Is Michael Gove Killing Creative Britain?

Henry Stewart's picture
"The Effects of the English Baccalaureate", a report produced this month by the Department for Education confirms that the ebacc has led directly to a reduction in provision for creative subjects. 27% of schools have withdrawn at least one subject as a result of the ebacc. Of these schools::

  • Drama and Performing Arts have been withdrawn in 23%

  • Art has been withdrawn in 17%

  • Design Technology has been withdrawn in 14%

The English Baccalaureate consists of Maths, English, Science, a language and either History or Geography. Given that most students take two English GCSEs and at least two Sciences, this takes up seven of most student's GCSE choices - with many students only take 8 GCSEs. This site was one of the first to warn that this could crowd-out other subjects like art, music and design and reported a year ago that funding for art and design was being cut. Nicolas Serota, Director of the Tate, recently warned of the dangers of arts subjects being excluded from Gove's new curriculum. Now the DfE's own research confirms that this is the case.

The report also reveals the confusion that the uncertainty around the ebacc has caused: "Some schools told pupils it would be an essential requirement for elite universities, others said it would not matter to universities, and other schools acknowledged they did not know..... This uncertainty led in some cases to pupils taking the EBacc ‘just in case’ it proved important in the future."

The Labour Party's Technical Baccalaureate would give a new emphasis to vocational subjects but it should not be seen as the English Baccalaureate for the more academic and the Technical Baccalaureate for the others. (This is not the Labour Party's approach, as they plan to abolish all exams at age 16 apart from English and Maths.)

Creative subjects should not be seen as second class option for those not able to cope with traditional academic subjects. As Serota argued, the arts enable young people to express themselves, which is fundamental to achieving success in later life. "There is a real risk that fewer and fewer schools will provide learning opportunities in the arts. The UK's leading edge in creativity may be lost,"

Creative subjects like art, music, drama and design should not be seen as second-best compared to history or a language. Each is important in its own right, both for students own development and for the needs of the modern economy. Let us have a flexible curriculum that enables each student to play to their strengths, not be forced into the specific choices of a Secretary of State wanting to recreate the conditions of his own education.

My thanks to @theartcriminal, whose tweet alerted me to this report.
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Henry Stewart's picture
Tue, 09/10/2012 - 06:44

To put these proportions into numbers, using all mainstream state schools (but not including special schools), the figures in the report indicate:

247 schools have withdrawn Drama as a GCSE
183 schools have withdrawn Art
151 schools have withdrawn Design Technology

If these schools are of typical size, then 31,000 students will no longer have a choice of Drama, 23,000 for Art and 19,000 for Design Technology.

Melissa Benn's picture
Tue, 09/10/2012 - 07:13

Thanks Henry for alerting us to this. A government report you say? Was it much publicised? Or was it one of those DfE reports that is buried somewhere deep in its website?

And very sad reading it makes too: especially when you spell out the actual numbers in your comment above.

Worrying in itself, but your post raises a couple of other important questions:

Firstly, could a kind of twin track develop too early within schools: between the technical bacc and the academic bacc? Ideally, these sorts of decisions should not be made until later adolescence but with studio schools already selecting at 14, and given the general English propensity to get students on a class based tracks as early as possible ( although 11 is now seen as too brutish, even by pro selection campaigners - see Boris Johnson's latest foray into the grammar school debate today) - could we see a grammar/secondary modern divide in new form? Yes, again! ( Yawn..)

Ideally, all students should do a mix of 'academic' and practical/creative subjects until at least 16, before going along a more specialist route.

The second worry raised by the limitations of the Ebacc is that, from the point of view of elite universities - or so one leading head told me at the HMC last week - GCSE's are no longer - never were? - really credible.

The idea, then, that so many schools are busy dumping creative subjects, hoping or believing that the narrow suite of Ebacc subjects will guarantee a shot at an 'elite' university - is heartbreaking. And yet another example of how the Gove revolution is conning a generation of children.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 09/10/2012 - 12:09

The report seems destined to be hidden in the depths of the DfE along with another DfE report which showed that the City Challenge was more successful than the academy programme in raising achievement.

