Skip to main content

Education: English Baccalaureate

Volume 768: debated on Thursday 4 February 2016

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that children receive a balanced and rounded education in schools; and what effect the English baccalaureate requirements will have in that regard.

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to have this important debate. I look forward to hearing all noble Lords’ contributions and the Minister’s response. I am only sorry that we do not have more time. I thank the many organisations that have sent me briefings, all of which, without exception, either decry the omission of arts subjects from the English baccalaureate performance measure or wish to see the measure removed entirely. The consultation on the implementation of EBacc closed last Friday, but I hope the Minister will take the contributions made today on EBacc specifically in the spirit of being additional to that consultation.

There is a sense of déjà vu. It is almost exactly three years since, following a huge outcry from educationalists, arts educators and the creative industries, Michael Gove made the announcement that the EBacc certificate would be “a bridge too far”. Yet, three years on, the Bacc for the Future campaign is reconvened, and here we are again with the EBacc strengthened as a performance measure. The newer “progress eight” accountability measure may include arts subjects, but there is every sense from the Government that the EBacc is to be the most significant measure.

There are many reasons why a broad-based or rounded education is a good thing—I would say an essential element of a child’s preparation for life. I will go through some of these reasons and suggest where the EBacc or other curricula might relate to it. I have an 11 year-old daughter who will go to secondary school later this year, so these concerns are very much on my mind. First, I believe that the important thing for my daughter is that her curiosity about the world should be met by her education and that she should enjoy learning. I could stop right there, because that is the most important thing and something it is far too easy to forget in today’s political culture—not necessarily shared by all—which so firmly yokes an idea about future work and assumptions about what employers will want to education, where education has become synonymous with what is termed “academic achievement”.

Personally, I would get rid of all league tables. Germany, which has recently reorganised its school educational system and has 7% youth unemployment, as opposed to our 12%, does pretty well without them. The Cultural Learning Alliance, alongside others, argues against having the EBacc at all, not just because of the arts omission, but because there is, as it says, an already desperately crowded accountability system of measures—five of them now, including three EBacc ones—with the exclusivity of the EBacc as an all-or-nothing measure particularly concerning. This is a long way from education for its own sake.

Secondly, a broad-based education creates as many opportunities as possible, whether it is the history class that fired you up, or that particular art teacher. Children will not necessarily be excited by everything. This is the cardinal mistake that Nick Gibb made in his social justice speech last June. Real social justice is to treat children as individuals who are open to a variety of possibilities. The narrow and, crucially, uniformly set EBacc curriculum of eight subjects, which could be pushed to 10, and the average number of subjects taken at key stage 4 of eight will, once you include statutory RE and PE—and PSHE, which should be statutory—leave very little room, if any, for art, music and drama, or other subjects, including technological courses.

It ought to be emphasised that this is an observation made not just by interested arts organisations. The Association of School and College Leaders, for example, argued precisely this in its EBacc consultation, noting, as many others have, the danger that music and drama courses will end up becoming the preserve of the elite, accessible only to those who can afford private tuition, or, indeed, private schooling. Department for Education figures, quoted by the Cultural Learning Alliance, show that between 2010 and 2014 the number of hours that the arts were taught fell by 10% and the number of arts teachers fell by 11%.

Other subjects, too, are being pushed to the margins—philosophy, for instance, which AC Grayling and John Taylor of Rugby justifiably argued should have its own GCSE. Tom Sherrington of the Headteachers’ Roundtable makes the case for sociology. But what all such arguments make apparent is the increasing lack of flexibility in subject choice. What is the Minister’s reaction to those schools which are resistant to the EBacc, particularly considering that an ASCL survey last year found that a staggering 87% of secondary school leaders are unhappy with the EBacc proposals? One of the conditions, too, of the setting up of academies was that they should provide a broad-based education, which, as I will endeavour to show, the EBacc, by its very nature, opposes.

Thirdly, a narrow curriculum will be a poorer one because a broad-based curriculum is one that, in a good school, will allow subjects to have conversations with each other. I like very much the developmental psychologist Howard Gardner’s description of the international baccalaureate—a more broad-based, balanced and outward-looking curriculum—as one which helps students,

“think critically, synthesize knowledge, reflect on their own thought processes and get their feet wet in interdisciplinary thinking”.

