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On 14 September 2017, the House of Lords is due to debate a motion, moved by Baroness Stedman-Scott (Conservative), that “this House takes note of the impact of the English Baccalaureate on the take-up of creative and technical subjects, and the case for broadening the curriculum to create a coherent and unified 14 to 19 phase”. This short briefing provides information on the introduction of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) and recent reforms to technical education. It also provides a summary of the statistics on the take-up of different subjects by pupils.

The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) is a measure of the performance of pupils at Key Stage 4 (GCSE level). To achieve the EBacc, pupils must gain a C grade or above in the following five subjects: English; mathematics; either history or geography; the sciences; and a language. In 2016, 36.8 percent of pupils in all schools entered the EBacc. The Government has stated that it intends to increase the take up of the EBacc in English state schools to 90 percent.

Criticism of the English Baccalaureate

The selection of the subjects which make up the EBacc, and specifically the exclusion of arts subjects, has been criticised by some educational organisations. The campaign group, Bacc For the Future, has argued that the EBacc is having a detrimental effect on the take up of arts subjects in schools. The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), has argued, that while there is a consensus that studying English, maths and science at GCSE is important, the Government had not provided a rationale for the inclusion of languages, and the choice of either history or geography. The RSA has criticised the EBacc for being too restrictive and argued that it interfered with the ability of students to choose their own subjects at GCSE in consultation with parents and their teachers.

Technical Education

A majority of students after GCSE level take A-levels rather than an equivalent level 3 technical qualification. Of the 440,455 level 3 qualification students in 2016, 323,273 were studying for A-levels. 194,643 students were taking applied general or tech level qualifications.

Since 2015, the Government has introduced a number of reforms intended to increase the quality of post-16 technical education and to attract more would-be students. The Post-16 Skills Plan, published in July 2016, proposed the creation of two equivalent post-16 educational paths: a technical option and an academic option. This included the creation of 15 consolidated routes through technical education into employment. In addition, the Technical and Further Education Act 2017 expanded the role of the Institute for Apprenticeships to increase its oversight of college-based technical education as well as apprenticeships.

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