Post-debate briefing: The EBacc and creative, artistic and technical subjects

Published 28th July 2016

On Monday 4 July, a debate took place in the Houses of Parliament on the exclusion of creative, artistic and technical subjects from the EBacc.

The debate on including expressive arts subjects in the EBacc was the result of a 100,000+ signature parliamentary petition which was originally started by a drama teacher and was supported by the Bacc for the Future campaign.

This briefing provides a background on the EBacc and responds to each of the arguments put forward in support of the EBacc by the Schools Minister Nick Gibb MP.

Here is a compilation of arguments put forward in support of the EBacc by the Schools Minister Nick Gibb MP and the responses by the Baccforthefuture campaign to these arguments

Myth 1: The EBacc doesn't reduce the uptake of creative, artistic and technical subjects at GCSE level.
The Minister, Nick Gibb said: ‘There is no evidence that the subjects are declining at GCSE.’

Is this true? - ‘No. The figures used to justify this claim are either out of date or incomplete.

  • The numbers are taken from before the launch of the new EBacc. The most recent data (Ofqual, Friday 3 June 2016) shows a drop in the uptake of arts subjects. Analysis by Arts Professional revealed a 46,000 drop in arts GCSE entries in England in 2016.
  • The figures used by the Minister are selective and omit Design & Technology and creative vocational and technical qualifications (e.g. BTECs) which have seen a significant drop in uptake.

Myth 2: The EBacc will help children succeed in higher education and the job market

The Minister, Nick Gibb said: ‘[The EBacc subjects are] the core subjects that will help them succeed in higher education and the job market.’

Is this true? - No. There is no evidence to support this statement; creative subjects are highly valued by higher education institutions and employers and the creative industries are growing faster than the rest of the UK economy.

  • The creative industries are growing and creating jobs.The UK’s creative industries are a significant part of the UK economy, worth £84.1 billion, growing by 8.9 per cent in 2014 (almost double the UK economy as a whole) and employing 2.8 million people.
    To put this £84.1 billion in context: In 2014, financial and insurance services contributed £126.9 billion in gross value added (GVA) to the UK economy, 8.0% of the UK’s total GVA [source]. The UK construction industry (in 2011) was worth about £90 billion GVA [source]. The value of creativity and the arts to the UK economy is comparable to the financial and insurance services industries combined or our construction industry. More detailed figures on the Music, Theatre, and Design industries are available.
  • Employers are speaking out against the EBacc. The CBI, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), Music Industries Association, Aardman Animations, Royal Academy, Design Council, UK Music and Creative Industries Federation, have all expressed concerns at the impact of the EBacc on their business areas.
  • Higher education institutions value creative subjects. The list of subjects in the EBacc is based on a Russell Group report called Informed Choices; but even this report recommends students pick ‘two of [the subjects]. Not five of them. And only if you want to go to an RG university. And only at A-Level’ [source]. The cited evidence does not stand up to scrutiny, with music being more likely to be required at Oxford and Cambridge than geography or history (for example) [source].
    Further evidence: Research by Laura McInerney and summary paper.

Myth 3: There is plenty of room in the school curriculum to study subjects not included in the curriculum

The Minister, Nick Gibb said: ‘Our contention is that there is ample room to study, in addition to the EBacc subjects, the arts, economics or a vocational subject, if that is what interests the young person.’

Is this true? - No. This assertion doesn’t match data on the average number of GCSEs studied by pupils or the requirements of the EBacc

  • The average number of GCSEs taken is 8.1. The average number of GCSE entries (2015) by secondary school pupils in England is 8.1. The average number of qualifications (including GCSEs) is 9.2.The Department for Education’s own Progress-8 and Attainment-8 are eight-subject accountability measures which recognise this.
  • The EBacc will require pupils to study between seven and nine GCSEs. The EBacc requires pupils to study a minimum of seven GCSEs, but if pupils study triple science this becomes eight GCSEs, and if pupils study history and geography this becomes nine GCSEs.
  • This leaves little room for creative, artistic and technical subjects.