In this sense, an EBacc without the arts should be unthinkable; a core curriculum without the arts will not raise standards but lower them. Students being able to make connections between disparate subjects is not only part of the learning process; it will be that innovation that fires the future.

Finally, a rounded education treats the main areas of education as being of equal value. This is not just good for the pupil; it is good for society that in later life the scientist or technologist should have an equal respect for the artist or creative, and the artist the same respect for science. A broad-based education is not the enemy of specialisation but part of the same process—the T-shape. I do not know whether any of your Lordships have read the remarkable blog by 16 year-old Orli Vogt-Vincent in this week’s Guardian, which describes the prejudice she has had to face at her school, not just from fellow students but from teachers too, in deciding to choose dance as a main subject of study—shades of “Billy Elliot”.

But this kind of experience seems to be becoming increasingly common again, and unfortunately what the EBacc will do is institutionalise this prejudice further, and further polarise subject areas in schools which will not be a reflection of the reality outside. The artist Bob and Roberta Smith made an interesting contribution to last year’s Warwick Commission report when he said that CP Snow’s “two cultures” distinction of science and humanities—for which you can also read the arts—

“had been made irrelevant by … the power of digital technology”.

We have, for instance, a burgeoning video games industry which is dependent—as so much new enterprise is—on a number of different interactive disciplines. It happens to be crying out for fine and graphic artists, but the industry has to go abroad to obtain them. Nevertheless, the latest figures, released by the DCMS last week, show that the creative industries are now worth £84.1 billion, so we must have been doing something right somewhere —at least in the past. Because why then, even using the Government’s own arguments about education and work, is not the huge importance of the creative industries being reflected in a similar status for arts and art and design education in our schools?

Through changing the culture, the EBacc will have an effect throughout all the key stages and beyond. Why, for instance, would primary schools take seriously subjects that are considered inferior at a later stage? The National Society for Education in Art and Design, in a survey of more than 1,000 educators, the full results of which are to be presented at next week’s all-party art, design and craft education group meeting, indicates that in the last five years 53% of key stage 3 art and design teachers report a fall in levels of attainment at secondary transfer, whereas only 6% said that standards had increased.

At present, the EBacc subjects are taken up by just over a quarter of students. The Cultural Learning Alliance has shown that in the last five years take-up of GCSE arts and design subjects, including music, drama and design and technology, among other subjects, has already dropped by 14%. What, then, will be the outcome for a balanced education if the Government achieve their current target of 90%?

I repeat that the vast majority of secondary school leaders oppose the current EBacc as it stands. The National Association of Head Teachers, the NUT, the Creative Industries Federation, the Music Industries Association, the Design Council and the CBI—the list goes on and on. Hundreds of organisations and institutions have expressed concern over the omission of creative subjects from the EBacc as well as its inflexibility.

The EBacc is a flawed measure. It should either be radically reformed, or dropped entirely.

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl. Lord Clancarty, for securing this debate. It is very timely given the end of the consultation on the next phase of the English baccalaureate. I join him in inviting the Minister to take note of this debate as part of the responses to the consultation. I agree with everything that the noble Earl said and I do not want to repeat it. Having said that, I think I understand where the Government are coming from as well. That is my starting point.

I am not against maths, English, science, foreign languages, history or geography. I am not against action to promote their learning and to cherish what they offer to the nation. However, I am worried about the way that has been done and the situation in which we now find ourselves.

I remember that when I was first in the job that the Minister is now in, I learned a valuable lesson which sounds easy but escapes your mind. If you say that you have a priority, you are saying two things: first, that I have a priority and, secondly, that I give less priority to the other things. That has been the problem with this story about the English baccalaureate.

I am giving the Government the benefit of the doubt. I do not think they are against music, art, drama, psychology or religious education. I suspect that they access these subjects for their own children and those they care for, so I do not think they are against them. However, I think they have forgotten the point about priorities. When they say that these subjects are important, what is heard is that the other subjects are not important. We should know by now that the English school system will act on that message with a rigour that is unmatched anywhere else in the world. That, therefore, is the problem with picking up the consequences of something that, by itself, was not a bad thing to want.

So we have a problem. One of the problems now is that schools are spending too much time talking about the curriculum and assessment, and how they can fiddle their staffing and their curriculum to get more points through the English baccalaureate. I have sat in too many conversations in the last two to three months where time has been spent on the adjustments that will need to be made to the curriculum to get a higher level in the English baccalaureate. That time should have been spent on teaching, learning and getting better outcomes from students in the classroom. So there is a problem and there is a consequence. The noble Earl made that quite clear.

