Arts risk becoming the preserve of the elite once again - DEBORAH ANNETTS

Thursday 10 May 2018

The Schools Minister Nick Gibb has announced a £96m investment into arts education. This funding is set to last until 2020 and will continue funding programmes and schemes, such as In Harmony, the Music and Dance Scheme (MDS) and the Dance and Drama Awards (DaDa), which provide specialist education and training to our most talented young musicians, dancers and actors.  

An extra few million pounds’ worth of funding towards arts education in the UK is always welcome and again, the Department for Education’s commitment is commendable.

But it is being undermined by the EBacc. This scheme, although admirable, will simply not reach all children – even government figures show this.

Uptake of creative subjects have been on a steady decline since the old EBacc proposal was unearthed and reformed back in 2015. The figures - Government’s own figures, the robust research carried out by the University of Sussex, uptake figures and final GCSE results published by Ofqual and the Joint Council for Qualifications – tell the story.

The latest figures published by the Department for Education in January, show an overall decline in the uptake of creative subjects by 8% on top of 8% last year. The percentage of state school pupils taking ‘at least one arts subject’ also declined from 48% to 46.5%, a further fall. This decline will continue as the government strive to make their target of 90% of Year 10s studying the EBacc subjects by 2025. 

Arts risk becoming the 'preserve of the elite'

CREDIT: DESIGN PICS INC / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

In its current form, the EBacc is a framework that pits subjects against each other. It focuses on a narrow range of subject areas, including English (language and literature), maths, sciences (double or triple award), a modern and/or ancient language, history and/or geography. These are ‘core’ academic subjects and the Schools Minister makes a passionate defence of core subjects and their availability to children from all backgrounds. But this is at the expense of arts subjects.

The Schools Minster is right: a broad and balanced curriculum is important for every child. But in order for pupils to have a broad and balanced education, the range of subjects available in their schools should, in large, reflect this. There is a wealth of modern literature and hard research out there proving the value of a creative education, and how such in fact boosts performance in the subjects seen as more important by our Government. And, by our own experience at school, we know that pupils should be given the chance to find a subject that they are good at, and more importantly, enjoy.

The pressure on secondary schools from the EBacc, combined with cuts in funding, is reducing opportunities in schools and actively lowering pupil participation in the arts. This means many pupils are unable to realise their talents in music, drama and dance and benefit from these new opportunities provided by the DfE’s £96m investment.

Hamilton Richard Rodgers Theatre

Hamilton Richard Rodgers Theatre CREDIT: JOAN MARCUS

There is also an economic argument to keep creative subjects in schools. As we head towards an uncertain future outside of the EU, it is vital we maintain the skills pipeline to our creative industries, which are worth £91.8billion to the UK economy. The EBacc not only undermines the Schools Minister’s scheme, but also the £150m investment announced by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport earlier this month. While they plunge significant resource into the industries, the EBacc is damaging them at grass roots level by significantly reducing opportunities for the next generation of musicians, designers, artists, actors and all the integral roles within a prosperous creative industry. It makes no sense for the Government to implement an educational strategy which is narrowing a skills base in an area so integral to our economy’s success.

We agree wholeheartedly with the Minster when he says ‘Arts education should be the entitlement of every child’ – of course, he is right. But this new proposal will again risk the arts becoming the preserve of the elite.

We are calling for the reversal of the EBacc in the face of overwhelming evidence against this damaging policy.

Deborah Annetts is the chief executive of Incorporated Society of Musicians and founder of the Baccfor the Future campaign.