English Baccalaureate and Faith Schools

A Government press release on 31 August trumpeted that its controversial introduction of the English Baccalaureate (or eBacc) has had an immediate impact on reversing the historic decline in pupils taking ‘traditional’ or more ‘academic’ GCSE subjects. And nowhere does this appear more so than in faith schools.

The eBacc was introduced as a performance measure in the 2010 school league tables. It measures where pupils have secured a C grade or better in GCSEs or accredited international GCSEs across a core of subjects: English, mathematics, two sciences, history or geography, and a language.

To check on the eBacc’s effect, the Department for Education commissioned the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) to undertake a survey of English maintained secondary schools between 23 June and 21 July 2011. A representative sample of 1,500 schools was approached to take part, of which 692 did so (578 by telephone and 114 online), a response rate of 46%.

Overall, the study found that a greater proportion of Year 9 pupils, who in most cases would have very recently made their GCSE selection, were taking GCSE subjects that could lead them to achieving the eBacc than was the case with Year 10 pupils – 47% and 33% respectively.

However, for pupils attending faith schools the figure was 55% for year 9 pupils, 8% above the mean and 10% more than in non-religious schools. At year 10 41% of pupils in faith schools were taking eBacc subjects compared with 31% in schools that did not have a religious character. This appears to confirm the relatively more ‘traditional’ approach to the curriculum of the faith-based school sector.

Just under half of schools (45%) indicated that subjects and courses had been withdrawn from the curriculum or failed to recruit enough students for the 2011/12 academic year. Most of the courses withdrawn were BTEC (Business and Technology Education Council) courses, many of which are regarded as ‘soft’ subjects by some politicians and educationalists.

No mention is made of religious studies (RS) as a withdrawn subject in the short report on the results of the survey, prepared by Sam Clemens of NatCen, but many faith leaders fear that the eBacc will fairly quickly curtail the growing popularity of RS as a GCSE, since RS has not been designated by Government as part of the eBacc core.

The report is available to download at:


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