We are bound by the national curriculum to offer a broad and balanced curriculum. We do not have one. This English baccalaureate is not a broad and balanced curriculum and that, by law, is what we are meant to be achieving. When I tabled a summer debate on the literacy and numeracy strategy, I said, “There is nothing to stop schools doing art, drama and all those things”, and I suspect the Minister may say the same. However, the reality is that schools are not doing so and are losing the facilities needed. The teachers are not being recruited. The time is not being made available.

We have, therefore, two problems. We have people spending time responding to the English baccalaureate and also reality that they are taking teachers away. It is no good the Secretary of State quoting in the consultation King Solomon Academy or Whitmore High School. It is great—fantastic—that they do this and offer the arts as well. However, we cannot have a school system where the law is made up on the assumption that everyone will do the things that Ministers think they should be able to do. On that basis, we should have no need for a school improvement system.

It is not that we are against the subjects of which the Minister is in favour. My question to him is twofold. He has made two mistakes. He has assumed that it is best to pursue a rounded academic curriculum and that these subjects define that. If that is what he believes, he has to defend his belief against all the evidence that shows that it is not the case. Secondly, he has gone back on the most sensible move that, 18 months ago, his Government made towards the Progress 8 measurement. Why on earth has he done so, producing a document two or three months ago that introduces five new accountability measures, all of which involve the English baccalaureate?

I stand up with a bit of hesitation, because the previous two speakers have described with great eloquence all that is wrong with forcing the EBacc on whole years of learning in our secondary schools. I am pleased that we have the Question here today because it sparks off a wider consideration about the purpose and aims of education. Obviously, the answer is partly that it prepares young people for life as adults as well as for the world of work. Another element is that it develops individual talents and provides a sense of achievement and self-worth. The question I have asked myself is: what does the EBacc, which is to be imposed on 90% of our secondary-school pupils, contribute towards these aims?

By sheer chance, I chaired a seminar about education in London today where there were contributions from the world of business by a representative of the chambers of commerce, from a think tank, from academia and from a head teacher of an academy trust. Without exception, all agreed that the EBacc consisting of five subjects was not a problem but imposing the EBacc on 90% of school students certainly was. They all agreed that it was a retrograde step. The business leader said that what business wanted was soft skills in young people entering the world of work. He defined these as the ability to communicate, to collaborate, to co-operate in a team, to be critical and to work on projects—none of which he felt would be developed in young people through the EBacc diet. The head teacher was even more outspoken. He was the executive principal of an academy trust. I have asked him if I can quote him but I will not say where it is as I do not want to endanger his future. He said, “The EBacc is disastrous; it is not relevant to the modern world and not appropriate to modern learners.”

I am a school governor in my own town in West Yorkshire. When I discussed this with other governors and the head teacher there, they said they have a real moral dilemma. Do they follow what the Government are imposing on schools, giving a diet of subject matter which is indigestible to a good percentage of the children in the school, or do they try to meet the children’s educational needs? It is not just the EBacc which is narrow; the content of the subject curriculum is also narrow. So not only have we narrowed down what is taught in the broad sense with the five subjects, but we have narrowed down the content of that curriculum. Altogether, we are proposing a narrow diet for our young people when they face the world of work which is opening up. I beg the Minister to reconsider what he is offering.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, for initiating this debate. He has made a strong case and, like other speakers today, I find it extremely difficult to understand why the Government are encouraging schools to adopt the EBacc with no cultural component, when all the evidence suggests that the withdrawal of creative subjects and the teacher training in these subjects will have a knock-on effect not just in the cultural sphere but across industry. This seems particularly unwise when our creative industries account for one in 12 jobs and have been the fastest growing sector in the UK economy, increasing by 15.8% since 2011 to 1.8 million jobs and contributing some £84 billion to the UK economy.

Successive Governments have invested heavily in our arts education and this has been the foundation of our current success, with students from around the world coming here to train and absorb our creative know-how. Despite that, we have severe skill shortages. In a recent survey of members by the Creative Industries Federation, education and the skills pipeline was the overriding issue of concern. The migration tier 2 shortage occupation list, which permits the sponsorship of migrants in recognition of severe skills shortages, highlights that our country is already crying out for a combination of creative—in particular, design—and technical skills.

