Government publishes its response to the EBacc Consultation

20 July 2017

The government has finally published its long-awaited response to the English Baccalaureate consultation.

In this post we give you the headlines and what it means for cultural learning.

It has taken the Department of Education 18 months to analyse the 2,755 responses to its key questions, and it has concluded that it will press ahead with plans to expand and embed the concept of the EBacc throughout the secondary school system.

You can download the document here and read coverage from the BBC, in the Times Educational Supplement and in Schools Week.

Here are the headlines:

  • there is an expectation that 75% of pupils in state-funded schools will study the EBacc by 2022 – rising to 90% in 2025. This is a slight softening of timeline – but not of over-arching intent
  • there will be two headline accountability measures specifically on the EBacc; number of entries and performance scores (N.B. it’s also embedded within the Progress 8 and Attainment 8 measures that are already in place)
  • Ofsted will need to reflect the government’s EBacc policy in its inspection procedures.

The consultation response document is emphatic in its assertion that the arts in schools is ‘broadly stable’ and that there has been ‘an increase in the number of students taking one arts subject’. It draws from the recent New Schools Network (NSN) report, The Two Cultures to support its claims that schools with increased EBacc numbers also have increased arts subject numbers. You can read the NSN's response to the paper here.

Alongside the consultation response the Government also published a paper entitled Trends in arts subjects in schools where English Baccalaureate entry has increased. We’ve covered this separately in this post.

What does this mean for the arts?

This response from the Department of Education is frustrating on a number of levels. Re-reading the Cultural Learning Alliance EBacc Technical Briefing we used to make our response to the consultation, it is clear that many of our points were not taken on and the assumptions that we challenged are reiterated in the response document.

Here are some of the main areas where we disagree:

  • we haven’t seen evidence that the EBacc subjects are the ones needed to gain access to Russell Group higher education courses (see Laura McInerney’s excellent blog on the subject)
  • we don’t agree that making the EBacc the core driver of our education system is bringing us into line with other countries; in fact many of the highest performing systems make the arts compulsory, and we think the narrowed focus of the EBacc is out-of-step with the forefront of international education thinking (for example the PISA tables now include standard testing in Creative Problem Solving and there are plans in place for a new cultural measure: Global Competencies)
  • we disagree with the assertion that the arts in schools are ‘broadly stable’. Our reading shows a very significant drop of 27% to the uptake of arts subjects since 2010. Here is our analysis of the numbers.

Why are the CLA numbers and the DfE numbers so different?

In March we published this blog post that sets out some of the different data sets, information and analysis that could be used to look at the state of the arts in schools. Major surveys from the National Society for Education in Art and Design, the Guardian, and from the Association of School and College Leaders clearly show a decline in arts provision, as does a study from the University of Sussex on Music in Schools. Since we published the blog there have been further articles and analysis from Schools Week showing very significant drops in numbers since 2016.  DfE’s own data clearly shows a serious decline of 16% to the number of Arts teachers working in schools since 2010 and 17% in the number of hours Arts subjects are taught. Earlier this month the Department of Education's own Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Schools System, Lord Nash, made a statement in the House of Lords that appeared to not only acknowledge the decline in arts uptake, but to welcome it: 

The decline in the subjects to which the noble Earl refers has been more than made up for in the substantial increase in the number of pupils taking IT and the now almost 70,000 pupils taking computing...

I refer to my previous remarks about the take-up of computer science and the dramatic increase in the number of pupils taking IT. Of course, we must always remember the very low base that we had in 2010 when only one in five pupils was taking a core suite of academic subjects, which we know are so essential particularly for those from a disadvantaged background. I think that we should all be extremely pleased that we have actually doubled the percentage, which is rendering our education provision much more fit for pupils, particularly for pupils from a disadvantaged background...

Numerically. I think we all know that the quality of some of these subjects was not what it might be, and that quite a few people were taking some of them not because they suited them but because they were easier. Of course all schools teach many of these subjects, although it may not necessarily lead to exams, and of course all schools have to provide a broad and balanced curriculum—something which the new chief inspector seems to be particularly focused on, which I am very pleased to see.


In this EBacc consultation response the DfE’s argument that the arts in schools are stable appears to rest almost solely on its assertion that ‘the number of children who study one arts subject’ is (under its analysis) slightly higher than it was in 2011. It’s firstly very important to note that this statement is not about provision. It makes no reference to the (in our opinion, very likely) drop in the number of children taking two or more arts subjects. It does not take into account the wider qualification reform that has taken place alongside it; for example, there has been a very significant drop in the number of pupils taking B-Techs in Art and Design, and this may account for the numbers at GCSE for this subject appearing more stable whilst, infact, the overall numbers of students taking the subject have dropped (we blogged about this here back in 2015). It does not address the drop in teacher numbers or teacher hours for these subjects, or the reports of decline in resources, trips and visits and continued professional development that are detailed in the surveys we list above. It also does not acknowledge the most recent set of figures; the very steep drop in uptake between 2016 and 2017.

The DfE response does refer to February's New Schools Network report, which presents a very different picture from the one that we can see in the data and reflected in schools. As we said when the report was published, we absolutely understand that data and numbers can be interpreted in different ways, but the reality asserted by the NSN is not one that we recognise.

The key differences in our methodologies are:

  • NSN has used a different baseline – 2011 (after the EBacc had been announced and could have affected entries). We use 2010
  • NSN has taken out independent schools – there are just under 50,000 year 11 pupils in independent schools each year
  • NSN does not classify Design and Technology GCSE entries as arts qualifications
  • NSN is using DfE GCSE entry numbers, we use Joint Council for Qualifications (there is only a very small difference).

Anything else?

There are a number of other things about the response we find concerning, for example:

  • it takes a very simplistic approach to the impact on young people with Special Educational Needs
  • it makes no acknowledgement or link to other agendas such as technical skills, careers, mental health or to the Industrial Strategy and as such the holistic case for education is not made. There is no recognition of the needs of businesses or the creative sector. This is despite the government making numerous pronouncements about their understanding of the need to join-up across departments.

What next?

Education and arts leaders and campaigners are already beginning to respond to the policy plans set out in this document. For example, The Bacc for the Future Campaign is asking all members to write to the Prime Minister (copying in their MP). It’s provided a template letter if needed.  The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) calls the EBacc an unnecessary straight-jacket, and the Creative Industries Federation has made it clear that it believes this response is part of a wider trend of government devaluing arts subjects.

We believe that this response from the government is unacceptable. It doesn’t go far enough to acknowledge or take into account the opinions of the experts working in the sector and doesn’t make a compelling case that this is the education that will help young people to become the rounded, engaged, empowered citizens we need. This latest policy serves to underline the need for us all to continue to make the case for arts in schools at all levels; to local and national policy makers and decision makers, and for us to continue to help our teachers, schools, parents and pupils to build the kind of learning experiences they want, need and deserve.