The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) is a performance measure for schools in England, implemented by the government.
It comprises a set of core subjects that are compulsory for all those taking the EBacc. These are English, maths, science (either double or triple award), a foreign language and either history or geography.
This means students will take a minimum of seven GCSEs.
It was introduced for schools in England in 2010, however under continued government encouragement has been increasing in prominence ever since.
At present, the government’s aim is to ensure that 90% of pupils sit the EBacc at GCSE by 2025.
Why is it controversial?
In its list of core subjects, the EBacc does not include an arts subject, meaning that if a school enters its pupils into the EBacc, creative learning will not be compulsory at GCSE level.
Arts education campaigners have long criticised this, claiming it will further marginalise the arts when set against a context of declining arts provision in schools – teachers, teaching hours and facilities – and at a time when entries for arts GCSEs and A levels are falling.
Campaigners continue to argue for a change to the government’s plans, with the Back for the Future campaign urging the Department for Education to “rethink..before any further damage is done”.
In September 2018, a toolkit was launched to help activists lobby for the arts in their schools, and encourage education and cultural leaders to make the case for the arts to schools and local government.
What does the government say?
The government claims that studying the EBacc’s combination of subjects can help improve a young person’s performance in core areas, such as English and maths. It also claims that the EBacc “enhances prospects for entering further education or employment”.
The Department for Education maintains that the EBacc is not squeezing the arts out of schools.
The former education secretary, Liz Truss, said the EBacc “leaves space for pupils to study creative subjects alongside a strong academic core” and that there is “no reason to believe there will be an impact on the contribution of creative industries to the economy”.
It said: “The EBacc, while comprehensive, still enables pupils to continue to study additional subjects that reflect the individual interests and strengths, including the arts.”
Schools minister Nick Gibb has argued that claims to the contrary are “illusory”, and that “opportunities to participate in the arts, unlike any other subjects, can exist outside the formal school curriculum”.