When is a qualification not a qualification? When it’s an EBacc

In 2012, English schools were on course for the biggest shake up of the 16+ examination system since O-Levels were abolished at the end of the 1980s. The English Baccalaureate Certificate was set to replace GSCEs. It was a shiny new qualification engineered to end grade inflation and see a return to the three-Ss: standards, standards and standards. It would wipe out “dumbed down” GSCEs and, in the words of Education Secretary Michael Gove, “restore rigour.”

This February, however, the government dropped proposals to introduce the EBacc as a qualification and announced an overhaul of the current GSCE system instead. The E, it would seem, was the victim of a U. U-turn that is.

Why? The EBacc was roundly criticised. Teachers, parents, school heads and exam boards… no one seemed to like it. Many warned it would spell the return to the two-tier system of O-Levels and CSEs and would create more problems than it would solve.

The EBacc was not banished, however. The Department for Education decided to retain the EBacc as a performance measure. It would keeps its strong emphasis on standards but it would no longer translate in to a paper qualification.

Here’s an explanation of the current role of the English Baccalaureate from School Guide's About section:

This is a performance measure introduced by the Department for Education not a qualification. For a pupil to achieve the EBacc they need to secure grade C or above in specific combination of five core academic subjects. They need to achieve Maths, English, a humanities subject (History or Geography), a science subject (including Computer Science) and a language. The measure encourages schools to enter pupils for core academic GCSEs rather than vocational qualifications. It was introduced in 2011 and some schools are still playing “catch up” as they switch to entering more pupils for the core academic subjects. So, for the 2012 school performance data, the EBacc score will be lower than the number of pupils achieving 5 or more A*-C GSCEs; much lower if a school enter pupils for primarily vocational subjects. The government’s aim, however, is for the percentage of pupils achieving the EBacc to steadily increase as part of a wider strategy to ensure more children finish Key Stage 4 equipped with core academic qualifications.”

Many parents still seem unsure about what the EBacc is or how it will affect their children – and it’s hardly surprising.

What is certain, however, is that schools with higher EBacc percentages are those who give weight to traditional academic subjects. A clutch of vocational GSCEs will not be the norm for their school leavers. So, depending on the style of school you want for your child, use the Ebacc percentages in our School Guide to help you. Remember: an A* in psychology, politics or philosophy will not count towards achieving the EBacc – but it might just assist you in understanding what it's all about.