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No arts in English Baccalaureate is a big mistake

Tony Hall on why schools must be at the heart of opening up the arts for children.

By Tony Hall (Former Chief Executive)

10 December 2012 at 4.51pm | 5 Comments

The arts are one of this country’s greatest success stories. From award-winning theatre to innovative dance, celebrated musicians to pioneering artists; British culture is admired throughout the world. It inspired individuals and united communities in this summer’s London 2012 Festival and brought the whole nation together with the dazzling Olympic ceremonies. Despite immense challenges, the arts continue to thrive with the sector set to employ 1.3 million people by 2013.

That is why it is so important that subjects like art, drama, dance, music, and design technology – the ones that made London 2012 possible – are given due prominence in our schools. The English Baccalaureate (EBacc), which serves as a performance measure for schools, has already excluded all arts subjects – pushing them into the remaining teaching time, a mere 20%. Now further reforms could exacerbate this trend, with suggestions that drama, dance and film be removed from the National Curriculum and that the two-tier system of the EBacc be formalized through the proposed English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs).

The impact of this growing neglect of the arts within schools should not be understated. It will harm the future of our creative industries, the vibrancy of our communities, and the long-term creativity and potential of our workforce. Above all, it will harm our children by denying them access to this incredible creative world.

Studying and practicing the arts – whether classical history or modern dance – has an incredible impact on a child. I saw this first-hand during the London 2012 Festival when children, often from deprived backgrounds, were inspired by music, art and culture. They gained confidence, a sense of self-worth and an insight into a world that they’d never experienced. That’s an experience that every single child deserves and one that cultural institutions cannot be relied upon solely to provide.

Schools must be at the heart of ensuring that all children, regardless of their background, gain access to the arts and the benefits they confer throughout life. Many top education systems around the world already recognize the importance of the arts, with the government's own Expert Panel noting that out that of 14 high-performing jurisdictions, only four, including England, cease compulsory provision of art and music by the age of 14. Massachusetts and Ontario continue compulsory art and music until age 18. It is time that our education system also recognized the great value of the arts for children and young people.

The current neglect of the arts in our education will not just affect those in school. It will also have a devastating effect on our creative industries. The scale of employment is much larger than most people realize, with hundreds of thousands of jobs that many young people may not even know exist. The Royal Opera House alone employs 1000 people, in jobs ranging from artists for the sets to developers for the website. The industry needs these creative skills if it is to survive and flourish – and children need to be given the tools and training in schools to access these opportunities.

The arts are an integral part of our communities, our wellbeing and our sense of identity. They inspire and sustain us in difficult times, challenge us to think and give us something to celebrate and explore as a nation. They are not an add-on in our lives so cannot be treated as such in our children’s education.

By Tony Hall (Former Chief Executive)

10 December 2012 at 4.51pm

This article has been categorised Learning and tagged Baccalaureate, curriculum, EBacc, Education, GCSE, learning

This article has 5 comments

  1. dear tony hall..
    enjoyed your article. i am an opera singer who began as a child in music...tried country western, but did not enjoy singing and playing guitar at same time. i enjoy being accompanied. i moved back to oklahoma and now have a p/t job teaching singing to Cherokee Nation young people. many from deprived homes, and have never seen a note written on a page. most interesting, and yet they want to learn to sing, and work hard at it. i have 14 students now, and they will presented tonight in a recital of both broadway musical and classical singing. enjoyed your article. we must keep the arts going, as it gives joy to so many people. thanks. barbara

  2. I totally agree.if we had more Arts/maybe the world would be kinder. responded on 12 December 2012 at 3:29pm Reply

    Arts should be part of school learning.Students would have a kinder clearer knowledge of LIFE,which would enhance there understanding of life as it should be.creation is from the heart,and is all good will. I used to be a dancer,the feeling of happinness would surround me.listening to a singer with all the feelings of the tune and words, fantastic./ if only it were around all the time,in our lives. I tell grandchildren to think happines,and it will be./

  3. Gilbert Hall responded on 12 January 2013 at 9:20pm Reply

    You say that the EBacc excludes all arts subjects, but this is plain wrong: it includes English and history (with geography as an option to history). Maybe you mean performing arts, but then what is studying Shakespeare in English? You yourself refer to "classical history" as an art.

    I'm glad that intellectually weak subjects like film studies and, yes, drama are no longer regarded as equal to physics, say. We can't run an economy on feeling good about ourselves. We need to get a grip on our state schools and push them towards intellectual rigour and the Ebacc is a great start by replacing league tables that have been gamed by schools teaching soft subjects to get high grades.

    Only now are schools being forced to teach computer programming, now there's a real scandal! It's not in the Ebacc though.

    • Jess responded on 3 March 2013 at 7:42pm

      In regards to Gilbert Hall,
      Dance and even drama are really not the 'soft subjects' everyone makes out them to be. Just like getting an A* in physics the pupil has to be gifted and talented in that area. Like those who have the academic brains there are children who practically achieve. Students may be A standard in many Ebacc subjects but when they come to dance have two left feet and don't do as well. This does not go for all children but the majority are talented in one area. Therefore you are saying only have the academic children achieving and leave the other children left to fail? Is that really what schools should be doing? Also when you watch TV or go and watch a show its not the english and history students you are watching it is the drama and dance, the soft subject students. Without them there would be no entertainment industry the majority of people thrive off. England has one of the biggest creative industries in the world, creating a large amount of jobs especially in London. Who is to fill these places with no creative subjects in the Ebacc?

  4. Robin Smith responded on 18 January 2013 at 12:57pm Reply

    I agree with this. With regard to your comment about intellectual rigour we should simply bring back grammar schools and stop pussy footing about it. It worked before. It would work now.

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