Stop the Exclusion!

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How can we ensure the Arts subjects are protected in our schools?

I have been invited to the House Of Commons on Monday 4th July to debate the future of the English Baccalaureate curriculum. There is a chance I will not attend the meeting as it is during the school day, so I have decided to blog details before the event.

… a staggering 87% of secondary school leaders are unhappy with the EBacc proposals. One of the conditions of the setting up of academies, was that they should provide a broad-based education, which, as I will endeavour to show, the EBacc by its very nature opposes.” (ASCL)

Read my open response to the government on EBacc issues.

DfE Motives:

The Government’s motives are excellent. They claim that a compulsory EBacc will enhance the prospects of pupils, particularly disadvantaged pupils, by ensuring that they receive a core academic curriculum that allows them to retain options in subsequent education and in the employment market.

EBacc Nick Gibb

The proposals will not work for pupils because the curriculum is limited. The message, although unsupported by the evidence, seems to be that all pupils should have opportunities to study the arts and creative subjects, that they are less important, less rigorous or less valuable than other EBacc subjects.

The government claim that the EBacc leaves room for other subjects, but it requires at least seven GCSEs against the average number taken of just over eight, and fewer than that taken by low attainment pupils. Other subjects are likely to be frozen out for more disadvantaged pupils and that will widen the gap between their schools and the highest performing schools which give proper focus to the arts and creative subjects.

House of Parliament:

Members of the House of Parliament will debate the proposed English Baccalaureate and its exclusion of creative subjects. Our government – if we believe anything they say at such a time – will not support the Arts subjects with any EBacc proposal.

The creative industries are the driving force of the nation”, says David Cameron. “Britain’s not just brilliant at science. It’s brilliant at culture too … One of the best investments we can make as a nation is in our extraordinary arts, museums, heritage, media and sport”, says George Osbourne. They have protected Arts Council England, and maintained their commitment to music education hubs – £75M worth of commitment.

Statement after statement, White Paper after White Paper state plans to improve access to culture for those from all socio-economic backgrounds in order for them to reap its benefits. The government is also quick to celebrate how the creative industries are worth millions per year – even per hour – to our wider UK economy and to describe them as the envy of the rest of the world.

This is all well and good, but it is at complete odds with their latest proposal – the English Baccalaureate (EBacc).

Fewer Examination Entries:

The new EBacc proposal is far more pernicious than its previous form as a league table. It will now be a new headline accountability measure. The objective is that ‘90% of pupils’ will take the EBacc and this will mean that every pupil will have to take a minimum of seven GCSEs: English literature and English language, maths, double or triple science, a modern and/or ancient language, history and/or geography.

The average number of qualifications taken by Key Stage 4 pupils is 8.9 (source). The average number of GCSEs taken is 8.1. There will be precious little room for pupils to study any creative subjects.

New figures published by the Department for Education (DfE) (Friday 3 June 2016) show the following (provisional) drops in entries for GCSEs (in England) from 2015 to 2016:

GCSE Subject Total entry % change
Art and design subjects      172,550 -5%
Design & technology      175,130 -10%
Drama          68,250 -4%
Media / Film / TV Studies          51,410 -15%
Music          41,860 -3%
Performing / Expressive arts          18,020 -11%
All GCSE subjects    4,929,340 0%

These new figures confirm the direction of travel of the Government’s EBacc policy, namely to re-engineer the education offered by schools.

It is not just a student’s creative education at risk. Figures published – and celebrated – by the Government on 26 January 2016 show that the UK’s Creative Industries grew by 8.9 per cent in 2014 – almost double the UK economy as a whole [source]. Our creative industries are now worth a record £84.1 billion to the UK economy [source]. Music alone generates £2Bn in exports [source].

The EBacc as it currently stands will jeopardise the future success of our creative industries by significantly reducing opportunities for the next generation of musicians, technicians, designers, artists, actors and all the vital roles within a prosperous creative industry.

The campaign:

Unsurprisingly, there has been widespread opposition of the EBacc from across the creative industries. In June 2015, in direct response to the Department for Education’s EBacc announcement, the Bacc for the Future campaign (the once-successful campaign to save creative subjects in schools) was relaunched. It is supported by over 200 organisations including: Aardman Animations, the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM), UK Music, the Creative Industries Federation (CIF), Design Council, Music Industries Association, the Women’s Engineering Society, the Royal Academy of Arts (the RA), Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), Yamaha, universities, conservatoires, all the major teaching unions, 100,000+ parliament petition signatories and c50,000 individual supporters of the campaign itself. Their criticism of the EBacc has been covered across all platforms, including national newspapers, sector press, blogs and social media.

The campaign is calling for league tables that give creative subjects their proper due. As it stands, the government had a perfectly good accountability measure in Progress 8 and Attainment 8 which allowed music, design and other creative, artistic and technical subjects to count towards school league tables.

I Failed The EBacc:

As a student, I failed the EBacc, despite studying all of these subjects to the age of 16 (using grade C+ methodology). Progress 8 would have helped me. It would have told my teachers that I had made significant gains on my attainment, even with the odds stacked against me – being educated in 7 schools (secondary: 2 comprehensive; 1 grammar) all over Britain.

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Image: Shutterstock

I was also able to study several Arts subjects because I studied what was important to me. My school allowed this to happen and with the absence of league tables and EBacc measures, this was made feasible. Can we really argue that league tables are the sole reason for improvements in our education system? Or is this down to higher-quality CPD, better quality of teaching and more informed-based methods?

Every student should be able to opt into the EBacc and not be shoehorned by a DfE measure that leads to incredible and unnecessary accountability on schools. Progress 8 now provides a common-sense measure.The EBacc proposals will contradict this and will damage the teaching of creative subjects – including student choices and teachers’ livelihood – in our schools if we allow our government to do this.

On 4 July, the House of Commons will debate the EBacc and its exclusion of the Arts subjects in Parliament.

I make my position clear.

  • I oppose any English Baccalaureate curriculum.
  • I oppose the EBacc being used as a (90%) measure of student success.
  • I do not oppose our students studying more languages, humanities and Arts subjects.

If you would like to support the campaign and find out more about the debate on 4 July, visit or contact @Bacc4TheFuture.

Support the Arts!


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4 thoughts on “Stop the Exclusion!

  1. While I am uncertain as to whether all students should study Ebacc subjects, I feel that too few are studying them at present and therefore the Ebacc is a step in the right direction. Creative Arts subjects will always be popular with students, as they are glamorous in a way that humanities and MFL can never match, so it makes sense to give traditional academic subjects a helping hand.

    1. I agree Paul that there should be something, but the EBacc at present is shoe-horning subjects like my own. For me, we just need a core group – Eng/Maths/Science – and let kids choose what’s best for them. If we want an EBacc, the government should not measure the metrics of it. This will only lead to division of subjects and creative ones pushed to the side.

  2. A great summary and I hadn’t seen the take up figures before. As you say, the intention is good, but EBacc creates a view that some subjects are less despite the fact that they enrich our lives and (literally) the UK economy. I wrote about this in October here:
    Also, I teach in a faith school – all the pupils do RE, a humanity but not in the EBacc, so their other choices would’ve reduced if they had to get the EBacc.

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