Education Secretary Michael Gove was wrong to introduce his flagship English Baccalaureate this year, an influential group of MPs say today.
The Conservative-led Commons select committee on education warns it could actually have a negative impact on the education of disadvantaged youngsters.
“Pushing disadvantaged children into subjects they fail may prove damaging and counter-productive,” it concludes.
The select committee says the Government should have awaited the outcome of its review of the national curriculum and consulted with teachers before introducing the English Baccalaureate.
Under the Government’s scheme, the Baccalaureate – which was included in school league table rankings for the first time this year – will be awarded to every youngster who gains five A* to C grade GCSE passes in English, maths, science, a foreign language and a humanities subject – history or geography.
However, the MPs say it is not a baccalaureate in the strict understanding of the word, citing Philip Parkin, general secretary of the teachers’ union Voice, who said its name “suggests it is an actual programme of study like the challenging International Baccalaureate”.
“Instead, if you’ve got some GCSEs, you will get another piece of paper to wrap the certificates in – no extra work involved,” he added.
Graham Stuart, the Conservative chairman of the committee, said: “There is no question that the Government’s motivation behind the Ebac is right in several regards.
“But our inquiry uncovered significant concerns about the EBac’s composition, potentially negative as well as positive impact and the way it was introduced.”
The MPs added: “Concentrating on the subjects most valued for progression to higher education could mean schools improve the attainment and prospects of their lowest-performing students ...
“Other evidence, though, suggests that the EBac might lead to a greater focus on those students most likely to achieve it and therefore have a negative impact on the most vulnerable or disadvantaged young people.
“We are concerned that the existing EBac is not yet part of a balanced score-card which gives equal weight to the progress of every child.”
The MPs urge the Government at the very least to look again at its content after the national curriculum review is completed.
Teachers and opposition MPs backed the report’s findings last night.
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the EBac had “already impacted negatively on the uptake of other subjects in schools such as the arts and humanities”.
“As it is nothing more than a performance measure, not a qualification, the select committee is quite right to say that any attempts to provide formal certificates to pupils who reach its attainment levels must be stopped,”she added.
Andy Burnham, Labour’s schools spokesman, said: “”I congratulate the committee for saying clearly and forcefully what the rest of the education world is thinking.
“It is quite simply unforgivable to introduce a change which affects millions of young lives without first conducting a proper process of consultation.”
However, Schools Minister Nick Gibb defended its introduction, saying: “We believe very strongly that all children have the right to a broad and balanced education that includes English, maths, science, a language and a humanity.”
At present, only eight per cent of children eligible for free school meals were entered for EBac subjects compared to 22 per cent overall.