We need a Bacc for the future, not a curriculum from 1904

The English Baccalaueate is driving pupils – especially those from poorer backgrounds – away from creative subjects. This cannot stand, argues Deborah Annetts

After 18 months, the government has finally published its long-awaited response to the EBacc consultation.

And it isn’t good news.

Ambitious plans to have 90% of pupils in England study the English Baccalaureate by 2020 have been abandoned; instead 75% of pupils will be expected to study this combination of core academic subjects by 2022, the education secretary has announced. The 90% target has now been pushed back to 2025.

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.

This announcement comes only a short time after Ofqual released figures that confirmed the devastating impact the EBacc is having on the uptake of creative subjects at GCSE, with a decline of 38,900 students which amounts to a fall of 8% from 2016 to 2017.

And on Wednesday I attended a meeting of the all-party parliamentary group for music education where we heard from the University of Sussex earlier 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. On top of this, teaching hours in music are also falling, and as we have heard recently, schools are feeling so squeezed by funding cuts that music and other creative subjects are no longer a priority in their timetable.

The decision to press ahead with the EBacc policy is misconceived

The findings present a troubling picture for diversity and social mobility in the arts as well. An analysis of the Sussex data suggests that schools with high numbers of students receiving the pupil premium are more likely to have had their music curriculum time decreased. I have heard stories of schools charging pupils to access GCSE music out of school time and schools that have scrapped music altogether. What will this do for creativity and our creative industries?

On the face of it, the government supports the arts. It protected investment in Arts Council England and only a matter of months ago confirmed its commitment to music education hubs with £300 million of funding. It celebrates the success of the UK’s music industry, and included the creative industries as a central component of the prime minister’s industrial strategy green paper.

But the UK’s creative industries are now more at risk than ever as a result of this decision, and the EBacc threatens the £87.4 billion they are worth to the economy. As it currently stands, it will jeopardise the future success of our creative industries by significantly reducing opportunities for the next generation of musicians, technicians, designers, artists, actors and all the other vital roles in the industry.

And although the EBacc is born out a genuine and welcome desire to ensure that children from all backgrounds can access to this narrow list of subjects, it does so at the expense of other equally valuable, rigorous, challenging and important subjects.

We have no choice but to step up the ‘Bacc for the Future’ campaign

I agree with Ofsted’s chief inspector Amanda Spielman, who said in June that “all children should study a broad and rich curriculum“.

Yesterday afternoon, straight after the consultation was published, I went to a meeting in the House of Commons. We decided that we have no choice but to step up the ‘Bacc for the Future’ campaign and urge the DfE to think again.

We are asking Justine Greening to meet with Bacc for the Future representatives as soon as possible so she can understand the damage this misguided policy is having. We need to create an education which is fit for the 21st century, for all children from whatever background and with whichever interests, and for our country post-Brexit. This is not the way to do it.

Deborah Annetts is chief executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians and founder of the Bacc for the Future campaign, which calls for the inclusion of creative and cultural subjects in the Ebacc

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