Since the introduction in 2010 of the EBacc, where the emphasis has been on core subjects, there has been a rapid erosion of vocational subjects such as design and technology, and many schools are already cutting back on creative and arts options, which the EBacc measure does not include. No one disputes the value of these subjects; indeed, in different combinations they are essential for the prosperity of the creative sector. However, this focus is contributing to the sidelining of creative subjects, as highlighted by an early research report by Ipsos MORI for the Department for Education in 2012. It found that 27% of schools had cut or withdrawn courses for the 2012-13 academic year, as a direct result of its implementation. Indeed, over the past five years there has been a 14% decline in the number of arts GCSE entries, from 720,438 in 2010 to 618,440 in 2015. Those figures do not even include BTEC qualifications, where arts and design entries have fallen by approximately 20,000 since 2010. On top of that, the number of hours for which the arts are taught in secondary schools has fallen by 10%, while the number of art teachers fell by 11% in the years 2010-14.

In effect, the introduction of the EBacc as a headline attainment measure sends a worrying message that the creative subjects are not a central and essential part of schooling. That is particularly troubling when a recent report, commissioned by the Creative Industries Federation, highlighted that countries such as China, South Korea and Brazil have learned from our success and are investing heavily in their creative education because they, too, can see the economic value of culture.

Another concern is the reduction in career pathways. The Russell Group of universities list of facilitating subjects was used to support the introduction of the EBacc, but it is only one indicator of what is useful for students to study. Creative subjects require different combinations of subjects if they are to continue to produce students for the creative industries. By focusing on a group of subjects that benefit one group of students you may diminish the life chances of another, who are less likely to perform well on these measures.

Evidence has shown that many of the courses that need students to study art and design also have high levels of students with special needs, such as dyslexia. These students epitomise the dangers of what might happen when EBacc becomes the headline assessment measurement for schools and students have to study seven of eight EBacc GCSEs. The fear is that they will struggle to perform in the subjects that the Ebacc requires them to study. At this point, students are more likely to drop the extra arts subjects to concentrate on the required curriculum. I believe that it is irresponsible to introduce measures that are likely to limit achievement for a significant number of students at a time when there is such a demand for their skills.

My Lords, like others, I am very grateful to the noble Earl for securing this short debate. The importance of this subject is out of all proportion to the length of our discussion.

I agree with so much that has been said but I shall concentrate on two specific issues. The first, noble Lords will not be surprised to hear, concerns the omission of religious education from the English baccalaureate. I realise that it is not the only omission—I would rather like art, music and much else to be there, too—but I believe that it is a serious mistake that is going to be deleterious to a rounded education.

I believe that the previous Secretary of State, Michael Gove, thought it unnecessary to include religious education since it is a statutory subject. That is true, but it is not enough. During my secondary education 50 years ago—a frighteningly long time—religious education was statutory, although I think it was called “religious knowledge” then. That meant one lesson a week by an uninterested teacher for a form of boys who looked at the 40 minutes as time off or a time to play up. It was good life experience for a future bishop to experience such religious indifference but it was not a rounded education—although it might have been argued that it was quite a good introduction to juvenile sin, not least my own.

The impression given was that religion was a fading phenomenon that we did not really need to bother about in preparation for life. How wrong that has proved to be, for bad reasons as well as good; just as there can be bad politics, there can be bad religion, and there is a lot of it in the world. We need much greater religious literacy to understand the world in which we live and to understand the difference between good and bad religion—for instance, there is a growing danger that we regard anyone who is deeply religious as an extremist. Far more people around the world define their identity through their religion than we seem to understand in a country like ours that has a largely secular mindset, yet the huge rise in the number of students taking GCSE and A-level religious studies in recent years—it has been one of the fastest-growing subjects—indicates the interest generated in the subject among young people. It has been a subject of equal standing with others in a way that it will not be in future, and I think that the decision to exclude it will inevitably be harmful. That is what nearly every religious education teacher that I speak to thinks. So I ask the Minister, whose fairness and passion for young people I admire, either to assure me of a reconsideration or to suggest ways in which statutory religious study might avoid the marginalisation that I experienced at school.

