The EBacc – should it be broader to include Art and Music?

Since its introduction almost a decade ago, the EBacc has remained very prominent in political discussion on matters relating to the education of young people and the quality of the GCSE itself.  In its Wednesday 14th November, 2018 edition, BBC Radio 4’s Front Row focused an entire episode on Art Education. Panellists were very critical of the EBacc in its existing form and they argued about whether to either scrap the EBacc or include Art and Music.

Historical context behind the EBacc

Before I present my own view on this very important matter, let me first provide a brief historical context.

A long while ago, it used to be the case that, to be considered successful, a young person had to achieve Grade C at GCSE in any five subject areas. What some schools did at the time to ensure their students achieved passes in five subjects was so laughable that it made a mockery of the system. There was some sort of IT qualification, which was mainly coursework-based and of very little intellectual rigour, that was allowed to count as four GCSEs. So, achieving Grade C in that next-to-useless IT qualification and just any other GCSE subject, gave their students five GCSE grades. In my view, it was really a race to the bottom at the time and the appallingly low standard that existed was so apparent to see that employers were crying out about what they rightly perceived as the semi-illiterate young people that the education system was churning out at the age of sixteen. To improve things, the rule was changed so that those five GCSE grades would now include English, Maths and two sciences.

The EBacc was introduced in 2010 by the then Education Secretary Michael Gove with the aim of raising standards at GCSE and broadening young people’s knowledge in wider subject areas. The EBacc then became the yardstick for measuring academic performance by adding one foreign language and also either History or Geography to English, Maths and two sciences.

Arguments for and against the EBacc

Critics of the EBacc are now are arguing that it is unfair for Art and Music to be left out of the list, as this decreases the number of young people who are taking these two creative subjects. They argue that the government should either scrap the EBacc so as to allow more young people to study Art and Music at GCSE and A-level or include both Art and Music in the requirements of the EBacc.

Others used to argue that the EBacc is elitist as some deprived young people are in schools where, for whatever reason, not all the subjects of the EBacc are offered. I do not at all agree with that and, in fact, I think the opposite. Almost every secondary school in the country has the resources to offer the EBacc subjects to all its sixteen-year-olds and I think it is patronising to think that young people from a deprived background are not capable of coping with the rigour and the breadth of subjects the EBacc requires. I will even go one step further, which is to say that the EBacc should be expanded and include at least one of either Music or Art in its requirement. I understand the argument that some may have in stating that schools do not have enough resources to deliver the requirement, but I do not agree with that point of view. There is no qualification that 100% of young people will attain, so that is not a reason to say that goals should not be set if standards are to be raised.


In the final and concluding part of this two-part blog post, I discuss about EBacc, Art and Music and also STEM (Science, Technology and Maths) subjects, and I try to highlight certain key facts that are not so obvious to see

Watch this space for the next part of this blogpost – see the link below.