We all know the importance of cultural opportunities for young people and the potential for culture to transform places and the lives of people who live there. Indeed, you will hear more this afternoon on the ground breaking project by Turner Contemporary, Arts Inspiring Change which is developing 80 young arts leaders in Margate. With the support of their teachers and parents these primary school children will be empowered to lead the regeneration of a disused area close to their school.
And then we have the Culture White Paper published by the DCMS in March 2016 which is ‘the first strategy for arts and culture in more than 50 years’. This Paper reiterates the responsibility for all state-funded schools to provide a broad and balanced curriculum that promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils.
So with both the extrinsic and intrinsic arguments being so in favour of a well-balanced curriculum, how come we find ourselves in 2016 facing the prospect of the latest EBacc proposal becoming a reality.
The EBacc was first proposed in November 2010. On 7 February 2013 after a large scale campaign coordinated by the ISM , the EBacc measure was dropped. Michael Gove called it a bridge too far. Instead he introduced the
eight subject school accountability measures which allowed creative subjects to count (called Progress 8 and Best 8). This move was welcomed across the creative industries and education sectors.
So how come like the sequel to the film Back to the Future we are facing Bacc II?
Very soon after this government was elected in 2015 the DfE announced that they were planning to make the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) a ‘headline measure’ for school accountability.
The intention is for ‘at least 90% of students’ to be entered into the EBacc subjects, with only certain types of school exempt. This would make it all but compulsory for most children and young people in England.
The EBacc is a list of five subject areas deemed more valuable by the Government. To get the EBacc you must study a minimum of seven GCSEs, and students could be forced to study up to ten GCSEs. This would leave little room for other subjects like art & design, dance, design & technology, drama and music.
And just this week in the Times there was news of a survey conducted by the Girls’ Day Schools Trust. It found that studying at least one creative subject acts as a pressure valve to help teenagers deal with the stress of two years spent preparing for GCSEs. Subjects such as drama, music and art are also more important for student’s personal development in their mid-teens by boosting self-confidence, independence, resilience and collaboration skills.
The Government has said that the EBacc subjects represent a ‘core academic’ curriculum. There is, however, a lack of evidence to support the choice of subjects which has repeatedly been called into question. Both universities and businesses (including the CBI) have asked the Government to think again on the exclusion of arts subjects.
The Department for Education has claimed that entries to arts subjects have increased in recent years. But figures from the Joint Council for Qualifications and the Cultural Learning Alliance contradict this claim.
And new figures from the DfE published this month show a drop in entries for music GCSE of 3% and for music A Level 8% while GCSE entries overall went up. So music is being pushed out of our schools.
And all this is quite contrary to what the public wants. In 2014, a poll conducted for the ISM found that 85% of adults backed Michael Gove’s statement that ‘Music education must not become the preserve of those children whose families can afford to pay for music tuition.’
And yet we can see with this year’s music GCSE results that this is precisely what is happening. And there is also data which shows that children with higher levels of deprivation are less likely to pursue music to key stage 4.
So what can you do about it? And I come back to my question: What would Dorothea do?
Bacc for the Future is a campaign of over 100,000 people and more than 200 creative industry businesses, education and arts organisations. As a result of this formidable group coming together there will now be a debate on 4 July at the House of Commons. You can play your part too. Write to your MP and you will find a template letters to help you do this on Bacc for the Future website - Baccforthefuture.com.
I am reminded of what the Dalai Lama said:
Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects.
Education and culture are too important to leave to politicians, government and multinationals. All of us here today have to create the world we want to live in. So write to your MP when you leave tonight.
We may feel that your voice will not be heard so there is no point in speaking up. But I always remember an email from one of the EBacc campaign supporters in 2013.
This is what she said:
“I just couldn’t believe it when I woke up to the news this morning that Michael Gove is doing a U turn on the EBACC– this is amazing. I am absolutely over the moon about this . Victory for the little people!!!!! Have given my kids an impromptu speech in PJs this morning about standing up against Government for what you believe.
So now you know – this is what Dorothea would do!