The UK excels at the creative arts (theatre, art, dance, music, fashion and so on) – the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said, “

“Creative employment provides around two million jobs, in the creative sector itself and in creative roles in other sectors. Employment in the sector has grown at double the rate of the economy as a whole.”

Exports of services by the creative industries accounted for 10.6% of the UK’s exports of services.

But although the DCMS is committed to supporting the creative industries, the education base on which these depend is being eroded. The creative arts are not just lightweight add-ons – they are valuable subjects in their own right and essential for the development of well-rounded individuals (as well as being great fun).

Henry Stewart's picture
Tue, 09/10/2012 - 12:18

As it happens, Melissa, it doesn't seem to have got much publicity. Published last Friday I can't see any press reference to it at all, or any DfE press release. Funny that. As I say, I only spotted it because eagle-eyed @theartcriminal tweeted it.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 09/10/2012 - 13:59

Muddled thinking about the status of the Ebacc doesn’t just apply to schools. The DfE statement highlighted by Henry says “The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) is not a qualification in itself, but it is the term applied to the achievement of GCSEs at grades ‘A*’-‘C’ across a core of academic subjects; English, maths, history or geography, the sciences and a language.”

But Mr Gove’s paper on the proposed English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs) says that pupils who gain six EBCs in the core subjects will be awarded the English Baccalaureate.

So, is EBacc a certificate, a qualification, a performance measure, an accountability measure, a benchmark or a half-formed idea which keeps changing according to the phases of the moon?

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 09/10/2012 - 15:27

Currently it is a performance measure.

Obviously it will not remain a 'term applied to the achievement of GCSEs at....etc' when GCSEs are defunct.

If you are ever in doubt, best to check the DfE website:

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 09/10/2012 - 16:03

"Obviously it will not remain..." It's far from obvious what's happening. Schools are confused, the Education Select Committee wonders how EBacc is going to be certificated if at all, the proposed EBCs are not mentioned on the DfE website link you provided - "obviously" already out-of-date. And the exam regulator's warned that the proposed reforms are being rushed:

At the same time most of the rest of the developed world has moved to graduation at 18. And one of the UK's most successful exports, creativity, is being sidelined in the education system in England.

"Obviously" a monumental disaster in the making - one that will make the GCSE fiasco seem like a minor squall.

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 09/10/2012 - 16:20

Since the DfE under the coalition is not known for transparency, it's best to read what they say with a pinch of salt. Perhaps that is why Gove wants to kill off the creative arts. Artists have historically questioned, rebelled, collectively inspired and empathised - all the qualities Gove and his government hold in contempt and suspicion.

Guest's picture
Wed, 10/10/2012 - 05:30

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 10/10/2012 - 08:03

Guest - you are beginning to look a little silly with these links you provide with no explanation especially, as in this case, you have linked to a joke site over ten years old (allegedly, but it is a joke - it might have been written yesterday). In fact, the joke might be that you are the author of the joke website and posted it here as, well, a joke.

Jane Harris's picture
Wed, 10/10/2012 - 07:58

I'm interested in what this means for employability skills and localised approaches. Wolf has removed compulsory work experience so some regions are putting together their own Baccalaureate models which usually encompass the EBacc but also surround it with more. I'm working on the Birmingham Bacc but there is one in Suffolk and also the ModernBaccalaureate. Does anyone know of any others?

Henry Stewart's picture
Wed, 10/10/2012 - 08:17

Be very interested to hear more about that, Jane. Would you like to write a post on the Birmingham bacc for this site? I do know of one school in Hackney creating what they are calling a City Baccalaureate, but that is a reduced version (English, Maths, and 3 other GCSEs).

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 10/10/2012 - 12:38

Letter in TES by Anna Moszynska, Shropshire, argues that art is at the heart of education:

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Wed, 10/10/2012 - 13:25

This finding in the research Henry cited was strikingly significant:

The subjects included in the EBacc tend to be those that pupils and parents/carers think are the most valuable generally. For example, when asked to rank a set of subjects according to how valuable they would be in the future, pupils spontaneously ranked the EBacc subjects above all others.

They explained this was because they are subjects that would be useful for any career you choose to study in the future; other subject choices may be more restrictive. Parents/carers revealed similar views when they were interviewed.