My second point is related not to the baccalaureate at all but to international school links and their significance for a rounded education. I am still a governor of the first academy to be set up in Norfolk, where I was originally a co-sponsor. Last year I was one of a group of governors who met the Ofsted inspectors—happily, the academy got a good outcome—and we were asked the ritual question about “promoting British values”. I commented that what we were seeking to nurture was actually future citizens who had an international outlook. We have very strong links with schools in the Netherlands and the Far East—the latter more able to come here than we are able to get there—but it is quicker to get to Holland from Norwich than it is to London, especially given our train service.

We also try to take as many students as possible on overseas visits. Many who come from the estate on which the school is based and the surrounding area experience very little travel of any sort. In this setting, experience of other cultures is essential for a rounded education. Finding the financial resources is a challenge but it can be done, and I would be grateful to know from the Minister what advice, if any, the department gives schools on international links, and whether Ofsted normally makes any inquiries about such things. The inspectors I met did not seem to be familiar with investigating such things, but I believe that a rounded education needs the widest possible context.

My Lords, I come to this debate with a general interest in education. I am a school governor at my local primary school, just so that I can occasionally get up and contribute to an education debate and feel that I actually know what is going on in a primary school. I, too, congratulate the noble Earl, not only on giving us the opportunity to debate the issue but on his introduction to it.

I find myself a bit torn. I was listening carefully to the noble Earl when he suggested that we get rid of league tables. I do not think I would go as far as that, mainly because it is an abiding concern of mine that by the time pupils reach level 6, every one of them should be reasonably literate and numerate. If they are not, the cost of trying to achieve that in secondary education is almost exponential by comparison. I do not know what other way that we as governors have of ensuring that we make progress, but that is a whole other debate.

I am concerned about the EBacc because I tend to agree with those who have said that it is restrictive, does not pay enough attention to the creative areas and somehow seems to give a signal that vocational is not quite as good. That might not be the intention but we have to watch for unintended consequences. I have to be honest: I remember us, when we were in Government, basically putting our finger in the air and suggesting that 50% of young people ought to go to university. In some ways I agree with that—it is good for social mobility and aspiration—but speaking to young people showed me that it also sent another signal: if you were not going to university, the vocational route was second-class. I do not think that is what the Government want to signal. It is a real concern of mine that in an era when the Government are, quite rightly, setting themselves a very ambitious target of 3 million apprenticeships do we really want to signal that the vocational route is somehow not quite as good? I do not think that we do. I do not think that would help us in the current circumstances.

I am a bit puzzled about this approach that it has to be 90% and this core curriculum when every other signal that the Government give is, if not quite “let a thousand flowers bloom”, that they are in favour of academies and free schools. They are saying they want that kind of flexibility and want to see new ideas in education emerging. It seems to me that what they are proposing does not quite chime with that.

Some of my colleagues do not necessarily agree with free schools. I am not particularly worried about them as long as they meet decent standards. I think there is no one true path to education, so I am interested in variety as long as it is accompanied by quality. There is a need for a core curriculum, but I smiled a bit when the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, mentioned the dreaded soft skills. I do not know why we use this phrase. They are not soft; they are essential skills. However, while employers ask for them, they also need employees to be literate and numerate, so there are other ways of going about it. The consultation process has not quite ended yet. It will be fascinating to see what emerges from it and whether the Government are prepared to listen and to recognise that they have not quite got the formula right.

If the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, had the problem that some of her best points had already been made, mine is even worse. While I, too, congratulate the noble Earl on obtaining this debate, I am sorry that he should have had to do so. When the EBacc was first proposed in 2010, there was widespread concern over its omission of arts and cultural subjects. In 2012, as we have heard, the Bacc for the Future campaign was launched to argue for the inclusion of a sixth pillar of creative subjects, including music. As we have heard, most of the EBacc proposals were subsequently dropped in favour of new progress 8 and attainment 8 measures which allow room for creative subjects to be included and were rightly described by Michael Gove as more balanced and meaningful.

Therefore, it was disappointing that last year the Government changed tack once more and announced their intention that the EBacc should be made virtually compulsory for all pupils and be used as the basis of two of the five headline key stage 4 performance measures for schools. Bacc for the Future is indeed back again. With more than 170 supporting organisations, it has had to gear up all over again.

The Government’s motives are excellent. They claim that a compulsory EBacc will enhance the prospects of pupils, particularly disadvantaged pupils, by ensuring that they receive a core academic curriculum that allows them to retain options in subsequent education and in the employment market. I heartily endorse this aim, but I am concerned that the proposals will not work for pupils or for the wider economy.

