Many school leaders would be willing to sacrifice their Ofsted outstanding status rather than make the English Baccalaureate compulsory for all pupils.
Interim findings from a study involving more than 1,300 school leaders also reveal that a majority of schools will have to change their staffing and reduce their vocational offer in order to deliver a compulsory EBacc.
The research by the SSAT was carried out after education secretary Nicky Morgan unveiled plans last week to make the EBacc compulsory for students starting in year 7 this September. The 1,300 responses were registered in just three days.
The plan will mean that schools will have to enter these students for a full set of EBacc GCSEs – English, maths, science, a language and a humanity subject – when they begin key stage 4 in 2018.
It is expected that both school inspection and the performance tables will be used to hold schools to account for the policy. Details have not been confirmed, but the Conservative General Election manifesto stated that Ofsted’s outstanding rating would be unavailable for schools not delivering.
It stated: “We will require secondary school pupils to take GCSEs in English, maths, science, a language and history or geography, with Ofsted unable to award its highest ratings to schools that refuse to teach these core subjects.”
Despite this fact, just 15 per cent of the respondents to the SSAT study said they would make the EBacc compulsory for all, even if it was a requirement to achieve “outstanding”. Around 70 per cent said they would refuse to introduce a compulsory EBacc even if it meant a ceiling of “good” in Ofsted inspection.
Furthermore, around 45 per cent of respondents from outstanding schools would refuse the compulsory EBacc even if it meant losing their outstanding status. A further 34 per cent remain undecided on this point, while only one in five said they would make the EBacc compulsory.
Around 87 per cent of the 1,300 schools responding to the survey are rated good (58.2 per cent) or outstanding (29.4 per cent) and they were mainly community or academy schools.
Among these schools, less then one per cent already offer a compulsory EBacc, while around 40 per cent said that more than half of their pupils take the EBacc.
The SSAT study shows support for the EBacc among the respondents, but many simply do not feel it is appropriate for all pupils.
The interim report states: “Some respondents felt that the policy would be beneficial for some pupils, especially middle and high attainers who might not otherwise have picked academic subjects, however an EBacc curriculum was not considered fit-for-purpose for all.
“Pupils with lower prior attainment, those newly arrived to the country, and some with poor literacy, were cited as being ‘set up to fail’ if forced to study a language and a humanity at GCSE. Many teachers suggested that vocational courses provide strong routes into further education, and that pupils would be disadvantaged by forcing them down a purely academic route.”
The impact that the compulsory EBacc policy is set to have on staffing structures has also been revealed by the study, with 83 per cent of the schools saying they would have to change their staffing arrangements (45 per cent are “anticipating significant changes”).
Furthermore, 69 per cent of the respondents said they would have to reduce their vocational provision in order to accommodate a compulsory EBacc. Respondents also voiced concerns that a compulsory EBacc would require them to drop other subject options, “with arts, technology and vocational subjects the most likely to be withdrawn”.
Reporting on the findings, the SSAT’s operational director Bill Watkin said: “Many respondents chose to comment on the discrepancy between the UK drive for digital and technical skills and this perceived return to a traditional, academic curriculum.
“School leaders are worried that the EBacc does not allow for sufficient personalisation in the curriculum.
“The over-riding message in the responses is that while take-up of the EBacc should be encouraged for the most able learners, whatever their background, it is not appropriate for all, and will lead to an unhelpful and regressive narrowing of the curriculum.”
The DfE last week acknowledged that the EBacc would not be appropriate for a “small minority” of pupils and said that it would set out its expectations for these pupils this autumn and would work with schools in doing this.
Schools minister Nick Gibb has also promised that the DfE would “listen closely to the view of teacher, headteachers and parents on how best to implement (the EBacc) commitment” – although more details of this potential consultation have not been made available.
The proportion of pupils entering GCSEs that would qualify 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.