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 10/10/2012 - 14:37

Why is this "significant"? Were pupils/carers asked if creative subjects should be downgraded or dropped altogether, with an explanation as to how this might hinder their intellectual development? Were pupils/carers asked if they thought the Ebacc was a good idea given that it creates a two tier system in which, by Gove's own admission, many pupils would fail the exams or not sit them at all? How many were interviewed? What demographic did they represent? How (mis)leading were the questions?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 11/10/2012 - 06:58

Allan - participating schools were encouraged to send letters to parents asking them to contact IPSOS-MORI if they (the parents) would like to take part in a telephone survey. 22 parents took up the offer. These were inevitably self-selecting and the report warns:

"Readers should bear in mind, therefore, that the parent/carer sample is likely to represent the views of parents/carers who are relatively engaged and knowledgeable about the EBacc."

Discussions with pupils revealed "that pupils and parents/carers may place more importance on the EBacc than teachers in some of these cases, or were more concerned about the possible implications of NOT having the EBacc on their future progression." (my caps).

This reveals confusion about the purpose of EBacc - according to Ricky (based on info from the DfE - see above) it is "obviously" only a performance measure. However, it appears that in the eyes of pupils and parents/carers it is some kind of certificated exam which may in the future be important for, say, university entry. This confusion will be increased now that Gove has proposed English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs) - he proposes that passes in six EBCs will equal the EBacc.

This confusion about the name of the proposed exam is mentioned in my critique here:

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 11/10/2012 - 08:06


There shouldn't be much confusion. The world is full of things that are 'coming into being', evolving , or changing from one thing into another. There is a public consultation going on about EBCs, as you know.

The EBacc was originally brought in as a 'nudge' to correct an understandable, but undesirable habit of schools keen to maximise 5 X A*-C to avoid 'difficult' subjects such as foreign languages or the humanities in favour of softer options.

The EBacc suite of subjects constitute what the leading universities advise students wanting to go on to good universities to study. They also roughly correspond to whaat is in the core curriculum of many highly performing education systems around the world, including Finland.

The EBacc subjects also make for greater social equality and foster a common culture by giving students from all backgrounds a common core of learning that avoids the disguised form of selection that comes about through unofficial tracking at too early an age.

There is no good reason why schools should drop other subjects like Art or Music. It is too early to have evidence, but my instinct is that the best performing schools will not be among the minority of schools that have dropped options. More likely is that the schools cynically dropping Art and so on are the same ones, always wanting to game the system, which dropped languages and humanities and gave rise to the problem in the first place.

The EBacc takes up only 6 subject options, leaving students room to choose between 2 and 5 more. Besides, only in very few schools is it compulsory anyway.

What the debate over the EBacc does do is point up an inconsistency among the LSN regulars. It seems that you are always eager to condemn any 'nudge' or even mere rhetorical 'steer' on the part of Michael Gove as unwarranted interference. Yet, when it comes to your own desiderata (Allan on creative subjects, others on food regulations) you think the State should make everything you like compulsory under the law.

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 11/10/2012 - 11:17

22 parents?! Neither exhaustive nor as "significant" as "Ricky Tarr" would like us to believe then?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 11/10/2012 - 09:28

A broad and balanced curriculum - nothing inconsistent about that. But as the report found, the high emphasis on EBacc subjects risks nudging out what are disparagingly called "softer" subjects: art, music, dance, drama, design and technology, textiles and so on. This is compounded by the exam system in England which insists on pupils making choices at age 14 when most developed countries keep options open until 16 (see faqs above re global exam systems).

I loved your description of how things are "coming into being" - an evolving and ever-changing genesis which, in the case of EBacc, means it becomes a shape-shifter and no-one really knows what it is despite the DfE's insistence that it's a "performance measure". But according to you it's a "nudge". That's a new definition which can be added to: performance indicator, accountability measure, exam qualification, certificate (although how it was supposed to be certificated no-one knows), benchmark... Or, blink, and it's changed again.

Who is actually being inconsistent here?

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 11/10/2012 - 11:32

It wasn't the views of parents that was striking or significant. It was the good sense of the students.

