Westminster Forum, 29th November 2018 Andrew Connell, Chair CfSA
“An obsession with exams is forcing schools to restrict the curriculum and is leading to damaging consequences, say both teachers and parents”
There has for some time been concern that the focus of successive Governments on exam results has led to a narrowing of the curriculum in schools. Since the EBacc[i] was introduced, together with measures of attainment and league tables that depend very much on EBacc subjects (progress and attainment eight[ii]), there have been a number of concerns voiced loudly by subject associations, teachers and the media that this focus on the results in very specific subjects has exacerbated the problem.
For example on the 16th of November, via Twitter, GL Assessment summarised two Polls they commissioned from You Gov with the following headline:
“An obsession with exams is forcing schools to restrict the curriculum and is leading to damaging consequences, say both teachers and parents” 
The two polls, (using a random sample of 911 UK teaching professionals asked between 21st Sept and 3 Oct 2018 and a random sample of 1022 parents with children under 18, asked between 2nd and 4th October), suggest, they say, that the majority (76% of the teachers and 60% of the parents) asked, believe accountability against the government defined subjects is leading to a narrow curriculum. They also express concern that exam preparation is beginning as early as year seven in some cases, rather than year 10. The article goes on to suggest that some pupils, therefore, end up without the benefits of a wider curriculum and the time to develop essential skills such as how to ensure their wellbeing.
Feedback from OFSTED research, shared with the Council for Subject Associations in September 2018, done as part of preparing the new inspection framework 2019, supports some of these ideas. It was suggested that they have identified too much teaching to tests and a narrowing of the curriculum offer in too many schools.
The Design and Technology Association believe the EBacc has compartmentalised learning. Students find it difficult to utilise learning in one subject within a different context. D&T is a subject that asks students to bring knowledge gained across the curriculum and use it in an applied way to solve often complex problems. Ebacc can mean some schools take D&T away, leaving less opportunity for pupils to develop these skills. It has been reported that in some schools (fortunately not many, at the moment) where Design and Technology has been marginalised, workshops have been converted back into Ebacc classrooms! This means that these (expensive) facilities are lost forever – there is no chance in the short or medium term that budgets would allow refitting of this type.
An illustration of the Power of Ebacc to influence school senior management close to my own heart is that of computer science. In 2016 Mr Gove scrapped ICT as a GCSE and replaced it with computer science. To support this policy, computer science was made an Ebacc subject. The CREST report 2016 showed that many schools immediately adopted computer science despite some clear issues that quickly became evident. For example, the numbers studying computer science was quickly shown, and remains, far less than used to study ICT. ICT had a fairly equal balance between girls and boys but few girls study computing. There are good alternatives to Computer Science, but they are not Ebacc, so many schools ignore them. Interestingly, a very recent study by the Fisher Family Trust (FFT) shows that, since ECDL[iii] was removed from school league tables from 2018, that MATS who used to enter large numbers of pupils for ECDL, have seen a drop in their overall performance (P8 scores dropped on average 0.13.)
Ebacc is not the only factor impacting on attainment though. We also had GCSE exams reforms. Another FFT study in September looking at the impact of changes to the GCSE examinations in 2017 shows that the gap between disadvantaged pupils and the rest (the pupil premium gap[iv] ) 2017-18 has widened in Ebacc subjects.  Interestingly, it has also widened in English and Maths despite these not changing that year.
Meanwhile subject associations of subjects not defined as a EBacc, such as art, design, music, drama, and PE report that these subjects are getting less curriculum time than they used to and that entries to examinations in these subjects have fallen. Significant numbers of pupils, it is strongly argued, are being denied the chance to study subjects and skills that would meet their needs and make education more enjoyable.
Nick Gibb has argued that Ebacc has had a positive impact because there are more applications to facilitating subjects at top universities. However, there has been a corresponding drop in applications to other subjects and this is concerning significant areas of British industry.
We have also seen fewer applications to teach subjects that are not Ebacc. Probably because young people are seeing the debate in the media and think there will not be jobs for them at the end of training. Perhaps, without a change, they are right. From the point of view of the PE Subject Association, we are losing good students who are not opting for GCSE PE, then cannot take A level PE and so less trainees enter teacher training with any PE experience. The impact on physical health and emotional health and wellbeing is well documented and the research is growing exponentially on how young people are struggling. Sadly, we have still not seen any significant increase in those wanting to teach maths, chemistry, physics, computing or languages.
- The narrowness of the EBacc and the pressure on schools to get pupils to select EBacc subjects means pupils have less choice. This particularly impacts on girls, who have been the majority selecting non EBacc subjects in the past;
- Take up in the arts has fallen. Pupils whose strengths might have been in the arts are not getting the opportunity to discover and develop this;
- This narrowing may leads to potential loss of skills that industry want, including important softer skills, that other subjects might have developed in pupils;
- The performance gap between disadvantaged pupils and others has increased;
- We are seeing a fall in those wanting to teach non EBacc subjects.
Perhaps, and we can hope, the new OFSTED framework will demand a curriculum that is well designed, contextualised for learners, and has breadth and depth . As it goes to consultation there is potential to use the Framework to support the well balanced child through intent, implementation and impact. Let us hope something happens soon, before there are no teachers for some of these non EBacc subjects, facilities are lost and before lack of people with expertise in these areas impacts too much on important sectors of our industry.
 Ffteeducationdatalab.org.uk, published 16th November 2018
 Ffteeducationdatalab.org.uk, published 21st September 2018
[i] The EBacc refers to a combination of subjects that the government thinks is important for young people to study at GCSE. IT is a measure of entry and attainment at key stage 4 in: English, maths, science, a language, and history or geography.
[ii] Progress 8 measures a student’s progress between Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4 across eight key subjects defined by the government. Attainment 8 measures the achievement of a pupil across 8 qualifications including mathematics and English, 3 further qualifications that count in the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) measure and 3 further qualifications that can be GCSE qualifications (including EBacc subjects) or any other non-GCSE qualifications on the DfE approved list.
[iii] The European Computer Driving License (ECDL) is a benchmark for digital literacy in educational systems around the globe. It is The world’s number one IT qualification
[iv] The pupil premium is additional funding for publicly funded schools in England, designed to help close the historical performance gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.