Update on education reform plans

22 March 2013

Consultations, consultations, consultations!

It’s been about a month since the Secretary of State for Education made his much publicised announcements on his plans for wholescale education reform.

As we said in our recent posts and briefings, it’s really important to note that the Secretary of State’s speech didn’t necessarily signal any significant ‘U-turns’ or changes to the direction he wishes to take education policy.

In reality, plans are still in place for league tables to be driven by the EBacc, for exams to be reformed towards linear, externally assessed and essay-based models, and for a National Curriculum which emphasises the notion of ‘core knowledge’ over skills, competency and understanding, which includes a ‘potentially retrograde’ notion of art and design, and which doesn’t include drama, media, film or adequate mention of dance.

These new proposals are set alongside a range of other reforms being put in place immediately by civil servants and their partner organisations. There are fewer teachers being trained in arts and cultural disciplines, fewer resources on the table due to local authority cuts and as yet, still no indication as to what the long-promised National Plan for Cultural Education will achieve.

Wholescale change of this kind is almost unprecedented and it is extremely difficult to adequately predict what the outcomes will be, but taken together, these changes must be set to have significant implications for the place of the arts and culture in our school system.

However, many (though not all) of these plans are currently out for consultation and it is absolutely critical that the arts and cultural sector make our voices and our ideas heard in the process. The turn-around time is swift, and many of the documents are bulky and complex, but we urge all our partners to overcome these barriers and ensure that your opinion is taken into account.

What can you do?

In this post we give you a brief update on what is happening, where you can find help and advice and what the timescales and deadlines are.

The CLA is holding 8 Roundtable sessions in March and April with our expert advisors and members to hammer out the shape of our collective response and we will be posting our notes and drafts on the site as soon as we can.

In the interim, do continue to use our Curriculum Principles doc and our Drama Survey to help craft your responses. It is critical that we each support our colleagues and partners from across the full spectrum of cultural learning – so where you feel you can make the case for fit-for-purpose inclusion of another arts subject, do so.

You can find support and information from a range of sources including, National Society for Education Art and Design, National Drama, Music Mark, Music Education Council, National Dance Teachers Association, The Historical Association, and The English and Media Centre.

You can also make your voices heard in a number of other ways – by continuing to promote Bacc for the Future’s petition and contacting your MP – by writing to them or by making the case face to face.

What measures are affecting schools now?

1. English Baccalaureate Performance Measure

The EBacc performance measure is still operational and it remains an unchanged element of the government’s on-going plans. Reports of a U-turn on this were inaccurate. For a quick aide-memoir on the EBacc headlines see the bullet points below:

  • The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) is a performance measure for secondary schools. It is relevant to young people in Key Stage 4 (ages 14-16)
  • Schools are required to publish the number of students that get A-C grades across 5 subject areas at GCSE level. These are: English, Maths, Science, Modern Foreign Languages and Humanities (History and Geography). These are generally known as the 5 Pillars of the English Baccalaureate
  • This publication acts as a league table and has led schools to start prioritising these subjects over others and putting their resources and funds towards them
  • In 2012 15% of schools withdrew an arts subject as a direct response to the introduction of the EBacc

2. Facilitating Subjects Performance Measure

  • In 2011 the Russell Group of universities produced a publication called ‘Informed Choices’. It sets out a list of subjects that they believe give young people the highest chance of getting a place at University
  • The list of ‘Facilitating Subjects’ is precisely the same as the EBacc list
  • In February the government introduced a new league table of Facilitating Subjects to be published by schools at Key Stage 5 (A-level, age 16-18). This will take immediate effect
  • We do not yet know what effect this will have on arts provision at secondary school, though it is likely that it will further compound and extend the impact of the EBacc at Key Stage 4

3. Discount codes

In February the government changed regulations so that certain combinations of subjects would be ‘discounted’ in any league table. For example, these changes mean that only Dance OR Drama can count towards league tables at GCSE, or only Graphics OR Art and Design (subjects like Science or Humanities are not affected in the same way).

