During the past week ministers have been trailing the plans and official confirmation came in a DfE statement issued ahead of a speech by education secretary Nicky Morgan on Tuesday (June 16).
The statement said: “Pupils starting secondary school this September must study the key English Baccalaureate (EBacc) subjects of English, maths, science, history or geography, and a language at GCSE.”
In implementing the plans, the DfE has pledged to “listen closely to the views of teachers, headteachers, and parents” – but details of this potential consultation have not been published.
No details have been published either of how schools will be held accountable – although it is likely that the EBacc will now become a headline measure within league tables. It has also been reported that Ofsted will be asked to mark schools down if they are not entering pupils for EBacc subjects.
In the same statement on Tuesday, the DfE admitted that the EBacc would not be appropriate for a “small minority of pupils” and said it would set out its expectations for these pupils in the autumn.
The statement said: “The government recognises the EBacc will not be appropriate for a small minority of pupils and so we will work to understand this and be clear with schools what we expect for this minority of pupils. The detail will be set out in the autumn and there will be a full public consultation on these proposals.”
However, the plans mean that the government now expects the vast majority of pupils starting year 7 this September to be entered for five EBacc GCSEs when they start key stage 4 in September 2018.
The proportion of pupils entering GCSEs that would qualify for them for the EBacc has risen from 23 per cent in 2012 to 39 per cent in 2014 – and the percentage achieving the EBacc has increased from 16 to 24 per cent over the same period.
The announcement on Tuesday came after both Ms Morgan and schools minister Nick Gibb had trailed the plans during the past week.
Mr Gibb, speaking last week, said he made no apology for “protecting space for the English Baccalaureate subjects wherever possible” but promised a consultation on the plans.
He said: “In due course, we will set out details of our expectation that secondary school pupils should take English Baccalaureate subjects at age 16. In doing so, we will listen closely to the views of teachers, headteachers, and parents on how best to implement this commitment. And we will ensure that schools have adequate lead in time to prepare for any major changes.”
On Tuesday, Ms Morgan said: “As part of this government’s commitment to social justice we want every single person in the country to have access to the best opportunities Britain has to offer - starting with an excellent education.
“This means ensuring children study key subjects that provide them with the knowledge they need to reach their potential – while setting a higher bar at GCSE so young people, their parents and teachers can be sure that the grades they achieve will help them get on in life.
The news, however, has sparked a frustrated reaction from teachers, with concerns about a narrowing of the curriculum and the implications for the teacher recruitment crisis.
Writing in his Leading Learner blog, Stephen Tierney, executive director of the Blessed Edward Bamber Catholic Multi-Academy Trust, said implementation of the policy would make damage to arts education “inevitable”. He explained: “If the EBacc is fully implemented the arts will be damaged, it is inevitable and politicians need to be honest about this. The impact of additional time for GCSE maths, English and English literature, in many schools, has reduced the number of option choices for students and the requirement for the full EBacc will reduce it further.”
He added: “There wasn’t any mention of whether there will be adequate maths, English, science, modern foreign language, history or geography teachers.”
Recruitment is a concern echoed by Alan Kinder, chief executive of the Geographical Association.
He told SecEd: “A very pressing concern we have is that there is a rapidly emerging crisis in recruit- ment of teachers to schools. This is particularly acute in geography. The government might well wish all 16-year-olds to take a subject like geography, but without sufficient qualified teachers there can be no guarantee that this would lead to good quality geo- graphical education.”
Nansi Ellis, assistant general secretary at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: “This will force young people to take subjects in which they have little interest instead of those they are good at and will marginalise creative subjects such as design, drama or music.
“It fails to recognise the reality that not all students are academic and this narrow curriculum will disenfranchise many. Young people need a broad and balanced curriculum that nurtures their skills and aptitudes and develops the skills needed for jobs in the 21st century, not a 1950s education based on testing and final exams.”
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, added: “Just three months ago, the Department for Education was telling schools that not all pupils should be pushed along an Ebacc route. With just one speech of Nicky Morgan’s, and without the least consultation, that policy has been reversed. From September, the Ebacc will in effect become compulsory.
“(The EBacc) has already been condemned by Conservatives such as Lord Baker. It will cause dismay among parents. Parents, like teachers, want a broad and balanced curriculum for their children. It is the responsibility of government to translate that aspiration into a curriculum that reflects the many demands that are made on the school and that can involve and engage all learners. This responsibility cannot be resolved by making policies emanating from the whims of ministers, supported only by a narrow and contentious basis of evidence.”