They will not work for pupils because the curriculum is too limited. The message, although unsupported by the evidence, seems to be that, although all pupils should have opportunities to study the arts and creative subjects, they are less important, less rigorous or less valuable than the EBacc subjects—as the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, said—whatever the particular abilities, interests and skills of individual pupils. As a result, many may be left with much-reduced choice and with their potential talents largely untapped.

The Government claim that the EBacc leaves room for other subjects, but it requires at least seven GCSEs against the average number taken of just over eight, and fewer than that taken by low attainment pupils. Other subjects are likely to be frozen out for more disadvantaged pupils, and that will widen the gap between their schools and the highest performing schools which give proper focus to the arts and creative subjects. I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Young, that, if anything, schools seem to be too focused on an academic rather than all-round education. For example, hardly any of the many talented apprentices I have met were steered into the apprenticeship route by their schools.

Nor do I think the current proposals will work for the economy by better meeting the UK’s skills needs. Employers increasingly say they want and cannot get enough of skills such as creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship, teamwork, communication, self-discipline, problem solving and the ability to cope with uncertainty. To quote the headmaster of Rugby School:

“We know that, in the world of work, creative vision, entrepreneurial skills and artistic flair are key transformational advantages that derive from studying the arts”.

I am also struck by the lack of focus on digital skills in the EBacc proposals. The report published last February by the Digital Skills Committee, on which I served, argues that digital literacy should be taught as a core subject alongside numeracy and literacy and be embedded across all subjects and throughout the curriculum, but it seems to appear in the EBacc only in the guise of computing as an optional science subject.

I applaud the Minister’s clear commitment to providing a balanced and rounded education for all pupils, but I urge him to listen to the concerns expressed by the Arts Council, Bacc for the Future, the CBI, the Design Council, Edge and numerous others—I could, but will not, go on through the alphabet—and to think again about how best to achieve his laudable aims, both for pupils individually and skills in general. To meet the evolving needs and challenges of the future we need an education system that not only sets high standards and expectations but does so across a broad enough range of subjects to allow all pupils to develop their unique talents, including in the arts and creative subjects, not least music.

My Lords, this is a huge issue for the arts world. Sir Simon Rattle told the classical music APPG the other day that he was appalled that music was not a core part of the EBacc. It would be unthinkable, he said, for a country like Germany not to have the arts—and music in particular—as a central subject. Anticipating the Minister’s response let me quickly say that the music hubs have done well and I warmly congratulate the Government on their success, even if it is sometimes sporadic in coverage.

However, that is not enough. It is the profound question—as we have heard—of educational emphasis, priority and national identity that we are concerned about. In Germany, Sir Simon continued, high-ranking politicians are frequently to be seen at concerts, operas and arts events. There is a central thrust and hunger for the arts, not just because of their economic success but because of the role they play in social cohesion. In this country the success of the arts is all the more remarkable for the comparative backdrop of philistinism they have emerged from. Where courts in 18th-century Europe felt the need and desire to employ and commission great musicians, the landed gentry here were more interested in hunting and fishing—I have to put some of my ancestors into this bracket, even if they did, through their goings on at Berkeley Castle with Edward II, inspire Shakespeare and Marlowe to some of their most disturbing lines. The arts have had to fight their way up the ladder.

I am glad to say that we have moved on, but not far enough as this debate articulates because it all begins with education. Ministers here rightly bask in the warm financial glow generated by the creative industries but we need to look to the next generation and the musicians and artists who will refuel and sustain that success. I cannot put it better than Dr Chris Collins and Professor Rachel Cowgill from the National Association for Music in Higher Education who wrote in the Guardian on 2 February—there have been articles in lots of other papers too—that,

“the Ebacc attainment measure in England will reduce the availability of creative and artistic subjects in schools. The adoption of a similar performance measure in sixth-form league tables … has led to an 18% reduction in the number of students taking A-level music. Since creative arts subjects like music tend to be more expensive to deliver in schools, they are all the more susceptible to being axed when times are hard and budgets tight. This slump has made A-level music unviable in many schools and colleges, further perpetuating the decline and resulting in regional deserts where the subject is completely unavailable. If, as we fear, the forced adoption of the Ebacc results in a similar decline for GCSE music, the subject will be decimated in English schools”.