These new codes are in immediate effect. We don’t yet have the data to track the impact of this change, but anecdotally teachers have told us that this it is already having a disproportionate effect on arts provision, with students now encouraged not to take more than one subject in each discipline.

What new measures are currently out for consultation?

4. New league table measures and floor standards for secondary schools.

Up until now, secondary schools were primarily judged on the number of pupils gaining A-C grades in 5 separate subjects at Key Stage 4 (GCSE). There are now draft plans for this measure to be scrapped and replaced by two new measures:

  • One new league table where schools are judged just on how well young people do in English and Maths
  • One new league table judged on how well young people progress in their 8 best GCSE subjects. This 8 must include English and Maths, 3 EBacc subjects and three other subjects of their choosing. It is important to note that this can include arts subjects, but it doesn’t have to
  • ‘8 Best’ as a league table will be published alongside the EBacc league table. This combination may well mean that schools continue to prioritise and resource EBacc subjects; under current proposals schools could score highly in both measures by encouraging students to take 8 EBacc subjects. However, we hope that it will have the effect of incentivising schools and teachers to support cultural subjects - as talent and excellence in these disciplines will be rewarded.

Opportunities to influence

Secondary School leagues tables are currently under consultation – make your thoughts known on ‘8Best’, and, critically on the EBacc.

So far, our conversations indicate that colleagues feel we should be lobbying for the EBacc league table to be abolished, and for the arts to be a statutory requirement at Key Stage 4.

Written submissions are requested by the DfE by 1st May 2013.

5. The new draft of the National Curriculum Key Stages 1-3

New specifications for all subjects Key Stage 1-3 have been published for consultation and there has already been a great deal of publicised debate and comment on the proposals, from Schools’ Minister Liz Truss, to 100 Academics writing to the Independent.

Here are some of the cultural learning headlines:

  • Drama has been effectively removed from the English specification
  • History is to be taught chronologically, beginning with early Britons and progressing to the 20th Century only at Secondary School. This is a significant issue for our colleagues in the museums and heritage sector as it may well prevent schools from working with existing local partners, while the weight of content could well discourage active engagement with sites and museums outside of school.
  • Dance is mentioned within PE, but only in the context of physical activity, not as an art form
  • Art and Design is based on a set of principles that the Design Council has termed ‘retrograde’
  • The Music sector has lots of comments about ways to improve the draft specification, but seems to have fewer fundamental issues with its construction

Opportunities to influence

Written submissions to the consultation are requested by the DfE. The closing date is the 16th of April 2013.

6. Reform of vocational qualifications 16-19

The government plans to:

  • establish a process and set of characteristics by which vocational qualifications could be judged for inclusion in 16-19 performance tables
  • introduce two separate categories of vocational qualification – ‘applied general’ and ‘occupational’, in addition to academic qualifications
  • only include applied general and occupational qualifications that meet pre-defined standards in future performance tables

Opportunities to influence

The CLA will be working with both Creative Skillset and Creative and Cultural Skills to develop our official response to this consultation and will be publishing guidance for our members on our website.

Written submissions are requested by the 10th of May 2013.

What we are still waiting for?

7. Consultation and accountability measures for Primary Schools and Post-16 including A-level.

These consultations are expected later on in the year.

8. GCSE Reform

The Secretary of State has written to Ofqual asking them to reform GCSEs to make them ‘more rigorous’, linear, and to keep internal assessment and modules to a minimum. He has indicated that he has asked civil servants to work with the Arts Council and other partners on the reform of arts GCSEs.

Arts Council is subsequently commissioning research into current provision with a view to creating some draft programmes of study later in the new year.

It is imperative that the Arts Council develops excellent, fit for purpose recommendations for programmes of study and appropriate forms of assessment, and that the DfE and Ofqual take these recommendations on board.

Opportunities to influence

The CLA will be working to ensure that the widest possible range of learning and cultural experts are heard and involved within this process.