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East London’s art world say EBacc threaten’s creativity

Pic: Department of Education

Teachers and campaigners across east London have slammed Michael Gove’s controversial plans for GCSE reform, calling the move to reduce the focus on arts “cultural vandalism”.

The English Baccalaureate, or ‘EBacc’, is the new qualification being made available to 14 to 16-year-olds as a replacement for GCSEs in their current form. The consultation process for the new plans came to a close on Monday.

The proposals have come under fire from many within the arts, music and drama industries because they exclude creative elements.

The qualification currently includes five ‘pillars’: English, maths, science, languages and a humanities subject (either geography or history).

The EBacc policy has been designed around the Russell Group’s ‘informed choices’ report published in 2011, in which top tier universities outline which GCSE subjects best lead on to certain degrees.

The EBacc will be introduced in stages, with English, maths and science GCSEs being taught as part of the new qualification from 2015. Languages and humanities will follow from 2017.  League table rankings have already started assessing which schools have students succeeding in EBacc subjects.

Jonathan Smith, Campaign Project Manager and Deptford resident, has joined the ‘Bacc for the future’ campaign which highlights the need for the EBacc to include arts subjects. He explained that the subjects included in the qualification will give schools less incentive to teach creative subjects.

“We are already seeing departments being cut and jobs lost as result of the government changing the terms of league tables – schools are now ranked on how many students pass GCSEs in future Ebacc subjects,” he said.

“It is clear why this would happen: there are 11 GCSEs you can take within the five pillars, therefore students could be encouraged to take all their exams under the EBacc pillars to give a greater chance of passing and achieving the qualification.”

Chris Cullingford, Head of Expressive Arts at Stoke Newington School and Sixth Form in Hackney, described the policy as “cultural vandalism’’.

The school is known for producing artists like Labrynth and Professor Green, as well as the actress Saffron Burrows, over recent years.

Cullingford said: “The problem is we already have some schools (not ours) dropping art, drama and music in year 10 as students feel the EBacc subjects are more important. Learning history or Latin is worthwhile but it won’t get you a job in Shoreditch.

“The arts teach you skills, creativity, and flexibility. The EBacc is all about facts and a three-hour memory test at the end of two years. Employers value the former.”

The Department of Education (DfE) however has argued that the EBacc will lead to greater chances of employment. Michael Gove has stated that there will still be space in the curriculum for sports and arts, and that as a result of the new performance measures there has already been a reported increase in the take up of history and languages.

However a simultaneous decrease in the study of creative subjects is already being seen.  An IPSOS Mori survey shows that at Key Stage 4 this year drama and performing arts have been dropped in almost a quarter of schools, while 17 per cent have withdrawn art courses and 14 per cent have withdrawn design and technology.

There is fear that this slow down will have a “chilling effect” on art colleges and university level training in drama and music, as well as on PGCEs in arts education.

John Johnston, a lecturer in art education at Goldsmiths and a political activist, said: “I had 56 students in teacher training last year, this year I have 11. There were 600 applicants but the government set the numbers for teachers.

“The effect of this policy is a threat to critical and creative thought.”

Most significantly, people in arts education spoke of their worries about the children and young people being let down by not having access to this particular type of expression and skill.

Chris Cullingford said: “A facts- and knowledge-based curriculum is OK for some kids, but not special needs kids, not creative kids or those that enjoy physical and visual learning.”

Susan Kelly, a lecturer in Fine Art at Goldsmiths, said: “There is a greater impact too, we do not want to go back in time, when only the elite had access to culture”.

Jonathan Smith, ‘Bacc for the future’ campaigner, agreed: “It is not about money or left or right, it’s about what is important for education. Creativity is a very important skill to nurture and creative subjects can add a lot to children’s understanding about the world.”

The consultation period for the EBacc is now over and MPs are considering their response.

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