Myth 4: The EBacc is necessary to promote equality of opportunity for children of more deprived backgrounds

The Minister, Nick Gibb said: ‘‘The purpose of the EBacc is to ensure that all young people take the combination of GCSEs that are taken by young people in the most privileged schools in our country and in the best and most high-achieving schools in the state sector. That is what we want and it concerns us that young people from deprived backgrounds who are eligible for free school meals are half as likely to take that combination, compared with their more fortunate peers. Tackling that issue is the core reason why the Government introduced the EBacc measure.’

Does this argument support the choice of subjects in the EBacc? - No. This argument is as true for some arts and creative subjects as it is for the EBacc subjects.

  • Diversity in the arts – both at GCSE and within the profession – is a problem. For example: More than 10% of grammar school pupils take GCSE music compared to approximately 7% of those in academies or comprehensives and 4.9% of those in secondary modern schools. 9.9% of previously high attaining pupils take GCSE art & design, whilst 7.7% of low attaining pupils take it. We know there is a huge problem with diversity in the arts, and the evidence gives us an explanation. As Olivier Award winning actor Bertie Carvel said to a combined meeting of All-Party Groups in Parliament in June: ‘We don't leave it to chance. Growth requires investment. It’s obvious. We can’t expect the next generation of artists to grow on trees. They need careful nurture.’He went on to warn that is we do not tackle this problem, ‘We will never see or hear the work of great artists whose voices are suppressed in this way.’ adding that ‘things will get a lot worse in years to come if the EBacc does not include creative subjects.’
  • The Government is right to focus on this inequality of opportunity and must address the problem, but the EBacc is evidently not the answer.

Myth 5: The Arts are in the National Curriculum up to the age of 14 so the EBacc only concerns 2 school years

The Minister, Nick Gibb said: ‘It is for that reason that, in maintained schools, music, art and design are compulsory in key stages 1, 2 and 3 of the national curriculum—between the ages of five and 14. This debate is not about all those years of education; it is about just two years after the end of key stage 3 … Maintained schools also have a duty to offer key stage 4 pupils the chance to study an arts subject if they wish.’

Is this true? - No. The impact of the new EBacc on the National Curriculum extends into earlier school years, A-level, further and higher education.

  • A-level uptake of arts subjects has dramatically declined, and in earlier stages of the National Curriculum, studies and Department for Education data show that creative, artistic and technical subjects are being dropped early (before the last year of Key Stage 3), given less curriculum time, less staffing time and altered timetables. In some cases – for example – art is taught for one term only.
  • Ultimately, as the number of academies increases (already at 60% of secondaries and 15% of primaries), the National Curriculum in England will apply to fewer schools (academies are not bound by the National Curriculum), so this argument in itself does not support the EBacc.
  • This is about far more than just two years of school education.

Myth 6: Other high performing countries focus on the EBacc subjects in their National Curriculums

The Minister, Nick Gibb said: ‘That is what all the evidence suggests, and the policy in China, Finland, the state of Ontario in Canada, the state of Victoria in Australia, Germany and Poland is that all young people study those EBacc subjects.’

Is this claim true?  This claim is true, but it is only part of the picture. Other countries also focus on creative, artistic and technical subjects as compulsory elements of their National Curriculums up to age 16 or older. Examples highlighted in bold below are taken from the report by the Expert Panel for the National Curriculum Review (December 2011).

  • China: The academic curriculum includes fine arts, technology and music, and they are actively seeing how design can be introduced to enhance creativity and innovation.
  • Finland: Art and music are compulsory up to age 16.
  • Ontario, Canada: Students continue to study compulsory arts up to age 18.
  • Victoria, Australia: Students continue to study compulsory arts up to age 16.
  • Germany: Music and art remain compulsory up to age 16.
  • Poland: Fine art and music and a wide range of subjects are studied up to age 15.
  • Singapore: Music compulsory up to age 16 or 17.
  • Massachusetts: Compulsory arts up to age 18.
  • Netherlands, Japan and Korea: Compulsory arts up to age 15.
  • Hungary and Australia: Compulsory up to age 16.
  • United Arab Emirates: introducing D&T for Grade 4-12 pupils from this September.


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