EBacc leads to fall in arts GCSEs sat - Museums Association

EBacc leads to fall in arts GCSEs sat

Cultural Learning Alliance report reignites debate over impact of English Baccalaureate, as number of arts GCSEs taken has fallen 14% since 2010. Gareth Harris reports
A recent report highlighting a significant fall in the number of children studying arts GCSEs since the introduction of the English Baccalaureate has reignited the debate in the culture sector about the impact of the EBacc.

Research by the Cultural Learning Alliance (CLA) shows that the number of arts GCSEs taken in 2013 fell 14% compared with 2010 to 603,800.

The EBacc, which is not a qualification in itself, was introduced as a “performance measure” in the 2010 performance tables by the Department for Education (Dfe).

It is awarded when pupils secure a C grade in English, mathematics, history or geography, the sciences and a language.

“For pupils hoping to go to university, the Russell Group guide [produced by 24 leading UK universities] on making informed choices for post-16 education identifies ‘facilitating subjects’ at A-level,” says the Dfe. The subjects singled out are those included in the EBacc.

Earlier this year, the government abandoned plans to scrap GCSEs in key subjects in England and replace them with EBacc certificates. Education secretary Michael Gove said plans for the new exams had been “a bridge too far”.

Essential to success

“The government must recognise that the arts and culture are essential to Britain’s academic, economic and social success,” says the CLA, which is not the only lobbying group calling for a rethink of the curriculum.

In September, the parliamentary culture, media and sport committee published a report, Supporting the Creative Economy, which recommended that arts are added to the five subject areas on which the EBacc assessment is based.

The committee warned that otherwise schools would experience a continued retrenchment in the provision of creative subjects.

A headmaster of a south London comprehensive school, who preferred to remain anonymous, says: “Far fewer clever pupils are taking arts subjects now as they are opting to go down the EBacc route.”

Meanwhile, Lesley Butterworth, general secretary of the National Society for Education in Art and Design, says the organisation is deeply concerned, but not surprised, by the findings of the CLA report.

Surveys conducted by the society reveal that 44% of schools and colleges reported a decrease in the number of students taking art and design at Key Stage 4 leading up to GCSE level.

A Dfe spokeswoman denies that the arts are being sidelined under the EBacc, stressing that more students sat GCSE art and design in 2013 than in 2012 (183,090 compared with 178,895).

“The EBacc measures how many pupils study the five core academic subjects which employers and universities most value, but we expect every pupil to study other subjects such as the arts as well,” she says.

Education minister Elizabeth Truss said in a recent statement that the EBacc gave pupils from poorer backgrounds “more options”.

But the CLA report underlines that children at schools with a high proportion of free school meals are more likely to have “arts subjects withdrawn” under the new system, as some schools try to improve their league table rankings.

“It will be the most disadvantaged young people who lose out most, yet it is they who may benefit most from engagement with the arts,” says Emily Pringle, head of learning practice and research at Tate.

Butterworth believes that there will be long-term consequences. “Where will our next generation of artists, craftspeople, film-makers and designers come from?” she asks.

Number of GCSEs sat

Art and design

2010: 188,193
2013: 183,090

Design and technology
2010: 287,701
2013: 219,931

2010: 87,336
2013: 75,359

Media/Film/TV studies
2010: 67,764
2013: 59,114

2010: 51,272
2013: 46,231

Performing/expressive arts
2010: 22,288
2013: 20,075

2010: 704,554
2013: 603,800

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