Policy and practice round-up June 23

26 June 2023

This month we bring you new data on arts subjects exam entries, the role of oracy in education, the Liberal Democrat education agenda, a new Manchester Baccalaureate for creative industries, a new national delivery partner for Artsmark, a new music education board, and the Curious Minds youth consultation. 

New subject entry data shows worrying fall in participation in arts subjects at GCSE and A-Level 

The government’s latest provisional data on entries to GCSE and A-Level exams for 2023 shows a worrying fall in entries into arts subjects. 

Compared to 2022, entries at GCSE have fallen in:

  • Arts & Design by 3.3% (this includes Design & Technology) 
  • Drama by 7.4%
  • Music by 11.8%
  • Performing and expressive arts overall by 16.4%

Compared to 2022, entries at A-Level have fallen in:

  • Art & Design by 2.8% (this includes Design & Technology)
  • Drama by 6.7%
  • Music by 6.8%

The figures square with other reports of reduced arts provision in schools as a consequence of staffing and budgetary challenges, combined with accountability measures. The figures also have worrying implications for maintaining the national skills pipeline required to maintain the creative industries, a major contributor to net economic activity in the UK. The need for intervention to redress this fall in arts participation is more vital than ever. 

A push for oracy as part of the Labour Party’s educational agenda for government

Former Labour director of communications and political pundit, Alastair Campbell, argued in an article in TES that it is vital that the party commit to oracy in education. In particular, Campbell argues that the party should make an expansion of oracy education a manifesto pledge in the run-up to a general election next year. 

Stating that “The single most important means by which we express ourselves, literally every day of our lives, is through speaking,” Campbell also argues that there is an ‘oracy gap’, with independent schools investing lots of resource in improving their pupils’ oracy. This is of interest to us as many expressive arts subjects directly improve oracy, while performing arts subjects in general improve young people’s confidence to speak in front of an audience. As such, the arts could play a key role in this oracy agenda. 

Campbell’s audience in the Labour Party is sympathetic to oracy. Peter Hyman, speechwriter to Keir Starmer, founded School 21, one of the primary centres for oracy education in England. Similarly former education secretary and now Labour Party grandee, David Blunkett, has argued for oracy education in schools. However, there are other pulls on Labour’s educational approach so an oracy commitment remains far from assured. 

Hints that the Liberal Democrat education agenda may include policies around the arts

With some forecasters speculating that the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats may need to form a coalition to defeat the Conservative Party at the next General Election, there’s good reason to understand more about the Lib Dem approach to education policy.

Munira Wilson, the party’s education spokesperson, spoke to Schools Week to share her education vision. Of note for CLA readers, she stated that: 

  • Under a Lib Dem government, there would be new requirements on independent schools to partner with local state schools to provide them with access to support and resources for extra-curricular activities (including cultural learning) 
  • The party is committed to a review of the school curriculum, but it’s unclear whether this would be in the direction of expanding the role of the arts 

While details remain thin, the Liberal Democrats may consider co-designing their education policy agenda with the Labour Party as part of developing a longer term vision for arts education in England. 

Goldsmiths announced as Artsmark’s new national delivery partner 

Goldsmiths, University of London, will be the new national delivery partner for the Artsmark Award from the start of the 2023-24 academic year. As part of this role, Goldsmiths will develop and deliver high-quality support and training for Artsmark schools and settings. 

As a Higher Education Institution with an international reputation for expertise in creativity, arts and culture, Goldsmiths is an appropriate choice for this delivery role. We may also anticipate that Goldsmiths may include this work in their general Widening Participation work, using it as a pathway to increase awareness of - and access to - expressive arts education at degree level. 

New Manchester Baccalaureate (MBacc) to extend pupils subject choice and career pathways in Greater Manchester

The West Midlands and Greater Manchester metro mayoralties have recently had new ‘trailblazer’ powers devolved to them from Westminster. Among these powers is the ability to play a greater role in determining their local education and skills policy. Manchester mayor Andy Burnham announced recently that he would be using these powers to introduce a new secondary level qualification - the Manchester Baccalaureate. 

The new ‘MBacc’ will act as a vocational alternative to the EBacc, focussed on skills in demand in the Greater Manchester area. Burnham remarked that “The EBacc is great for young people who want to go on to university, but there is no equivalent suite of qualifications at 14 and 16 that align with the real-life employment opportunities being created in our city-region."

Details on the MBacc remain light at present, but Burnham has stated that the new Baccalaureate will play a role preparing young people for “getting a good job in the creative subjects”. With the overarching aim of parity of esteem for technical routes, the MBacc may prove to be an exciting experiment in transforming young people’s access to careers in the creative sector, raising the profile of the expressive arts within school.

However, by positioning creative and cultural subjects on the technical pathway, the MBacc could exacerbate the canalising of ‘bright’ pupils that are deemed to be destined for university away from arts subjects in favour of the EBacc and its focus on traditionally academic subjects. There are also logistical challenges to consider in relation to supply of sufficiently trained and qualified expressive arts teachers to meet the increased demand for arts subjects that the MBacc might bring. 

The MBacc is currently out to consultation, with policymakers keen to have a strong response from the cultural sector on attitudes towards it. Please do share your thoughts here

New board to oversee government’s plan to improve music education

The government has appointed a new music education board to “make sure that all children and young people have access to high-quality music education”. The 10 panellists will keep track of progress in the delivery of the national plan for music education and the corresponding music hubs programme. The board will do this by:

  • establishing an impact framework for the national plan for music education
  • setting out how to monitor and measure the plans success, quantitatively and qualitatively
  • support and challenge the implementation of the plan and model music curriculum (which is set out in the national plan for music education)
  • champion the implementation of the model music curriculum

The membership of the panel includes voices from education, industry and the wider cultural learning sector. While the board may prove a useful way of anchoring the delivery of the plan in the interests of young people, we know that such boards often have very proscribed powers that only allow them to make recommendations on how the delivery of a plan should be changed. These recommendations can be summarily ignored by the government. Time will tell whether this will be the case with this new board. 

Resources from The North Western Cultural Education Summit

Curious Minds are delighted to make sessions from their recent North Western Cultural Education Summit available to the public. Talks include:

  • Joanna Casson (Senior Policy Advisor, DCMS) & Clive Fischer (Senior Executive Officer, DfE) on the Cultural Education Plan 
  • Lauren Lucas (Policy Advisor at Local Government Association) on the LGA’s Cultural Commission 
  • Sally Bacon OBE on the new Gulbenkian Arts in Schools report (which she co-authored)

Other resources include a survey for young people on cultural learning that we encourage readers to share with those under the age of 25 in their network.