The problem with Ebacc…

  • The problem with Ebacc…

Let’s deal with the Government rhetoric first:

1. Every child should study an Ebacc curriculum because it will improve their life chances.

2. Every child should study Ebacc GCSEs because they provide the necessary progression to higher education and/or employment.

3. The Ebacc does not limit GCSE option choices.

4. Progress 8 allows pupils to select three non-Ebacc subjects.

5. The DfE definitely values a broad and balanced curriculum.

6. There is a teacher supply challenge, but not a crisis.

7. The DfE incentivises graduates to become STEM and Ebacc teachers via bursary schemes.

8. Facilitating A level subjects ….

I could go on, but life is too short – as, indeed, is this article. So what is the reality in schools? Is an Ebacc curriculum right for all pupils? For some, possibly, for most, almost certainly not. Ask yourself, is league table success the right criteria for selecting a pupil’s personalised curriculum?

Consider the rigorous consultation and evidence-based research that led to the development and introduction of the Ebacc. Sorry, I forgot, there wasn’t any; it was introduced as a fait accompli. The current consultation on Ebacc implementation being conducted by the DfE neither asks questions about the validity of the measure for all pupils nor its impact on other subjects.

Crisis point

Ebacc GCSEs for 90% of pupils? Can this be right? The DfE’s own figures show that in 2014 high attaining pupils made up 32% of the cohort and studied, on average, ten exam subjects. Middle attaining pupils comprised 52% of the cohort and entered 8.9 exams. Low attainers made up 16% of the cohort and entered 6.4 exams. In most schools, the Ebacc consists of at least six, probably seven subjects. Therefore, employing the 90% rule, around a third of low attaining pupils will be able to select between zero and one ‘optional’ GCSEs. Is this inflexibility motivational?

Meanwhile, half the cohort, the middle attainers, may select two to three optional courses, and high attainers, three to four. However, reality bites again because many schools are filling those ‘optional’ slots with additional Ebacc subjects as a league table ‘insurance’ measure.

Besides, none of this acknowledges that there are not enough teachers currently to teach all Ebacc subjects, never mind when 90% of students are supposed to be studying them. No matter what the Government line may be, there is definitely a teacher supply crisis. Independent experts (see John Howson) state this continually. And which subject is suffering a bigger crisis than any other? D&T. Recruitment onto ITT courses in the last three years has been less than half of target figures.

The Government celebrates that it provides training bursaries of up to £30,000 for STEM and Ebacc subjects. However, for ministers STEM all too often means ‘maths and science’. They rarely, if ever, mention D&T and fail to see that a bursary of ‘only’ £12,500 to train to teach D&T does not incentivise potential recruits compared to those for maths and science.

Fighting for change

Why are we lying down and passively accepting this scandalous situation? Well, the Design and Technology Association is not. It is running its ‘Designed and Made in Britain…?’ campaign and we urge all D&T teachers to read the campaign booklet, watch the video, sign the petition, write to their MPs and talk to local employers about the challenges facing the subject. Any teachers who have already done this know that they, and their D&T Association, have the support of many and varied industrialists, business people and educationalists.

It may be appropriate, if we put aside the issues of accountability measures and training bursaries for a moment, to suggest that the Department for Education might not have deliberately set about marginalising Design and Technology. Would it really have intended to undermine the breeding grounds of future designers and engineers who will be the lifeblood of sectors that contribute £500bn towards GB plc? It may be the DfE was so single-mindedly focused upon the Ebacc that it blindsided itself with regards to other subjects – the law of unintended consequences. You might like to reach your own conclusion, or ask your MP to join the ranks of those already raising the issue in the House.

We can make 2016 a happy new year and win this battle. It needs to be done, however, as a whole community of teachers, employers, parents and all those who value a creative or technical subject as part of a truly, broad and balanced curriculum. We must be united in our ambition to achieve the best not only for the subject but also for pupils who will live and work in a technological, designed and made world. If we don’t act now, this time next year the situation we are looking at for D&T could be very bleak indeed.

Find out more about – and support – the ‘Designed and Made in Britain…?’ campaign at


Richard Green is Chief Executive of the Design & Technology Association, the UK’s only professional association for all those involved in design and technology education. The organisation trains and supports teachers, advises the Government and partners with industry to ensure students leave school with the knowledge they need to thrive in the modern world.