Education policy: Ebacc update

18 June 2015

Nick Gibb, Minister of State for Schools, made a speech on 11 June announcing the government’s renewed emphasis on the English Baccalaureate and Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education, also spoke about the policy on the 16 June. 

The detail of the new accountability measure has yet to be published but, in essence, schools will not be judged ‘Outstanding’ if all their students do not study the EBacc subjects to GCSE. (Read more about the EBacc here.)

Nick Gibb’s speech included the lines:

It has also been suggested that our emphasis on academic subjects in the national curriculum, and especially the introduction of the EBacc, ‘crowds out’ the study of other important subjects, particularly the arts. We should acknowledge that the curriculum always involves trade-offs: more time on one subject means less time on others.

Both Nick Gibb and Nicky Morgan’s speeches make a number of statements that don’t add up for the CLA.

The story across the country is one of reducing hours of arts teaching, fewer recruited specialist teachers and a 13% reduction in uptake of arts subjects at GCSE since 2010. 

Department for Education figures published in July 2015 show that between 2010 and 2014 the number of hours the arts were taught in secondary schools fell by 10% and the number of arts teachers fell by 11%. The rate of decline in the number of teachers and hours taught is speeding up with over a third of the decline since 2010 taking place between 2013 and 2014.

The investment that the DfE makes in supporting excellent cultural initiatives like Music Hubs is critical to the arts ecology and must be maintained, but it must complement a strong core of specialist arts teaching within school hours and accountability structures that incentivise and reward arts excellence. If the arts are simply relegated to after-school, or optional activities then the government’s ambition for social mobility will not be realised. the arts, and all the benefits and opportunities they offer, will be exclusive to those who can afford a private, arts-rich education.

We cannot allow education policy to be unambitious: only offering the basics to our poorest children. We want a gold standard cultural education for everyone.

  • We don’t think it is helpful to divide subjects in to ‘academic’ and otherwise: every subject, including all the arts, should involve practical and theoretical learning, should have a rigorous and challenging curriculum and should be taught by a passionate expert teacher.
  • We  know that studying the arts can materially improve social mobility: students from low income families who take part in arts activities at school are three times more likely to get a degree. If social justice is this government’s focus then they should be investing in and prioritising the arts.
  • In his speech Nick Gibb acknowledged that the EBacc could crowd out art subjects. We haven’t seen any evidence from government that the EBacc approach will deliver the creative talent needed by industry: STEM employers continue to say that their incoming graduates are not sufficiently creative, and that they lack the skills the arts provide. The Creative Industries (a sector with 9.9% growth and jobs highly resistant to automation) is seeing skills shortages likely to stall its continued growth, which in turn will have an impact on tourism and on the soft/diplomatic power provided by our arts and culture.

In her speech on 16th of June Nicky Morgan  said:

There doesn’t need to be a false choice between an academic or an arts-based curriculum. You can do them both and you can do them both well.


However, we are very concerned that this renewed policy focus on the EBacc will lead to exactly this; to schools making stark choices to meet their targets and to moving the arts out of the curriculum and into optional, extra-curricular time-slots. 

There has been widespread concern in the press this week from teachers and education specialists who feel that the arts are being sidelined, and who think that this policy is too rigid and bureaucratic to meet the needs of all children. For example, see the BBC, The Guardian and the TES and the Telegraph. The Bacc for the Future campaign, led by ISM has also been reignited.

This concern is backed up by research from the SSAT (Specialist Schools and Academies Trust). They surveyed 1664 schools in June asking about the EBacc. Schools are concerned that as “The full EBacc would require other subjects to 
be cut from the KS4 options, students who
 had aptitude and interest in the Arts and other creative subjects would miss out.”

Schools, however are also report that they will not implement the EBacc even if it means they cannot receive the Outstanding Ofsted rating.

In the survey:

  • 42% of schools said that they were certain they would not make the EBacc compulsory if that were a requirement for an ‘outstanding’ judgement from Ofsted;
  • 69% of respondents would refuse to teach the EBacc for all, even if that meant a ceiling of Ofsted ‘good’ for their schools.

We've heard from lots of teachers who tell us that simply including an arts subject in the Ebacc wont work as a solution to this problem; timetables are already critically stretched, and making even more subjects compulsory for every child will ensure even less choice and opportunity for learning to be tailored to individual need and interest. To create a system that really works for our children and young people we need to rethink this landscape. The DfE must look to reforming the EBacc - removing bureaucracy and freeing up teachers to interpret the curriculum in the way that best suits them and their students. This is the way to drive up standards. The DfE should also look to ensure that OfSTED explicitly rewards and assesses the arts and cultural provision in school and the quality of arts teaching and learning.

Arts subjects must be part of a broad and balanced curriculum for all our children. No matter what career they follow – scientist, designer, doctor or maker – they need the skills which the arts instill: structured risk taking; creativity; interpersonal skills; fine motor skills; self-knowledge; empathy; resilience; curiosity and confidence, to name a very few. Aside from the valuable discipline of mastering an instrument or constructing a play, dance or artwork, every child has a human right to participate in the arts.

To continue to make this case and lobby for change we need to hear from you. If you are working in a school which is making these kinds of choices and is cutting arts subjects, teachers or provision, please do get in touch to let us know. Similarly, we want to know if the Ebacc isn't an issue for you, or if you have found a solution or innovative way to incentivise arts uptake in your school. Email or post in the comments below.