Apart from schools minister Nick Gibb, it’s increasingly difficult to find anyone who thinks the English Baccalaureate is a good idea in its current form.
Trade bodies including the Society of London Theatre/UK Theatre have repeatedly spoken out against the Ebacc. They fear it will diminish the take-up of arts in schools, leading to a skills shortage and threatening the development of future audiences.
Employers agree. Among the many organisations signed up to the Bacc for the Future campaign are leading figures from the creative industries, ranging from Glyndebourne to Aardman animation. The entertainment unions are signed up, as are organisations representing teachers, as is Digital Theatre – a major education resource for schools.
Now, even the company behind one of the UK’s leading exam boards has called on the government to ditch the Ebacc because, to quote its report: “Many teachers, parents, governors and young people feel that statutory assessments do not adequately capture pupils’ achievements. This is in part because the accountability system incentivises schools to pick certain qualifications over others.”
GCSE take-up in arts subjects has slumped to its lowest level in a decade; performing and expressive arts students have dropped 10% at A level. School theatre trips are becoming a thing of the past for all but the best schools.
As Labour peer and former Royal Opera House and National Theatre boss Genista McIntosh has observed, successive UK governments have exhibited a “consistent failure” to give due weight to the arts in education: the EBacc is simply the latest and worst example of this.
Recent government statistics show that the creative industries grew at twice the rate of the wider economy in 2015-16 and now make up 5.3% of the UK economy . But most of those in senior positions in the creative industries (who are likely to be driving this impressive growth) went to school at a time when the arts were taken more seriously – certainly before the 20-year period to which McIntosh refers.
This government appears to be making a specialism of self-inflicted wounds. There is no need for that to be the case here. If it doesn’t want these impressive growth figures to start moving in the opposite direction in future years, it urgently needs to rethink its approach to the arts in education.