influential friends on the part of BCS. But also, give them their due, Computing at School is a highly agile grass roots organisation comprising of a very active membership. They appear to lack the usual things that hold subject associations back – gate keeping – too many hierarchical tiers. When something needs to get done in CAS people muck in and do so they are up for a challenge. It’s a fairly flat organisation still and this is no surprise.

    1. “…smart lobbying and influential friends” – Exactly right. The big tech companies lobbied for Computer Science and Gove caved in. Sufficiently rigorous? No. An Education Secretary in the thrall to big business.

  2. Laura, we have tried! NATRE – the National Association of Teachers of RE and the RE Council of England and Wales have campaign tirelessly to have Religious Studies GCSE included in its rightful place alongside History and Geography in the English Baccalaureate. The campaign has been featured prominently in the national media on several occasions with much support from the public. A petition campaign was led by a radio station and an Early Day Motion proposed by Stephen Lloyd was signed by 116 MPs. There cannot be many MPs in the country who have not received letters from concerned teachers and other constituents on the matter. The campaign has even been described as well fought in the parliament. NATRE has conducted annual surveys of its members on the impact of the EBacc and proved inequivically that this completely unjustified decision is causing enormous damage to the level of provision of the subject, even to the point that a significant number of schools are now flouting the law to provide RE for all especially now that the short course will not count in the performance tables. RE specialists are being made redundant and those with other specialisms with space on their timetables being required to teach RE with the inevitable consequences on standards of learning and teaching. The deteriorating state of RE is well documented in OFSTED reports most recently at the end of 2013. The government has shamefully made no response to this report and seems content to do nothing even when the report concluded, “Weaknesses in provision for RE meant that too many pupils were leaving school with low levels of subject knowledge and understanding.” So in answer to the question, how did the Computer Science subject community persuade the Secretary of State to include computing in the EBacc when he rejected Religious Studies, it is not because we did not try. I can only conclude that, contrary to his fine words in support of RE, it is because he believes it is more important for our children to have the knowledge, understanding and skills to be called computer literate than it is to be called religiously literate.

  3. As General Secretary of NSEAD and a board member of the Council for Subject Associations I would reiterate my colleagues who have responded to this already and say that Subject Associations have been tirelessly lobbying since 2010 against the Ebacc and many other issues. Come on Laura, talk with us and really find out what we are doing!

  4. I’m afraid that part of the problem with RE is that both NATRE and the REC have failed to show that we’ve moved on from meaningless descriptive religion. At KS3 there is often too little engagement with religious, philosophical and ethical issues. Instead, we revert to tedious “learning about” religion and meaningless “learning from” religion without much critical engagement or analysis for fear of offending someone.

    When RE is properly rebranded as Religion, Philosophy and Ethics; when RE refuses to be subsumed as part of the multicultural education agenda; when RE can demonstrate consistent and rigorous engagement with questions of meaning, truth and purpose: only THEN will we start being taken seriously by government and public (and rightly so).

  5. Follow the money trail. Philistines will always sacrifice religion and the arts if big bucks are involved, because obviously, Computer Science needs computers and other supplies, that RE etc do not. Financial interest of lobbyists is the sole criteria here. Or put more simply, money talks!

  6. Laura you are right that that tweet from Mr Gove’s special adviser is baffling. I’m on the NATRE Exec and, as Deborah said, we have been lobbying tirelessly and constantly to be included in the EBacc. The main response has centred around the fact that ‘RE is statutory anyway which is a terrible argument as OFSTED barely check compliance at KS4. I have to agree with mdbigg that when RE fails to connect with the big religious and philosophical issues it fails in its main aim. However, I would say that most RE IS now doing precisely that! The key to ensuring this continues is to raise the profile of the subject and get more fully trained RE specialists who can do our great subject justice. In light of this, it is nothing short of scandalous that RE teachers receive no bursary whatsoever to train at the moment. This is disgraceful as it prevents lots of potentially epic teachers from even considering training. Shocking.

  7. Who do you lobby? He is surrounded by ever changing circles of civil servants. You never get replies to letters from Ministers (Gove and Laws) just third hand comments from yet more civil servants. It’s like an episode of “The Untouchables”. We have never stopped lobbying for Art and Design. Never have. Never will.

  8. When this Ebacc and its consequences on RE began to unfold I engaged with Mr Gove directly, after one of his lectures. Answering questions after the lecture he had argued that he didn’t include RE because it is not one of the subjects recommended by the Russell Group universities. Surely we want all our young people to be able to go to one of those great universities, so we should agree that only the subjects they recommend must be included in the Ebacc?

    I asked Mr Gove whether, should the Russell Group change their parameters and recognise the value of RE, adding it to the list of recommended subjects, would he then include RE in the Ebacc. He was instantly evasive.

    I quickly realised that RE has not been included because Mr Gove doesn’t want it there. He constantly changes the reasons given. In one breath it is because it is a compulsory subject and doesn’t need to be included. In another breath it is because of the Russell Group list.

    Last year Mr Gove recognised the harmful consequences that his policies are having on RE. However he did nothing to rectify the damage. Ofsted published a damning report about the dire situation for RE in many schools – but Mr Gove took no action.

    I suspect the real reason for Mr Gove excluding RE from the Ebacc is because it wasn’t taught in the Private School he went to and he believes that if only he could turn the clock back and make education what it was in the golden-days of his memory, everything would be fine.

    Another reason which has occurred to me is that this government is aware that good RE makes for wise, reflective people who are able to think deeply and make independent choices which are often based on an awareness of the spiritual reality that connects us with each other and the rest of nature. That concept must be quite threatening to those who seek to brainwash our young people into compliant secular materialist consumers – with no conscience or concern for the planet – so perhaps that is why RE is being so systematically and ruthlessly undermined.

  9. well RE is out at my school – as of next year it will not be in the core and taught to all but offered as an option. great you may think – no more ‘why do we have to do re’ but our students will have 1 option choice outside of the ebacc, maths and english so EVERY subject will be fighting for the students. this will mean a reduction of 14 lessons in ks4 – that is 1 whole RE teachers job!

  10. From our own conversations Laura, you know we certainly tried. The entire Bacc for the Future campaign, alongside some robust evidence and constructive suggestions, recommendations of two select committees and independent Government reports all made it clear that creative subjects needed a strand. And the demolition of the Russell Group’s Informed Choices report needs little retreading.

    We (ISM) worked really closely with NSEAD on this as well.


    RE not recommended by Russell Group Universities? A quick Google search Mr Gove will show that certainly some of the Russell Group do state RE as being an approved subject. The informed choices information does state “In Informed Choices we’ve tried to make it clear which information is particularly important to note when making subject choices. It should be emphasised, however, that the guide should be used in conjunction with—and not as a substitute for— more detailed information published by individual universities.”

    Also, this in an interesting article as Historical and Philosophical degree courses are amongst the top 12 for getting a job after graduation.
    It doesn’t specify the nature of the ‘philosophical’ courses, but to get onto a pure philosophy course as well as Theology, RS etc., then RE, (or rather, Philosophy and Ethics as it actually is normally) is often recommended. Where does Gove get his information?

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