AQA report says evidence gaps are holding back debate on the EBacc

Published: Thursday 3 Mar 2022

A massive gap in evidence is preventing the kind of debate on the future of the EBacc that students deserve, a new AQA report argues.

The call to action in the report comes alongside new survey findings which show secondary school teachers are split three ways between supporting, opposing and being ambivalent toward the government’s EBacc policy.

The report, ‘Stepping Stone: The future of the EBacc and student progression’, brings together analysis and evidence to explore whether the EBacc is the best stepping stone for young people to progress to post-16 education and training.

The report published on AQi, AQA's online assessment and qualifications hub, argues that while the choice of subjects in the EBacc do keep young people’s options open, there is insufficient evidence to say whether the EBacc policy overall has achieved this aim, and done so for all types of student.

The report calls for a major programme of research to investigate the motivation, enjoyment and educational engagement of different kinds of student who enter for the EBacc, as well as research on the long-term impact of entering for EBacc subjects at GCSE on different types of career.

New polling of around 4,000 state secondary school teachers published in the report revealed teachers are split in their attitudes.

Around one third of teachers support, one third disagree with and one third are ambivalent toward key tenets of the government’s EBacc policy, including whether:

  • the EBacc keeps a young person's post-16 options more open than not completing the EBacc
  • encouraging all types of students to enter for the full EBacc suite of subjects is good for social mobility
  • entering for the full EBacc suite of subjects is good for students even if they do not go on to A-levels or University.

The EBacc is a suite of core, academic GCSE subjects which the government wants the vast majority of 14-16 year olds to study. The purpose of the EBacc is to keep young people’s options open for further study and future careers. It forms the basis of two school accountability measures, which in turn drive entries to the EBacc.

The EBacc was introduced in response to concern that students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds were choosing, or being encouraged to choose, less academic subjects, which ultimately hindered their progression to high-status universities and careers.

James Lloyd, AQA’s Head of Policy and Public Affairs, said:

“Criticism of the EBacc has been widespread, but as you peel away the debate it’s clear there has been little or no evaluation to back up these views.

“Our survey of teachers also showed that the impression of what they think doesn’t match the reality, which is a very mixed bag of opinions and no consensus on the future.

“Policymakers have a number of options if they wish to continue prioritizing the EBacc’s goal of keeping young people’s options open, while addressing some of the trade-offs involved. Each has different pros and cons.

“As well as more research, more effective use of data is also crucial for policymakers to evaluate the specific choice of subjects in the EBacc and the extent to which they keep young people’s options open.

“So let’s have a proper debate about the EBacc, and make no assumptions or decisions without the facts to support it.”

This new report is the second major report to be published on AQi. The first report, ‘What Next for GCSEs?’, warned against any ‘radical or disruptive change’ to the qualifications that would ‘undermine the value and benefits of GCSEs to millions of students’.

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