Jon Coles, the former director general for education standards at the Department for Education (DfE), has admitted that he was surprised by the fast reaction of those schools which moved their students away from non-EBacc courses so soon after the measure was announced.
Speaking at the annual conference of the British Educational Research Association in Manchester last week, Mr Coles said that schools had not been confident enough to ignore the EBacc and focus on what they believed to be right for their students.
The EBacc is given to students achieving five A* to C GCSEs in English, maths, science, a language, and either history or geography.
Education secretary Michael Gove first mentioned the EBacc in September 2010 and it was introduced into the league tables five months later in January 2011.
Mr Coles, who left the DfE in January this year, suggested that schools across England had over-reacted after the EBacc’s introduction by withdrawing pupils from GCSE courses “overnight”.
He said: “The government, when it announced the EBacc as a new measure in the performance tables, made it absolutely clear that it would not be an accountable measure, it would simply be a column in the performance tables.
“But right across the country, schools changed their key stage 4 curricula overnight. There’s absolutely no doubt about that.
“Children were moved from a course they had already started onto a different course in order to improve performance on this EBacc measure.”
Mr Coles added that it was a sign of a schools system that needed to be more confident in its ability to take measured decisions.
He continued: “It’s a seriously over-responsive schools system. I think schools are not seriously reflecting on the evidence base, and not sufficiently confident in saying ‘this is the right thing to do for these children (now), and thanks very much for your policy; we will come to that in due course’.”
Mr Coles is now the group chief executive of the academies and independent schools group United Learning.