Peers criticize Ebacc

Sunday, November 6th, 2016 @ 7:28PM

In a debate initiated by Lib Dem President Baroness Sal Brinton Peers, including myself decried the drop in creative subjects taken at GCSE as a result of the the the Government’s EBacc measures which focus on STEM not STEAM i.e. the arts are excluded with all the consequent impact on the creative industries and the skills they need to develop.

This is the debate.

This what I said

The dropping by AQA of the history of art A-level forms an important part of the worrying context of the debate today. AQA said in its briefing that, although it recognises the huge importance of the study of the history of art, in the process of developing and obtaining accreditation for its new A and AS-levels in history of art, it had concluded that the new qualifications, developed from the Government’s criteria, would be extremely challenging to mark as a result of the large number and specialist nature of the options creating major risks when it came to awarding grades safely. I interpret this to mean that AQA’s decision to drop history of art A-level was partly based on the fact that there were insufficient experienced examiners. This rightly had the Sunday Times art critic Waldemar Januszczak choking on his carpaccio.
The second reason appears to be the low number of students taking the subject. As AQA said, these issues are exacerbated in the context of very low student entry numbers for these key stage 5 qualifications. Why is that? As my noble friend said, since the introduction of the English baccalaureate, we have seen a decline in the take-up of creative subjects. I shall add only one fact and figure to my noble friend’s dismal facts and figures: 21% fewer arts GCSEs were taken in 2016 compared to 2010. The provision of creative subjects has fallen most significantly in schools with a higher proportion of pupils on free school meals. It is clear that despite assurances by successive Secretaries of State for Education, the introduction of the English baccalaureate has sent a clear message to schools, teachers, parents and students about which subjects are seen as of value. For the sake of completeness, I should add that AQA is adamant that this decision is not driven by commercial or financial factors.

There is great concern at the decision to drop this A-level. The Association of Art Historians has commented:

“The decision to withdraw History of Art at Key Stage 5 marks a considerable loss to young people’s access to—and understanding of—a range of different cultures, artefacts and ideas”.

It also said that the symbolic space,

“the subject occupies within the school system is also fundamental in developing awareness of art history at undergraduate level and beyond”.

It is that “beyond” that creative industry leaders, in all disciplines, are worried about. These industries are grappling with some real issues, particularly skills gaps and shortages. For example, several creative occupations are currently featured in the tier 2 Migration Advisory Committee’s shortage occupation list, which is for non-EEA recruits. One can only imagine how this will look if there is a hard Brexit. Universities specialising in creative industries are keen to recruit their students from the widest pool possible, because talent and skills in these industries are at a premium.

There can be no argument about the importance of our creative industries. They are celebrated for outstanding economic performance in addition to their contribution to the UK’s culture and soft power. The Prime Minister herself has recognised our creative industries are a key strategic sector. For example, the success of UK television and film production, highlighted in official government figures last week as one of the,

“best performing sectors of the UK economy”,

which has helped to,

“maintain growth in a time of post-Brexit vote uncertainty”,

is attributed not only to the tax breaks that the sector enjoys but to the skills and talent base for which it is internationally admired. We simply cannot afford to lose this.

We need therefore to ensure that our education system supports the sector and that a good range of relevant creative subjects are taught in schools. As the Creative Industries Federation’s recent paper on the possible impact of Brexit, mentioned by other noble Lords, points out:
“Long-standing skills shortages in the creative industries stem from inadequate training and provision at schools … Brexit will compound this problem … It is crucial that education and training policy is formulated with a proper understanding of the needs of industry”.

How will the creative industries flourish if creative subjects are elbowed out of the curriculum? These subjects are opening horizons and signposting to possible careers. They can accelerate learning, attainment and success in students following a more traditional academic structure—including the so-called sought-after STEM subjects. My noble friend referred to the Creative Industries Federation’s other paper last month on the creative education agenda, which recommended four matters to the Government. It has done us a service with those recommendations. First, it says:

“Drop the 90 per cent target … The EBacc should not be the headline assessment measure for schools, but used as part of Progress and Attainment 8”.

Head teachers would be able to offer creative subjects as part of a balanced curriculum and it would send a clear message that the wide variety of skills and knowledge that they represent are important to our economy and our society. Secondly:

“Limit ‘outstanding’ to schools that warrant it”,

a point made, I think, by the noble Baroness, Lady Nye, and my noble friend. It goes on:

“A school must teach at least one creative subject, in lesson time, in order to be eligible for an ‘outstanding’ rating”.


“Audit the skills gap … The Department for Education should conduct a proper audit of the skills and education needed by the creative industries as part of an industrial strategy”.

Fourthly, and finally:

“Adopt proper careers advice … The Government should work with industry to launch a sustained national campaign demonstrating the range of jobs in the creative industries and the subjects that lead to them”.

These are all sensible proposals and should be adopted. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.



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Categories: Creative Industries

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