Arts leaders warn ‘still work to be done’ despite EBacc U-turn

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Leading figures from the cultural sector have described the government’s decision to drop its English Baccalaureate proposals as a “big win”, but have warned there is still work to be done to ensure the arts are placed at the heart of education.

Last week, education secretary Michael Gove announced he had abandoned plans to introduce EBacc certificates in place of GCSEs from 2015. Campaigners from across the arts had criticised these reforms because the proposals did not include the arts as part of the core subjects within the qualification.

Gove has now launched a public consultation on the national curriculum at both primary and secondary school level to reform GCSEs.

Sadler’s Wells artistic director Alistair Spalding welcomed the move, but said he was still concerned that future qualifications would focus on a final examination rather than continual assessment.

He said: “What these GCSEs will look like now under the reform is still a concern because clearly there is still a strong emphasis on the end of the process assessment and not continual assessment, which most arts subjects don’t respond well to. A final exam is not a good way to assess whether you’re good at painting or dance.”

He added that the proposed programme of study for physical education – in which dance has traditionally appeared – that was published last week shows that the artistic element has been reduced.

“The content seems to have moved towards physical activity rather than the artistic elements,” he said. “So, broadly, that the EBacc certificates are gone as a concept is a big win, but there is still a lot to do.”

Meanwhile, the government plans to introduce new league tables for secondary schools, which will include an eight-subject measure that allows for the inclusion of an arts subject.

Josie Rourke, artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse, said the campaign against the EBacc highlighted that schools would not teach arts unless they were measured on it.

In light of the new proposals for the national curriculum, she said: “The crucial thing is, when teachers and headteachers are under such pressure to deliver the curriculum and have their schools perform really well, that arts count in how their performance is registered. And that seems to me to be the most important change that has happened [in these proposals].”

Rourke also said she would like to see, as part of the national curriculum reform, every child entitled to trips to cultural public spaces. However, she said that it must first be made easier for schools to provide such trips.

She added: “This is a sigh of relief that we [the arts sector] have been heard, and a call to action in terms of understanding what it is our schools are able and ready to deliver.”

Patrice Baldwin, chair of theatre education association National Drama, has warned that the new national curriculum proposals do not guarantee that every child will be taught drama in schools. She said: “It would be possible for children to end up reading and watching some plays very occasionally, rather than acting in or creating plays. They might never get an actual drama lesson and learn about drama itself as a subject.”

The proposals state that, although every pupil will still have a right to study a minimum of one arts subject past the age of 14, which includes drama, music and dance, the arts will not be compulsory at GCSE level.

Also published last week was the draft programme of study for English, in which drama teaching has traditionally been found.

Baldwin said that although it was “good” that drama is provided in the guidance section, it was “disappointing” that this would not be a statutory requirement.

She added: “Drama should have equal status with music, art and dance. [Under the proposals] whether or not a teacher chooses to use drama as a pedagogy is a matter of personal choice, as it is in guidance only.”