Government Bulldozes on with EBacc Despite Evidence

Last week, a notable eighteen months after the EBacc consultation closed, the Department for Education (DfE) finally published its response to the ISM’s Bacc for the Future campaign. And music industry and educational professionals have been scathing in their reaction.

A brief report titled trends in arts subjects in schools where English Baccalaureate entry has increased accompanies the DfE’s response, asserting that the EBacc has had no negative affect on arts take-up in schools.

The data used by the DfE in compiling this document is described by the ISM as

partial, out of date, and insufficiently rigorous in its analysis

The document, in which the government once again rebuffs claims that entries to arts subjects have fallen as a result of the EBacc, saying there is ‘no evidence’ that this is the case, contradicts both the rigorous research carried out by the University of Sussex earlier in 2017 and uptake figures and GCSE results published by Ofqual, the Joint Council for Qualifications and the DfE.

As predicted by the ISM throughout its campaign – a drive involving more than 200 organisations from across industry and education, head teachers and more than 100,000 individuals – data from both sources shows a substantial decline in arts uptake at GCSE level since the new EBacc was proposed in 2015.

In fact, despite the Government’s assertions to the contrary, Ofqual’s figures confirm a decline of 38,000 students, or 8% from 2016 to 2017, and the University of Sussex says that this year, 59.7% (393) of state schools it surveyed specifically stated that EBacc has had a negative impact on the provision and uptake of music, both within and beyond the curriculum.

A report published by the ISM in June showed that the number of pupils taking music at GCSE level dropped from 41,850 to 38,750 between 2016 and 2017. In June, the ISM also reported on a school that had decided to cut music lessons from its curriculum due to budget cuts.

The DfE schools census itself shows that the number of arts teachers has fallen by 16% since 2010, and the number of arts teaching hours has fallen by 17%. Schools are so squeezed by cuts to funding that music and other creative subjects are no longer a priority. Children are getting less access to arts in schools than they were in 2010, all contributing to a devastating impact on the uptake of creative subjects at GCSE.

The DfE report offers statements about the uptake of arts subjects but does not provide the underlying data. It gives no information on school make-up, size, geography, demographic, or number of arts subjects taken.

It states:

There is little correlation between the change in EBacc entry and the change in arts uptake in state-funded mainstream schools. The small correlation that exists suggests that schools where EBacc entry has increased tend to have also seen an increase in their arts uptake.

The Cultural Learning Alliance (CLA) suggests that this statement is based on data from the New Schools Network (NSN) report published in February 2017, which made the same claim, and disagrees with its analysis on the following basis:

  • NSN used GCSE entries from 2011 as a baseline, when the EBacc had already been introduced: CLA uses 2010
  • NSN excluded Design & Technology GCSE, and Independent School entries, which the CLA include in their figures

And the ISM says,

The data does not accurately reflect the new EBacc proposed in a consultation in November 2015. Since the new EBacc was launched, we have seen a consistent decline in the uptake of arts subjects (8% in 2016 and a further 8% in 2017) AND a decline in pupils taking ‘at least one arts subject’ for the first time since 2012.

However, the government’s consultation response, acknowledging the fact that preserving subjects such as the arts was the most-raised issue by the parents that responded to the consultation, goes on to suggest that there is a

small positive correlation

between school EBacc entries and arts entries, meaning schools that take on the EBacc also increase arts entries.

So who is telling the truth?

Writing for Schools Week, the ISM’s Chief Executive, Deborah Annetts says,

For a government that claims to care about economic growth, social mobility, diversity and the creative industries, the decision to press ahead with the EBacc policy is short-sighted and misconceived.

Throughout the Bacc for the Future campaign, the ISM has argued that the absence of creative subjects within the EBacc system will have a long-term, negative impact on the creative industries within the UK, but the government is still refusing to listen.

Creative Industries Chief Executive John Kampfner says,

The creative industries have been identified as one of five priority sectors in the governement’s industrial strategy in recognition of their economic contribution. However the Department for Education has not answered the sector’s concerns by continuing to sideline creative education in favour of academic subjects.

The Musician’s Union national organiser of education and training, Diane Widdison, agrees:

We are very disappointed that concrete evidence showing the EBacc is having a detrimental effect on the take-up of arts subjects within schools has been ignored by the government in its response to the consultation.

Our concern is that art subjects, such as music, are gradually disappearing from the curriculum and often are only offered as extra subjects with pupils being charged for their delivery.

This results in many pupils missing out of the opportunity to study arts subjects within school, and teachers of these subjects leaving the profession due to the lack of opportunity and recognition.

While Deborah Lawson, General Secretary of trade union, Voice, pulls no punches in describing the EBacc as,

narrow, restrictive and pointless

 What is the EBacc?

The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) is a school performance measure. It allows people to see how many pupils get a grade C or above in the core academic subjects at key stage 4 in any governement-funded school.

We introduced the EBacc measure in 2010. In June 2015, we announced our intention that all pupils who start year 7 in September 2015 take the EBacc subjects when they reach their GCSEs in 2020.

We ran a consultation on how to implement the EBacc from 3 November 2015 to 29 January 2016.

The EBacc is made up of: English, mathematics, history or geography, the sciences,  a language”

 From the http://www.gov.uk EBacc policy document

[Image: Ofqual, via gov.uk]

While damage to creative subjects is significant, with the Cultural Learning Alliance reporting a 27% drop in arts entries since 2010, implementation of the EBacc is already compromised. Plans to have 90% of all pupils in England studying this combination of core academic subjects by 2020 have been abandoned. Instead, Education Secretary Justine Greening has announced, 75% of pupils will be expected to take up the EBacc by 2022, and the 90% target has been pushed back to 2025.

And while arguments rage over its long-term effect, the EBacc is seen as out of date by education experts. General secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, Geoff Barton says,

It’s hard to see what purpose it serves any more.

It helps neither students, parents, teachers, nor school leaders. In our view, and in line with the chief inspector of schools, schools should provide a curriculum with an academically rigorous core for all, plus broader opportunities in the arts and sport.

What schools and colleges offer should be driven by the needs of their students and communities, not by centrally-set targets.

And according to Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the NUT teaching union,

Research carried out by Kings College London for the NUT showed that 74% of teachers believed that the EBacc has narrowed the key stage 4 curriculum offer in their school. Arts and technical subjects are often the losers.

Courtney’s message is bleak:

The government’s persistence with a measure which reduces students’ opportunities to take part in such subjects risks disengaging them from education altogether.

[Image: Tiffany Bailey]

 

If you would like to respond to the claims made in the DfE’s report, contact Henry at the ISM for a copy of the two-page rebuttal document which was sent internally to campaign supporters.

Or write to the Prime Minister using this link: http://www.baccforthefuture.com


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