Can the English Baccalaureate act as an educational equaliser?

Ensuring equal access to a broad and balanced curriculum for all students is a key component of a socially just education system. Yet in England, the freedom that 16-year-old students have to choose the GCSE subjects they study has created divisions in the pathways taken by students from different backgrounds. In 2010, a new accountability measure, the English Baccalaureate (EBacc), was introduced to encourage more disadvantaged students to study the ‘core academic’ GCSE subjects. This paper investigates the success of this initiative by analysing the relationship between free school meal (FSM) eligibility, studying the EBacc subjects and GCSE attainment. The findings are used to illustrate the complexities of balancing equal access to academic subjects against fair access to future opportunities, which often depend on good grades, when trying to deliver social justice in an education system that has an entrenched attainment gap.

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