Is the English Baccalaureate the most appropriate academic core? Subject choice and attainment at GCSE and A-level

The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) was introduced to encourage the uptake of a set of academic subjects which the government believe will improve the prospects of young people from all backgrounds (Department for Education, 2010). It has been criticised for not adequately serving pupils of all ability levels and for pushing stringently academic qualifications on those who are not academically inclined (House of Commons Education Committee, 2011). For the current study, pupils’ GCSE choices and grades from 2009 were matched to their A-level choices and grades from 2011 in order to explore the relationship between taking EBacc subjects and attainment at GCSE and A-level. The findings suggest that those who studied the EBacc subjects at GCSE had better prior attainment than those who did not. However, even when this relationship was accounted for (along with differences in school type and gender), those who took the EBacc subjects appeared to slightly outperform those who did not in terms of their average GCSE grade. This effect also appeared at A-level, though it was less prominent. The analysis cannot establish the reason for this ‘EBacc effect’ due to a number of confounding factors. However, possible explanations for the finding, in the context of subject choice and exam performance, are discussed.

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