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Shrinking arts education is hitting science and medicine too, experts warn

The decline of arts subjects in schools is also having a damaging effect on sectors such as science and medicine. Photo: Shutterstock The decline of arts subjects in schools is also having a damaging effect on sectors such as science and medicine. Photo: Shutterstock
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The decline of arts subjects in schools is not only impacting the creative industries, but is also having a damaging effect on sectors such as science and medicine, an education charity has warned.

Experts are claiming that some science students lack the “tactile general knowledge” that can be gained from creative learning, despite exhibiting high exam grades.

Education charity the Edge Foundation has published a report claiming the narrow academic curriculum offered by the government’s English Baccalaureate is “not fit for purpose to tackle a 21st-century economy”.

The charity’s chief executive, Alice Barnard, said the government was simply “paying lip service” to the importance of the arts but contracting this with policy.

“Creative subjects matter less under Progress 8 [accountability] measures. The relentless focus on performance tables makes teachers feel compelled to ‘teach to the test’… It is not just the creative industries expressing concern about having a talent pipeline for the future, but employers across all sectors and industries,” she said.

The report calls for dramatic changes to the national curriculum and demands that creativity should be at the heart of all learning if the UK is to prosper.

Roger Kneebone, who is professor of surgical education at Imperial College London, warned the loss of creative skills among medical and science students had become a concern among his scientific colleagues.

He said: “We have students who have very high exam grades, but lack the tactile general knowledge – they struggle even to perform chemistry experiments.

“An example is of a surgeon needing some dexterity and skill in sewing or stitching. It can be traced back to the sweeping out of creative subjects from the curriculum. It is an important and an increasingly urgent issue.”

At an event held to mark the launch of the Edge Foundation’s report, the director of the V&A, Tristram Hunt, will argue that skills gained from subjects such as drama and music will “enable young people to navigate the changing workplace of the future and stay ahead of the robots”.


What is the EBacc?

The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) is a performance measure for schools in England, implemented by the government.

It comprises a set of core subjects that are compulsory for all those taking the EBacc. These are English, maths, science (either double or triple award), a foreign language and either history or geography.
This means students will take a minimum of seven GCSEs.

It was introduced for schools in England in 2010, however under continued government encouragement has been increasing in prominence ever since.

At present, the government’s aim is to ensure that 90% of pupils sit the EBacc at GCSE by 2025.

Read our comprehensive guide to the EBacc here

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