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Government should scrap EBacc over arts subject decline, claims think tank report

The fund has been created in response to evidence that points to a lack of specialist knowledge among primary school teachers Photo: Syda Productions / Shutterstock
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The English Baccalaureate should be scrapped in order to stem the decline of creative subjects at GCSE, a think tank has claimed, in a report that is a further blow to the government’s flagship education policy.

In a study exploring the impact of the EBacc, EDSK, which describes itself as an “independent, impartial think tank”, has warned of the knock-on effects of falling numbers for non-EBacc subjects, such as the arts.

“The risk is that if non-EBacc subjects continue shrinking, the pipeline of talent within the creative industries and other crucial sectors could be restricted or, worse still, simply cut off,” it said.

The report identifies substantial increases for GCSE subjects that are included in the EBacc and the reverse trend for subjects including drama and music, which it claims has seen decreases of 29% and 36% respectively over the decade since the EBacc was first introduced.

Its findings back up claims from within the creative industries that arts subject take-up has suffered as a result of the push given to the EBacc’s core curriculum by government.

The report is written by EDSK’s founder Tom Richmond, who is a former Department for Education adviser. Among its recommendations is the total removal of the two EBacc performance measures – the percentage of pupils entering and the average point score – with immediate effect.

As a result of its research, EDSK recommended “the two separate EBacc performance measures no longer serve any useful purpose and should therefore be withdrawn along with their associated targets”. It also suggested the government’s aim that 75% of pupils will enter the EBacc by 2022, and 90% by 2025, should also be dropped.

The report goes on to argue that the data it has analysed supports claims around the EBacc’s lack of emphasis on the arts, noting a downward trend in almost every arts subject since 2015.

It added: “Given that the creative industries feature prominently in the government’s Industrial Strategy for boosting the UK economy in the coming years, it seems strange that for the last nine years the government has pursued a method of holding schools to account that works in precisely the opposite direction.

“It is now time for a new approach to school performance measures that goes beyond fighting the battles of 2010 and instead focuses on what needs to happen in 2019 and beyond.”

Despite this report and others highlighting the downward trend in GCSE arts entries, the government has maintained that the EBacc is not squeezing arts out of the curriculum.

In response to the EDSK report, a Department for Education spokeswoman said: “The EBacc encourages young people to take core academic subjects that are essential for keeping their options open for further study and future careers. Since its introduction in 2010, we have seen a rise in the proportion of young people entering the EBacc and achieving grade 4/C or above in these subjects.

“The EBacc should be studied alongside additional subjects, like the arts, that reflect pupils’ individual interests and the proportion of young people taking at least one arts GCSE has remained broadly stable since 2010.”

She stressed that music, art and design are compulsory in England until the age of 14, and highlighted that the government is “investing nearly half a billion pounds into a range of music and cultural programmes between 2016 and 2020”.

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 it has been increasing in prominence ever since.

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

Read our comprehensive guide to the EBacc here

The EBacc: Everything you need to know

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