Could it be that your web.xml is using the 2.3 version of jsp specification instead of the 2.4?
If so, EL support is not enabled by default. Either change the web.xml to conform to the version 2.4 schema or add
<%@ page isELIgnored="false" %>at the top of the jsp page.
Thx janbols - yup I was still on 2.3 in my web.xml. Have updated and of course it works now.