Aunt Sally schools minister rebounds after E-Bacc claims debunked only to fall again

Janet Downs's picture

Could it be the Department for Education is using schools minister Nick Gibb as an Aunt Sally? 

Only yesterday, three claims constantly repeated by Gibb about the EBacc were debunked.  But the DfE media department has set him up again to be knocked down.

It is particularly pleasing to see an overall increase in entries to GCSE arts subjects, including a 9% increase in entries to art and design subjects,’ Gibb told the media department which duly published it.

It’s true entries for GCSE art and design subjects are up 9% this year according to Ofqual provisional data.  This follows a slight increase in 2018. 

But this rise in entries for art and design subjects must be viewed over time.  Between 2010 and 2017, entries for GCSE art and design subjects fell by 4%.  In 2017, entries in art and design subjects fell again by about 4%.  Entries picked up slightly last year – art and design subjects were the only non-EBacc subjects which didn’t show a decline in 2018.

The DfE said there’d been an overall increase of 3% in entries to GCSE arts subject which ‘includes rises in art and design subjects and performing and expressive arts’.

Design and Technology as a discrete subject rather than being included in ‘art and design subjects’ is declining.   Entries for D&T this year dropped by 25% since 2018.  Ofqual speculates this fall could be because 2019 was the first year new D&T specifications were examined.  Changes in entry patterns in such circumstances ‘might’ be expected, Ofqual said.

Media, film and TV entries are also down (around 10%).  Drama entries have remained stable but entries for GCSE music are slightly down.  

Ofqual is clear: while GCSE entries in EBacc subjects are up (by 4%), entries for non-EBacc GCSEs have decreased by 9% since 2018 (but see update below).

As Ofqual pointed out two years ago, the overall decline in non-EBacc subjects shows schools are ‘focussing more on the delivery of EBacc subjects than those subjects which do not count towards the EBacc.’


UPDATE 15.32:  Schools Week points out that the 9% decrease in non-EBacc GCSEs is mainly caused by at lease nine subjects being removed since 2018 as part of exam reform.  It calculates the actual decrease was 2.2%.


NOTE: When discussing the rise in entries for some non-EBacc subjects, Gibb and the DfE only focussed on those it said contributed to an ‘important cultural education’.  Yet there were a few other non-EBacc subjects which also showed a rise in entries: Business Studies, Citizenship Studies, Economics and Statistics.  Entries for Statistics rose by just over 50% (after a decline of about 35% last year).  Let's hope that young people trained in statistics will be better able to spot their misuse.

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