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EBacc has been good for arts education, claims new research

Pupils at Cobham Free School in Surrey. Photo: New Schools Network Pupils at Cobham Free School in Surrey. Photo: New Schools Network
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New research has contradicted claims that the English Baccalaureate stifles creativity in schools and asserts that the number of arts GCSE entries has risen since the measure was introduced.

The report, by independent charity the New Schools Network, says that “contrary to popular belief, the introduction of the EBacc has not had a discernible impact on the popularity of arts at GCSE”.

This is at odds with the intense criticism levelled at the government from anti-EBacc campaigners, who believe education reforms are having a damaging effect on arts in schools.

Called The Two Cultures: Do Schools Have to Choose Between the EBacc and the Arts?, the report features a foreword by schools minister Nick Gibb and culture minister Matt Hancock.

They claim that the research “puts to rest the argument that the EBacc has stifled cultural education in England’s schools” and reaffirms the government’s stance that both the EBacc and the arts can thrive together.

The EBacc, first introduced in 2010, gives GCSE pupils a core curriculum of compulsory subjects. However, the list does not include an arts subject. Cultural figures and education campaigners continue to campaign against this exclusion.

According to the report, the proportion of students taking at least one arts GCSE in England was higher in 2015/16 than it was in 2011/12, increasing by 7.4%.

The total number of arts GCSE entries also rose from 314,418 to 320,736, the report claims.

The research classifies arts subjects as: art and design; dance; drama; expressive arts and performance studies; film studies; music and the performing arts; and media, film and television studies.

This list does not include design and technology, often cited as a creative subject and one that has seen a heavy decline in recent years.

The report also says arts GCSEs have a benefit to wider school attainment, claiming the more arts GCSEs students take, the better their schools perform. It adds that in schools with high EBacc entry, 73.2% of pupils taking arts GCSEs gain an A* to C grade. This is higher than the national average of 71.7% across all GCSEs.

It continues to say that arts GCSEs face a “growing threat” from schools mistakenly believing that they must discourage students from taking them in order to achieve better attainment scores overall.

This could be combated, says the report, if the government improved messaging around its education reforms and encouraged arts organisations to become directly involved in setting up new free schools.

It cites a number of free schools that have a particular focus on the arts, calling for more to follow in their footsteps.

Toby Young, director of New Schools Network, said the report proved that children don’t have to choose between an academic education and an arts education.

“Our hope is that this report will help dispel some of the misunderstandings that have arisen and encourage more schools to boost their arts provision and more arts organisations to set up schools,” he said.

Responding to the report’s publication, the Creative Industries Federation said: “It is absolutely clear, as is highlighted in this new report, that many of the best schools already recognise the value of creative subjects. Improving messaging to all schools about the benefits of arts subjects at GCSE is vital. It would be a great step forward if no school could be deemed ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted without offering a good creative education.

“Furthermore, we must make it easier for all schools – including the most challenged, working with the most deprived pupils – to offer creative subjects. This means, among other things, addressing the fall in the number of teachers and taught hours dedicated to the arts.”

The federation said it regretted the omission of design and technology from the report, adding that the skills it offered were in demand from the creative industries but it had seen a “significant fall in take-up at GCSE”.

Last week, a Guardian survey said one in 10 teachers claim that art, music and drama have been dropped from their schools due to funding cuts.

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