Public statement on the English Baccalaureate (EBacc)
The Writers’ Guild would like to register deep concern at the exclusion of the arts as qualifying subjects in current proposals for the English Baccalaureate. While recognising the importance of certain subjects – such as English, maths and science - we believe that core recognition of cultural and artistic subjects, both appreciation and practice, is also a vital component of a rounded education.
In addition the UK’s education system needs to recognise that culture, the arts and education do in fact contribute greatly to the economy. The creative industries provide six per cent of Britain’s GDP, £16 billion in exports, and employ at least 2 million people.
In particular, the Guild is concerned about:
- The lack of any prior consultation with teachers, students, parents or creative writers before EBacc was brought in
- The disincentivisation of schools to offer arts subjects, through the retrospective recalculation of the school league tables according to EBacc subjects
- The particular impact of EBacc on the teaching of drama, and the knock-on effect this will have on plays, playwriting and performances in schools.
The Department for Education’s own Ipsos Mori study found that 27% of schools withdrew subjects from the curriculum in response to the EBacc this academic year. The most commonly withdrawn subject was drama and performing arts (23%).
There is a danger that, when faced with a prescriptive shortlist of subjects and the imperative to demonstrate league-table success, schools may withdraw resources from study that does not equate to credits for the English Baccalaureate. We urge this government to ensure that provision for an arts option is safeguarded for the future enrichment of the nation.
Quotes from individual Guild members
Lee Hall, Tony award-winning writer and Guild member said: 'An understanding of the arts has never been more relevant, both culturally and economically. We lead the world in so many art forms, so the failure to recognise the importance of arts education as a central part of any rounded education will deprive us of generations of artists, thousands of students to professional lives of under achievement and leave us as nation further incapacitated as the cultural economies become increasingly important. We will return to the cultural apartheid based on class and privilege which the last 60 years had done so much to redress.'
Arnold Wesker, playwright, poet and Guild member said: 'Leaving the arts out of EBacc is like trying to bake bread without yeast. I thought this argument had been won years ago.'
Amanda Whittington, chair of the Guild’s Theatre Committee said: 'Careers begin in the classroom and mine was no exception. I’ve no doubt I’m a playwright because I sat ‘O’ level Drama and ‘A’ Level Theatre Studies at my comprehensive school. One of my plays, Be My Baby, is now a Theatre Studies text and its success is a cornerstone of my working life. Going back into schools as a writer, I see the transforming effect drama still has on young people, especially those who may not access the arts at home. It gives us the vital tools of self-expression, confidence, empathy and an understanding of the world we live in. It teaches us how to work together and find our individual voice along the way; skills that count in every aspect of life and work. By excluding the arts from the EBacc, we’re telling young people that a creative, original, questioning mind has no value or serious purpose. What kind of a nation does that?'
Fin Kennedy, of the WGGB Theatre Committee, said: 'At Mulberry School for Girls in Tower Hamlets, we took a new play to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe every year for three years running. We got national news coverage, won an award and had all the plays commercially published – they are now being performed by other schools. The self-esteem of the young people I worked with went through the roof; teachers in all their curriculum subjects told us they had noticed the change. These were extra-curricular projects, but this work cannot and does not take place in a vacuum. It builds on a solid bedrock of skills and understanding laid down by talented, committed and hard-working drama teachers, over many years of work in the classroom. To undermine that work grossly overlooks the ways in which creativity is intricately bound up in the complex ecosystem of a child’s education and development. The capacity for creative thought is one of the most important skills to encourage in a future workforce. To deliberately disincentivise it in schools is at best irresponsible, and at worst, a frankly ignorant attack on the role creativity plays in teaching and learning. I really hope the Government will listen, and unequivocally commit to safeguarding creativity in schools.'
ADepartment of Education consultation on EBacc is open until 10 December, to which the Guild will be submitting this statement, alongside our colleagues in the teaching unions. The general public can also submit statements.
An online petition about EBacc is up and running at www.baccforthefuture.com and currently has over 25,000 signatures.
The Twitter hashtag for the campaign is: #baccforthefuture
Evidence of the damage EBacc is already doing
An October 2012 survey by the NASUWT found that 43% of teachers are restricting their students' choice of subjects as a direct result of EBacc, with 39% reporting that the standing of their school had gone down since league tables were reassessed according to EBacc subjects, and 15% being warned they face redundancy as a result of this re-prioritising of subjects.
Evidence for the benefits of arts subjects on student learning and attainment
The Culture and Sport Evidence programme (CASE) 2010 found that young people’s participation in arts subjects raised student test scores in Cognitive Ability, Literacy, Communication Skills, Social Skills, Transferable Skills and Academic Attainment – in some cases by up to 19%.
Learning: creative approaches that raise standards: a 2010 report by OFSTED which confirms that pupils’ motivation, progress and attainment in primary and secondary schools are improved by creative approaches to learning. It states: 'Approaches developed successfully in traditionally ‘creative’ subjects, such as the arts and English, were often incorporated into other areas, such as science and mathematics.'
Cultural Education in England: the government’s own 2011 review by Darren Henley states that 'For children to leave full-time education without having engaged in the [full] spectrum of Cultural Education ... would be a failure of a system which sets out to create young people who are not only academically able, but also have a fully-rounded appreciation of the world around them.' The report acknowledges that 'There is currently no over-arching strategy for the commissioning and delivery of Cultural Education in England. The government should develop a single National Cultural Education Plan.'