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Counting the cost of Gove’s education reforms

Pic: Paul Stein

Ellie Slee, former student at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, gives her view on Education Secretary Michael Gove’s plans to remove arts from his proposed English Baccalaureate.

This week, Michael Gove cherry-picked and squeezed a round of applause out of some ‘arts organisations’.

But who were they? Certainly not any of the cultural figureheads who have spoken out in shock at his proposal to remove arts subjects from the core curriculum.

Nor was it one of the 26,000 people – and counting – who are petitioning for reform of Gove’s brainchild, the English Baccalaureate (EBacc).

The secretary of state also said that if Britain’s creativity buckles, he would not be able to sleep at night “knowing that the ghosts of Rutherford and Churchill” were hanging over his bed and chiding him for his failures.

Now, between you and me, I don’t think Michael Gove believes in ghosts, which might be why he felt no guilt as he deftly drew up his plans to alienate art students from the UK education system.

Ellie Slee. Pic: Ellie Slee

I studied History of Design at Central Saint Martins, an institution rivalled only by Antwerp in the production of fashion greats. The list of alumni reads like a who’s who of the industry.

It’s also teeming with dyslexics, arithmophobes (like myself) and people who flat-out failed biology. The majority of students put down their biros when they left school and picked up the pencils they were meant to use.

In short, though he’d never admit it, St. Martins is Michael Gove’s worst nightmare.

Not satisfied with the fact that, upon receiving their degrees and subsequently little governmental support, these British-trained economic assets routinely quit the UK for Paris, Milan and New York, where they are fully appreciated, Gove now proposes that subjects such as art, design technology, music and PE should be squeezed to the edges of the key stage 4 curriculum.

When I first read about the EBacc which, 2015 election permitting, will come fully into effect in 2017, I felt sick. If my friends and I, and the long list of my College’s exports, had been judged on the string of academic subjects put forward in Gove’s EBacc, there’s very little chance we’d have made it to university.

And what that means, World, is that McQueen would never have invented the bumster, Gilbert would never have met George, Jarvis Cocker would never have clapped eyes on a dreamy Grecian aristocrat who inspired the anthem of a generation, and I certainly wouldn’t be sitting at Goldsmiths writing this. Without institutional nourishment of non-academic talent, the rich cultural tapestry that makes me so proud of this country would be horribly threadbare.

It won’t just be university-age young people that are affected by the change. I believe that the detrimental effects of devaluing art education will reveal themselves far earlier in life. In Durham, where I come from, there are few prospects for a majority of people. Arts, technology and sports are a brilliant way of engaging and qualifying children without a lot of academic hope. At school, I witnessed a lot of ‘difficult’ kids find a real niche in subjects like photography and woodwork. For them to lose this avenue of expression, and the little interest they do have in school, would be a genuine travesty.

That’s why I find it extremely hard to believe that Gove was able to find a single representative of any arts organisation who would praise his plans. Anybody who works, studies, or has found the tiniest bit of solace in the arts can only see Gove’s damning manoeuvre as detrimental to the cultural future of this country.

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One Response to Counting the cost of Gove’s education reforms

  1. Mumsill

    December 10, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    Whole-heartedly endorse what you’ve written- Go girl! M x

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