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Lack of compulsory arts subjects at GCSE criticised

Plans for compulsory GCSEs 'exclude the arts'. Photo: Syda Productions/Shutterstock Plans for compulsory GCSEs 'exclude the arts'. Photo: Syda Productions/Shutterstock
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The government has been accused of playing “fast and loose with the country’s educational wellbeing”, after it revealed plans for compulsory GCSEs that exclude the arts.

In a speech delivered on June 11, schools minister Nick Gibb outlined plans to “restore academic subjects to the heart of the curriculum in all schools”.

He said that all students at the age of 16 would have to study English Baccalaureate subjects – English, maths, science, a language and history – so that “every pupil receives the education to which they are entitled”.

However, Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, criticised the plans. She has led a campaign called Bacc for the Future, which calls on the government to include the arts in EBacc subjects.

Responding to the new plans, she said: “The government is rightly focused on jobs, growth and a balanced budget. This policy undermines that ambition. The creative industries are worth £76.9 billion per year to the UK economy, and the educational importance of creative subjects cannot be overestimated. It should be a great concern to all of us that the Department for Education is playing fast and loose with the country’s economic and educational wellbeing.”

Ian Kellgren, chief executive of Drama UK, described the plans as “another blow to providing a level paying field for entry to drama school”.

“There is criticism of the drama schools for the composition of their graduates into the industry but they are restricted by the supply chain up to them. This is an example of that supply chain being skewed to the advantage of those attending enlightened or well resourced schools,” he said.

Patrice Baldwin, former chair of National Drama – an association for drama teachers – and an arts education specialist consultant, claimed that the damage already caused to drama in schools in the last five years was a “national disgrace”.

“The place of drama in schools has been seriously diminished and twisted to primarily serve the interests of business and industry, rather than the interests of learners,” she said, adding: “Drama teachers have significantly reduced in number and the resurgence of the EBacc will definitely make the situation for drama teaching in schools now even worse.”

However, in his speech, Gibb denied the arts were being neglected in favour of other subjects.

“Over the years I’ve been asked to add scores of subjects – from intellectual property, to Esperanto, to den building – to the national curriculum. Many of these are important and interesting. The question, though, is whether they are sufficiently important to justify reducing the time available for the existing subjects in the curriculum and I make no apology for protecting space for the English Baccalaureate subjects wherever possible,” he said.

He added that the “vast majority of pupils will rightly continue to take the opportunity to study further academic GCSEs or high-value, approved vocational qualifications… alongside EBacc subjects”.

Gibb said the government had “consistently promoted high-quality arts and cultural education”.

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