Henry Stewart's picture
Mon, 15/10/2012 - 11:15

Ricky, actually after 2 English, 2 Science, 1 Maths, History/Geography and a language its 7 subjects. Which is why so many schools are withdrawing other options. Thats a simple fact, according to the DfE report.

But what you say on the pt of ebacc is interesting. Its true many schools were gaming the system putting students in for GCSE equivalents that may have had limited benefit to them. But thats been addressed by other DfE measures.

The pt is that there are a whole range of GCSE subjects - Art, Music, RE, Drama, Photography, Design Technology, Textiles, ICT to name a few - which are strong options which enable many students to play to their strengths, and which are much needed in the modern economy. Its not about separate options for the poor or for less academic (my kids are pretty academic and got a huge amount from doing many of the options listed here), but having a full range of options for the modern creative world.

Jon Davey's picture
Sat, 15/03/2014 - 10:05

I like your observation concerning the cynicism of schools pushing pupils into subjects which they (the teachers) believe they (the pupils) will be able to achieve good grades in as the motivation for this shift toward a kind of opposite. If it wasn't such an important issue it would come close to looking like a comedic farce. I myself rejected my secondary education apart from art and took this to it's conclusion. In doing so I gained a real and lasting insight and appreciation for the subjects that, earlier, I had rejected, in particular, english (both literature and language), history, geography, science, drama and even graphic design which I had before seen as the antithesis of fine art. I am not proposing this as symbolizing a good or easily reproducible paradigm. My personal route through education was often in relative to outside social circumstances, but whose aren't ?. I have learned that there are no easy answers, that Pedagogy itself is torn between ideological desires or constraints and that life will probably and ironically teach you that you should have learned it's lessons in the safe environment of it's schools. :)

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 11/10/2012 - 11:39

The point here is that no schools - whether better or lesser performing - should be dropping arts subjects and that Michael Gove should be giving them the status of "rigour" that he likes to apply his so-called academic subjects. He ought to be recognising them for their intrinsic value in a child's education as well the benefits they give to cognitive abilities, improving numeracy and literacy as well as improving motivation and confidence, both attributes that undoubtedly has an impact on learning over the entire curriculum.

The government's degrading of arts subjects in this way tells us a lot about the coalition's attitude to narrowing education horizons (which impacts mostly on the disadvantaged) as well as paucity of their understanding of culture, whose industry employs 2m people and contributes significantly the the economy. We are not living in the 1950s, so it is time that Gove and Cameron recognised the fact that if we are to compete with the rest of the world then our young people should experience the modern world in the classroom by being taught media, ICT, arts, music and drama.

Ricky Tarr suggests that better performing schools would not drop these subjects anyway and that it would be the less well performing schools who will, but what he might like to back up his “hunch” with some evidence. Henry Stewart has already given us some facts, rather than a hunch:-

“247 schools have withdrawn Drama as a GCSE
183 schools have withdrawn Art
151 schools have withdrawn Design Technology

If these schools are of typical size, then 31,000 students will no longer have a choice of Drama, 23,000 for Art and 19,000 for Design Technology.”

so perhaps “Ricky” could let us know which of these schools are better or less well performing?

We all know that Gove fetishizes failure – it is the one defining aspect of his tenure as Education Secretary, so I think schools that are facing draconian Ofsted inspections, enforced Academization and depleted budgets might be forgiven for being forced by this government’s prescriptive and narrow attitude to education to drop subjects they would rather not drop. Whose fault is this? Not the schools. But that of Gove himself. And he is leaving the country much poorer for it.

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 11/10/2012 - 11:42

How many students were polled? About 22 as well? Were they asked if arts subjects should be dropped altogether? Impossible to assess collective good sense when the poll is flawed.

leonard james's picture
Wed, 17/10/2012 - 17:46

If the hobby crafts add any intrinsic value to a childs formal education then I'm afraid I've yet to notice.

Tubby Isaacs's picture
Thu, 18/10/2012 - 21:37

Predictable disaster. Wasn't Gove fretting about public school domination of the arts.

I have some sympathy with the point Ricky makes, and I think it's reasonable to have some mechanism to promote an "academic core". There has been a rise in numbers taking languages, so that's good. But 5 is a subject too many, and the Gove-approved ebacc subjects reflect his own prejudices. Why is history and not social science acceptable?

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