Last night, MPs tried to save Art and Design GCSEs from being 'downgraded'

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At a debate in Parliament last night, MPs tried to change the government's EBacc plans.

It's perhaps ironic that the UK government's week of celebrations of the current success of our creative industries is contrasted with events at could damage it. The most obvious is Brexit, which has lead to much doom-mongering and the likes of Sir John Sorrell's Creative Industries Federations setting up urgent meetings to deal with potential threats. Less well-known is the EBacc (English Baccalaureate) - changes to the GCSE education system that could put both schools and pupils off the creative subjects and provide our industries with fewer potential recruits in the future.

There was a debate yesterday evening in Parliament about the EBacc, a result of a petition orgaised by campaining group Bacc for the Future that received over 100,000 signatures. The Schools minister Nick Gibb was questioned and petitioned by MPs lead admirably by Labour MP and member of the Education Select Committee Catherine McKinnell. However, at the closing of the debate, McKinnell said that she still feels "that the Government's policy and approach ... fundamentally risks undermining the benefits that can come [from creative education]."

So how can what appears to be an administrative change in how schools are judged have such an impact on education on subjects from art and design to music and drama? And what exactly is an EBacc? (It's worth noting here that this EBacc is a different thing from the EBacc the creative industries rallied against Michael Gove about in 2012/13 - similar in ethos but different enough that we'll just forget about the old one to avoid confusion)

What is the EBacc?

The EBacc is a way of measuring the performance of pupils in a school based on five key GCSE subjects: Maths, English, Science, a language and one of two humanities subjects (history or geography). With English and Science generally comprising two GCSEs each, campaigners feel that this doesn't leave much space for creative subjects - especially for students that excel in such areas.

They also say that the EBacc makes schools focus on its key subjects - marginalising creative subjects and, most importantly, diverting resources away from them into 'the subjects that matter'. The end result are worse creative education with fewer students studying those subjects, who are less likely to go on to study creative subjects at Higher and Further Education - and a smaller pool of graduates that the creative industries can draw from.

It has also been suggested that the EBacc will affect creative education for younger children. While creative education is compulsory until the end of Year 9 (when pupils are 13 or 14), campaigners say more resources will be put into teaching them the 'core' subjects throughout secondary education, as the results of that teaching will ultimately be reflected in the EBacc. And creative subjects will suffer.

Those who spoke against the EBacc in its current form provided both anecdotal and stastical evidence for this. It was noted that 44% of teachers say creative subjects have been downgraded at school, including 93% of teachers in those subjects. Exam regulator Ofqual's own figures show that the number of creative GCSEs entered for has already fallen by over 46,000 - and that's just the effect of school's preparing for the introduction of the EBacc before it's officially introduced.

How to improve the EBacc

Suggested improvements to the EBacc included scrapping it, or removing the language and humanities requirements - giving more room for creative subjects. Alternatively it could be expanded to eight areas including one for the 'expressive arts' (a system used in Scotland), or allow schools to offer different "flavours" of Ebacc much in the same way you have specialist academies alongside mainstream schools - which could include an 'arts' specialism.

In the end though, the government (through Nick Gibb) is adamant that the EBacc is the best way to improve GCSE education, saying that it believes that studying a language and a humanities are essential to a 'well rounded education'.

"By providing a core academic curriculum that will help them succeed, we are in no way preventing them from studying the arts," said Gibb. "This vital component of the Government's move to put more rigour in the classroom should not be diluted by the idea that the arts and a core curriculum cannot coexist within schools."

Watch the full debate on

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