Leading employers and figures from across the creative industries are calling on the education secretary Gavin Williamson to scrap the English Baccalaureate because of its damaging impact on the uptake of arts subjects.
Actor and writer Lenny Henry, the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre’s chief executive Julian Bird and the National Theatre’s leadership team Rufus Norris and Lisa Burger are among more than 150 signatories of an open letter published on A-level results day by the Creative Industries Federation.
The letter, penned by the federation’s chair Rick Haythornthwaite, warns Williamson of the consequences of an education system lacking creative subjects.
Devaluing the arts “will threaten the pipeline of exceptional creative talent” that has made the UK a world-leader, the letter argues.
“Ensuring young people have access to creative education is vital if the country is to maintain a resilient talent pipeline for the creative industries, the fastest-growing sector in the UK economy,” it says.
Signatories also include English National Opera chief executive Stuart Murphy, former Arts Council England chair Peter Bazalgette, Fiona Allan, who is chief executive and artistic director of Birmingham Hippodrome and MPs Ed Vaizey, Tom Watson and Kevin Brennan.
Citing research by Nesta, which suggested that 87% of creative job roles are resistant to automation, and the importance placed on ‘creativity’ as a skill for occupations across many sectors, the letter claims that a resilient creative workforce is therefore “non-negotiable” for the health of the wider economy.
The letter cautions against the decline in arts subjects that it claims has occurred since the introduction of the EBacc, arguing that “the damaging impact of these reductions must not be underestimated”.
It goes on to say that any restrictions to a cultural education hit young people from low-income backgrounds the hardest, meaning the only the more privileged will enter creative careers in future, as well as advocating for the social and well-being benefits of cultural engagement.
“We call for either the discontinuation of the EBacc, or its broadening to include creative subjects, and for government to ensure that schools are well resourced to deliver these subjects.
“It is also crucial that young people and those advising them have better access to high-quality advice about creative careers and how to pursue them,” the letter says, claiming the continuation of the government-backed Creative Careers Programme is vital to this.
Other signatories include leaders from film, television, music, design and visual arts, as well as Andria Zafirakou, who won the Global Teacher Prize in 2018 and set up a new arts-in-education programme with her $1 million winnings.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said: “The proportion of young people taking at least one arts GCSE has fluctuated but remained broadly stable since 2010. We are clear that the EBacc should be studied alongside additional subjects, like the arts, that reflect pupils’ individual interests.
“We are providing nearly £500 million of funding from 2016 to 2020 for a diverse portfolio of music and arts education programmes designed to improve arts provision, more funding than for any other subject bar PE.”