EBacc ‘sending the wrong signals’ to students and schools, says British Academy

23 Aug 2018

As GCSE results come out today, the British Academy warns that the English Baccalaureate is sending the wrong signals to students and schools about the value of different subjects.

The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) recognises schools whose pupils pass five core academic subjects at GCSE: maths, science, English, a modern or ancient language and History or Geography.

The EBacc has not succeeded in reversing the decline in the number of students learning languages, which has been falling steadily in recent years. This year, entries for German and French remained low. [1]

Long term, the number of students taking GCSE French and German has declined by 23% and 35% respectively between 2010 and 2017. [2]

The British Academy recently highlighted that this trend continues at A level and university, creating skills shortages at a national level.

The inclusion of languages and humanities in the EBacc is welcome recognition of the subjects’ value and is borne out in this year’s entries for GCSE History and Geography, up 6% and 3% respectively. [3]

Despite this, the British Academy is concerned that a focus on ‘core’ subjects may send a message that non-EBacc subjects are less valuable or relevant.

Entries for subjects not included in the EBacc such as music, drama and performing arts, continue to decline this year. Between 2010 and 2017, GCSE entries for arts subjects fell by 11%. [4]

Professor Aditi Lahiri FBA, Vice-President for Humanities at the British Academy said:
“While it is promising that the number of students studying History and Geography is increasing at GCSE, the increase in students taking some languages is not enough to reverse years of decline.

“The British Academy is also concerned that the value of some GCSE subjects is being underplayed. We are seeing a decline in the number of students taking subjects outside the EBacc, particularly the arts.

“Many of the most successful 14-19 education systems around the world encourage breadth and place equal value on arts and cultural education.

“Students must have the chance to develop skills and interests in the humanities and social sciences, languages and the arts, as well as STEM, in preparation for future study and the world of work.”


[1] Entries for French declined by 1%, entries for German increased by 3%. Data for England in Provisional entries for GCSE, AS and A level: summer 2018 exam series.
[2] GCSE and equivalent results, 2016-17 (revised), Department for Education (January 2018).
[3] Data for England in Provisional entries for GCSE, AS and A level: summer 2018 exam series.
[4] Arts subjects are defined as performing arts, art and design, music, drama, dance and applied art and design. Data from GCSE and equivalent results, 2016-17 (revised), Department for Education (January 2018).

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