A co-authored research paper by Dr. Rebecca Harris (Associate Professor of History Education at the University of Reading’s Institute of Education) has just been published on-line today in Research Papers in Education journal. The paper, titled ‘Student access to the curriculum in an age of performativity and accountability: An examination of policy enactment’, highlights inequitable access to history education where inequity exists between different types of schools and socio-economic areas as well as within schools where students with low prior attainment are less likely to be allowed to study history.

This newly published article explores the government’s curriculum reforms and the impact they have on students’ access to areas of the curriculum, by focusing on access to the History as a subject. In particular it highlights the potentially negative impact on students from lower socio-economic backgrounds. The government implemented a suite of reforms a number of years yet the impact of these are only now being fully felt as students move through the education system and new GCSEs are being examined for the first time. Two of the most significant changes have been to how schools are ‘measured’ against new targets and the move to make GCSEs more demanding. Schools are under increasing pressure to enter students for a range of subjects that are collectively known as the EBacc (although this in itself is not a formally recognised qualification); the so-called EBacc subjects are English, Maths, Science, a Modern Foreign Language and a Humanities subject (although only History and Geography are counted). Schools are being judged on how many students attain a good pass in these five areas and are under pressure to enter students for what the government perceives to be academically rigorous subjects, which will raise educational standards. At the same time as schools are being judged by this new measure the exams have been made more demanding and so are supposedly becoming harder to pass. This leave schools with a dilemma as to how best meet the EBacc measure.

The data for this study are drawn from an annual survey carried out on behalf of the Historical Association (in this case for the period 2010-2014), combined with the DFE’s own School Performance results and a measure of the socio-economic profile of school postcode areas (the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index or IDACI for short). The findings show that schools are responding to the new accountability measures being put in place, i.e. they are entering more students for the full range of EBacc subjects. However the type of school, socio-economic nature of the school intake, and students’ prior attainment do affect whether some students are being given access to this curriculum. Generally students who attend comprehensive/academy schools in areas of higher deprivation, and/or have low prior attainment are less likely to have access to studying History at GCSE (and therefore are not able to study the full range of EBacc subjects). This does result in an inequitable access to the areas of the curriculum that are seen as increasingly important. The government has said it wants 90% of all students to do the EBacc range of subjects by 2025, and sees this as a means of promoting social mobility. It is therefore a concern that students with low prior attainment and/or come from poorer areas are not being entered for subjects like History.

Thanks to the University of Reading’s Open Access fund, the paper is made available to everyone free of charge. You can read the full paper by clicking here.

To read the press release by the University of Reading on this research paper, click here.

A number of national media outlets have already picked up Dr. Harris’s paper, such as The Independent, Times Educational Supplement (TES), and iNews.co.uk.

If you would like to discuss the findings reported in this paper directly with Dr. Harris, you can now do so via Twitter.


Further reading

Harris, R., Courtney, L., Ul-Abadin, Z., & Burn, K. (2019) Student access to the curriculum in an age of performativity and accountability: An examination of policy enactment. Research Papers in Education. DOI: 10.1080/02671522.2019.1568528