The Ebacc is not suitable for all

Bill WatkinBill Watkin, Operational Director SSAT, writes…

In SSAT’s recent Ebacc survey, school leaders made clear their concerns about the government’s decision to make the Ebacc a requirement for all. Last week at Sanctuary Buildings, I had the opportunity to offer some thoughts about the Ebacc for all issue and to represent the views of school leaders as expressed in the survey and in extended conversations with school leaders.

I am pleased to say that it appears that there is some room for manoeuvre in defining which pupils should be exempt from the requirement to study all elements of the Ebacc.

The DfE says that:

  • this aspirational curriculum is critical in the drive to increase social mobility
  • this requirement will start with the new Y7 cohort in September 2015, who will reach Key Stage 4 in 2018
  • this requirement does not apply to pupils with SEN
  • there will be a period of consultation in the early Autumn about how, not if, this requirement should be implemented
  • there is still some uncertainty about whether pupils must ‘study a subject up to GCSE’, or just ‘take a GCSE exam in a subject’ (the latter would be relevant for bilingual pupils, for example).

School leaders are

  • not opposed to increasing the emphasis on the Ebacc, but say that it is not suitable for all
  • in no doubt that other curriculum disciplines will have to be cut or reduced
  • concerned that less able learners will be disadvantaged by this policy
  • concerned about the need to recruit more teachers of Ebacc subjects, the difficulty of making successful appointments, and the need to reduce their numbers of teachers of other subjects
  • concerned that they may be not be eligible for an outstanding judgement, simply because they have not been able to recruit enough Ebacc teachers.

One serious obstacle to the successful application of this policy is the lack of incentive for schools to ‘obey’. They face a dilemma:

  • If you refuse to teach the Ebacc, you cannot be awarded an outstanding rating by Ofsted
  • If you agree to teach the Ebacc, your results drop and you cannot be awarded an outstanding rating by Ofsted.

So either way, you cannot be awarded an outstanding rating by Ofsted.

Schools in this position may well say that as the outstanding status is not achievable anyway, they may as well teach the curriculum that they say is best suited to their pupils.

The Ebacc… for all?

It is in defining the exemptions that we may achieve some flexibility in interpreting the ‘for all’ part of the Ebacc for all.

It will be difficult, but not impossible, to introduce greater flexibility in defining who should be exempt.

  • It is not so easy, in the absence of statements, School Action and School Action Plus, to define who the pupils with SEN are. Sencos across the country do not agree whether a dyslexic pupil should or should not be on the SEN register.
  • Should the criteria for exemptions be limited to SEN, or extended to include other characteristics, low ability groupings, and even to a broader school-led decision about general suitability?
  • Should school leaders be required to encourage as many pupils as possible to study the full Ebacc, while retaining the responsibility for determining which pupils should be exempt? Should Ofsted be able to award an outstanding judgement to schools that do not teach Ebacc to all, but that have a convincing narrative explaining why particular pupils are exempt?

The outcome of the meeting at Sanctuary Buildings was that there is definitely room for manoeuvre.


On the other hand, I also addressed the issue of the legacy GCSEs not counting in 2017 (the changed rule which has got so many schools in difficulty since 16th June). On this there is no flexibility whatsoever. It is an unshakeable certainty.

I pushed for deferring it for one year to allow schools with a three-year KS4, or a short fat curriculum, to accommodate the change. But here there is no room for manoeuvre at all.

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