Creative educators warn EBacc could lead to UK "losing a generation of talent"

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Representatives from creative education have rounded on the British government’s plans to introduce a replacement set of qualifications for all 15 to 16 year olds that excludes creative subjects such as art and design.

At a recent session, learning experts from universities and professional development bodies told the Culture, Media and Sport Committee that schools concentrating on teaching the ‘five pillars’ of the EBacc (English, Maths, Science, a language and a humanities subject such as history) would lead to students having lower level creative skills overall – and fewer students going on to study creative subjects. The consequence of this would be that the pool of new talent that regularly rejuvenates the creative industries would shrink – to the detriment of industries that play a major part in the British economy.

Other risks to the success of the UK’s high-profile creative education system – including tuition fees and access by foreign students – were also discussed.

Unlike the #includedesign and Bacctothefuture campaigns, which have focused on getting creative subjects included as a sixth pillar, some of those involved in the session are taking a different approach. Like those supporting the campaigns – including Digital Arts – they fear that exclusion of such subjects from the EBacc – and therefore from league tables – will see schools giving less funding and attention to them in favour of those areas that they are judged on.

“One of the unintended consequences of rigorous focus on the five key pillars is that by default schools will be measured on their performance around those five core areas,” noted Dinah Caine, CEO of professional development organisation Creative Skillset, “which starts to act as a disincentive to offers arts and creative subjects.”

"The problem with eBacc isn't that we shouldn't have five pillars of essential learning, it's the impact of that on other areas of learning," agreed Professor Stuart Bartholomew, principal and vice chancellor at The Arts University at Bournemouth, "and the potential of them being pushed to the periphery and us losing a generation of talents as a consequence."

Don’t add to the EBacc, cut it

However, rather than a sixth pillar, Professor Geoffrey Crossick from higher-education body Universities UK – and ex-Warden of Goldsmiths – would rather that schools were judged on a wide-range of criteria. He believes that the EBacc should include fewer rather than more core subjects – giving children and parents more choice, so that a child has the opportunity to study a wider range of creative subjects if they wish, rather than the straightjacket of having to do one creative subject as well as all the other pillars.

“The debate on the EBacc has driven us into the wrong position, which is ‘what should we add to the EBacc?’ – or ‘what choice should we reduce?’,” he said. “The right approach is to say, ‘what is the minimum we should include in something like the EBacc?’ in order to maximise choice not just for the creative subjects, but for lots of other subjects that will lose out – including computing.”

“We’re at huge risk of creating a core curriculum in our pursuit of academic rigour, which is [essentially] the whole curriculum,” agreed Catherine Large, co-CEO of the Creative and Cultural Skills quango. “We have to have space for creative subjects. The main thing we need to argue for is that schools, as a measure of their success, have to engage with creative subjects and offer young people the opportunity to engage with creative subjects for as long as possible throughout their school career.”

However, Catherine does agree that, in the current form of the EBacc, creative subjects should be included.

Dinah and Catherine said that they will raise the subject of the EBacc at the next meeting of the Creative Industries Council, where the creative industries sit down with culture secretary Maria Miller and business secretary Vince Cable.

You can watch the full session below.

The session covering creative education begins at 12:02 in this video.


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