Dear Education Secretary, did your school offer arts subjects?

Dear Ms Greening

I am writing in response to the government’s consultation response on implementing the EBacc, which was finally published on Wednesday, 18 months (nearly five school terms!) after the consultation closed. As a supporter of the BACC for the Future campaign, I was one of those parents who had filed a response to the consultation arguing that there is no evidence to support the use of EBacc as a measure, that it is undermining a broad-based education across the curriculum, limiting access to creative GCSEs, reducing pupil choice and opportunity, and risking our creative industries.

As the government has been forced to acknowledge in this week’s publication, there is a great deal of unease amongst school leaders, teachers, parents, and creative industries, about the impact of continuing to use the EBacc as a performance measure for schools. As your document makes clear, there’s also a huge difficulty in actually implementing the EBacc at required scale because of the shortage of language and other teachers (a fact which is unlikely to be reversed by the government’s ongoing  refusal to end the pay cap on public sector workers). This is presumably why you have pushed back the targets on the proportion of pupils entering the EBacc by a few years, a welcome step. But that doesn’t alter the fact that requiring 75%, 90% or any other % of pupils to take the EBacc limits their school experience and their career choices.  Nor does it add anything meaningful to our understanding of how well schools are meeting pupils’ educational needs.

As you point out, 71% of respondents were concerned about the EBacc reducing curriculum choice. There are clear statistics from organisations – including Ofqual – about the steady decline (8% last year) in students taking arts and technical subjects at GCSE. Limiting GCSE choices makes creative subjects less visible (as is also happening at primary schools as the curriculum narrows to focus excessively on SATs). Less visible subjects quickly become less viable, across the whole curriculum. Looking locally, there are apparently three secondary schools in Suffolk alone who will not be offering music on the curriculum next year. And yet you continue to assert that the arts are important.

There is no shortage of evidence about why access to the arts and creative subjects matters, both for themselves and because of the impact access to the arts has on wellbeing and other areas of study.  But there is a distinct shortage of parents with the resources (whether these be funds, time or prior knowledge) to enable their children to access the arts and other creative subjects outside school, in ways which can help them fulfil their needs and desires. And they shouldn’t be asked to, as that is what school is for. Government is full of people who will have benefited from a broad based education delivered by schools whose curriculum was unimpeded by the EBacc – a performance measure so meaningless it is not valued by Russell Group universities. So please, let the next generation of children have the same experience.   “One system for me, another one for you” is not a good message for our children.

Given that you are faced with growing pressures on our schools and an overwhelming body of responses to the EBacc consultation which clearly opposed its ongoing and increased use, it seems extraordinary that the government didn’t use the last 18 months to quietly abandon the EBacc altogether. For our children’s futures and the future health of our creative industries, please review the decision to continue with the EBacc.

I look forward to your reply.

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