The EBacc is Failing Both the Arts and Itself
In the latest House of Commons report on Culture, Media and Sport, the impact of the EBacc on music education is listed as a “threat to the talent pipeline”. Whilst the report hesitates to admit any concerns from ministers themselves, it highlights a variety of issues that teachers, organisations and unions have been shouting about since the EBacc was introduced. And they’re only getting louder.
This section of the report ends with a quote from the Musicians’ Union:
“The EBacc poses the biggest threat to the education of children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, while hubs have a limited amount of funding and cannot pick up the slack for these children.”
For those who don’t know what the EBacc is, or why it’s invoked such ire across the arts educational spectrum, here is the official explanation from the gov.uk website:
“The EBacc is a set of subjects at GCSE that keeps young people’s options open for further study and future careers.
The EBacc is:
- English language and literature
- The sciences
- Geography or history
- A language
Secondary schools are measured on the number of pupils that take GCSEs in these core subjects. Schools are also measured on how well their pupils do in these subjects.
Pupils’ attainment is calculated as an average point score, meaning that all results at all grades count towards the EBacc. The EBacc is a performance measure for schools, not a qualification for pupils.”
The fact that the EBacc does not include an arts subject is of huge concern to campaigners. Not only does it discourage schools from offering a developed or in-depth arts curriculum at GCSE, the fact that all results at all grades count towards the EBacc will no doubt have a negative effect on even basic year 7-9 tuition.
As well as these worries, Cambridge Assessment’s research has consistently found that “pupils living in areas with higher levels of income deprivation, and those with lower attainment, are less likely to study more than seven GCSEs than pupils living in areas with lower levels of deprivation, or higher attainers.” If all seven GCSEs are taken up by the EBacc, then what room does that leave for arts education?
This will only serve to exacerbate the issue that music and arts education is seen at times as “the preserve of the bank of mum and dad”. Music, performance, art; they are all a different form of academia that should in theory present a totally level playing field to all children, regardless of their socio-economic background, but the data from this research clearly demonstrates that in practice, this isn’t the case. And the EBacc will only widen the gap.
The good news, though, is that the pushback against it is getting stronger and more undeniable by the day. Following the publication of the above report, MPs have called for arts subjects to be included in the English Baccalaureate, to ensure “all students benefit from a creative education” at GCSE level.
In a recent letter to parents, more than 7,000 members of the headteachers’ campaign group Worth Less? referred to a more restricted curricular offer as one of their main concerns around Government education policy. And to quote the latest email from anti-EBacc group ‘Bacc for the Future’, “we know the EBacc is failing on its own terms: it is entered by just 38% of students in state-funded schools, against the Government’s target figure of 75% by 2022 and 90% by 2025.”
“The case against the EBacc has never been stronger” says Robin of Bacc for the Future, but that doesn’t mean the fight is anywhere near over. If the UK is to continue it’s record-breaking music industry contribution to the economy, the problem of arts education needs to be addressed now.