Policy and Practice Round-up September 2013

08 September 2013

This month we bring you a speech that reveals more of the Department for Education’s rationale behind curriculum reform, further consultations on accountability, ideas from America on arts curriculum, support for public sector commissioning, information on our evidence base and news on party conferences, including the Art Party in Scarborough!

Department for Education news

In March of this year we published this post on planned education reform. (N.B. if you are looking for a quick reminder of the definitions of the EBacc, Discount Codes or ‘Facilitating Subjects’ then give this post a quick re-read).

In today’s article we give you an update on what has now been decided, what we’re waiting for and what is still on the table.

  • The National Curriculum.

The National Curriculum has now been finalised and you can read this post to see what the strengths and omissions are for the arts and culture.

Last week, Liz Truss, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education and Childcare, gave this speech to the CBI. In it she outlines more of the government’s rationale for the changes, particularly highlighting competition with other countries and a need to build a high-earning work force as motivations for the reform. She makes it clear that the EBacc subjects are valued over other subjects by government, even using the phrase:

We are rebalancing the curriculum towards high-value subjects - in maths, sciences, DT, computing, English and languages.

We feel strongly that this is a very narrow view of the purpose of education, as it doesn’t acknowledge the need for rounded, engaged young people who are interested in and capable of shaping and commenting on society, nor does it acknowledge that the arts, culture, and heritage are all essential to helping young people to create, reflect, problem solve and innovate. We also have some questions about the data sources quoted in the speech and will be asking questions on the underlying evidence base.

We’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the speech, and on what you think are the best ways to ensure the arts and culture take their place in status and recognition alongside STEM subjects.

  • GCSE content and structure

In August we submitted responses to two consultations on GCSEs. One to the DfE on proposed GCSE content, and one to OFQUAL on proposed GCSE structure. We are now waiting to see the results of these.

Arts Council England and CCSkills are currently looking at the existing specifications for Dance, Drama, Art and Design and Music GCSEs, with a view to developing new draft criteria. The CLA will be running some Roundtable consultation sessions on these drafts in October and November and will be publishing an independent paper on our findings. Do let us know if you’d like to be involved in this process.

  • Accountability and Assessment

The consultation on Secondary School Accountability (which included proposals for the continuing place of the EBacc and the newly proposed ‘8Best’ measure) has closed. We have not yet seen any resulting government announcements or policy confirmation. The DfE might well be waiting to see what comes back through the following still-live consultations:

Amongst many other reforms, the 16-19 consultation document confirms the government’s intention to measure take up of 'facilitating subjects’ in schools.

We’ve previously termed this the ‘ABacc’ as the suite of subjects that qualifies for inclusion is very similar to the EBacc line-up. ‘Facilitating subjects’ are defined as: mathematics and further mathematics, English (literature), physics, biology, chemistry, geography, history, languages (classical and modern).

Anecdotally we are being told by our members that the focus on facilitating subjects is driving student choice away from arts subjects and narrowing the pipeline of students applying for arts degrees, compounding the impact of the EBacc on take up of arts subjects 14-19. It is therefore extremely important that we all respond. Let us know if you have any experience of this.

  • Discount codes

Discount codes are still deeply affecting schools. Last week the BBC highlighted headteacher concerns about how arts subjects are being marginalized.

Curriculum Reform in Wales

Arts Council of Wales has published a new report on the value of Arts Education and the Welsh Government has subsequently launched an Arts in Education Review.

It is extremely heartening to read the comments of Education Minister Huw Lewis as reported by the BBC:

"It highlights the role of a creative arts-rich approach in engaging learners and developing creative skills through the arts, and how this could lead to benefits across all subject areas We will now take time to consider the report in detail alongside our wider review of the curriculum as a whole and will also look at how we can enhance joint working between our arts and education sectors in Wales."

We very much look forward to going through the report with a tooth-comb and reporting more on the recommendations and findings.

New National Standards for the Schools in the US

Across the pond in America, a group of colleagues have published new voluntary National Core Arts Standards for High Schools. This document a fascinating read, with a focus on artistic literacy and competencies rather than on individual subjects. It interesting to compare it to our new, and obviously statutory, English National Curriculum.

Cultural commissioning support

NCVO has been funded by Arts Council England to run a cultural commissioning programme with the aim of helping ‘arts and cultural organisations to engage in public sector commissioning’. They’ll be providing a range of activities and advice to support organisations to make this happen. You can find out more here.

Early arts evidence base

EarlyArts have pulled together a useful resource about the impact that creative approaches have on young children's learning & development.

Party conference season

Over the last month all parties have been announcing new policies or promises that will affect children and young people.

Some of the headlines include:


  • 25 hours of free child care for working parents
  • All parents of primary school children will get "wraparound" childcare - e.g. children can be left at school from 8am to 6pm
  • A requirement for large companies train a new apprentice for each skilled worker they hire from outside the EU.
  • Overturning any coalition decision to scrap AS Levels



  • Has committed to providing all pupils at infant schools in England with free school lunches from next September.

The Art Party

If your looking for a different kind of political debate, the Art Party conference is taking place in Scarborough on the 23rd November. We are looking forward to a fun and challenging day!