I would add that we are not simply talking about classical music. Think of all those musicians who play in theatres, on backing tracks, on film scores—you name it. Just think too of the effect of access to the arts, both visual and musical, on popular music. John Lennon, David Bowie, Elton John: these are just a few of the names that have propelled this country to the forefront of the world stage and boosted our economy at the same time. Are their successors getting the same opportunities? I rather fear not but I hope the Minister will provide a pleasant surprise.

My Lords, Britain's got talent. We have a strong creative and cultural heritage. Our worldwide reputation for creative performers, artists, filmmakers, designers, video-game makers and writers is formidable. Tourists flock to our cultural and creative landmarks to experience our theatre, music and heritage. They admire the work of our designers, filmmakers, musicians and performers. Some of Britain’s leading exports are our creative industries, talent and experiences. As George Osborne said:

“Britain’s not just brilliant at science. It’s brilliant at culture too”.

Even Ed Vaizey, the Minister for Culture, said:

“The creative industries are one of the UK’s greatest success stories … Growing at almost twice the rate of the wider economy and worth a staggering £84 billion a year”.

Why would we do anything to put this in jeopardy? The EBacc in its current form will have unintended consequences for our creative industries.

No one disputes the value of the subjects included within the EBacc. But the measure itself, requiring achievement in only a narrow range of academic subjects, will not meet the ambitions and aspirations of many learners, let alone the skills required for a future workforce—the skills that employers require. With the EBacc there is little room for students to study creative subjects. Why do I say that? Because the EBacc requires students to take a minimum of seven prescribed subjects which do not include any arts or creative subjects. “Ah!” shout Ministers, “There is nothing to stop pupils studying further subjects”. But we know from official figures that the average number of GCSEs taken by a secondary school pupil is eight. If the EBacc becomes a reality, there would be little room left for pupils to study creative industry related subjects—music, art, design, technology, drama, and many other subjects would be squeezed out of schools altogether. What then for our next generation of musicians, technicians, designers, artists, actors and the £84 billion industry that Ed Vaizey talked about?

We are already seeing this happen as schools facing budget cuts ditch non-EBacc subjects or are unable to offer the full range of creative subjects. Some even believe that because a subject is not part of the EBacc offer it has not got the same importance and status. Between November 2011 and November 2014, the number of teachers teaching creative subjects declined by 13.1%. The number of hours being taught in creative subjects in secondary schools is also in decline. It becomes a vicious circle, as fewer students being taught or taking creative subjects leads to a decline in the number of teachers being trained, which leads to a reduction in the number of available teachers of creative subjects. As the NAHT said in its submission to the consultation on the EBacc:

“The decline in available curriculum time for optional subjects and the exclusion of creative and cultural subjects from the EBacc will lead to a significant reduction in pupils taking these subjects”.

It is little wonder that universities and businesses, including the CBI, have asked the Government to think again on the exclusion of arts subjects from the EBacc. Perhaps the Minister in his winding-up speech could explain why Michael Gove’s EBacc Progress 8 measure needs to be changed. It offered a better balance for pupils. It maintained the importance of English and maths, and ensured that pupils took three EBacc subjects to give a clear academic core. It allowed a basket of further EBacc subjects of high-quality, non- EBacc or vocational-subject courses. This enables schools to maintain a broad curriculum, offering pupils and parents to choose what is best for their children. Can the Minister also say, with the consultation on the EBacc having been concluded on 29 January, what the means are by which the responses are accessed, evaluated and responded to?

Our competitors would give their right arm to have the success of our creative sector. For example, in China national and regional governments are pouring resources into providing educational support, market activity and financial incentives for the creative sector. Let us not throw this success away. I thank the noble Earl for organising this debate. It is really important.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, for promoting the debate and for the persuasive way in which he introduced it.

Despite the views of most education professionals, the Government are determined to press ahead with their aim of having 90% of GCSE students take the EBacc by 2020. We understand that the driving force in this is the Minister of State for Schools, Mr Gibb, who seems to be in thrall to E.D. Hirsch and his theory of the core knowledge system, which above all is characterised by one word: inflexibility.

Labour is not opposed to the EBacc per se. We recognise its value and it is right that every student should have the opportunity to take all five EBacc subjects if they want to, but we do not believe that it should be compulsory. Forcing it on 90% of GCSE students is sensible for neither them nor the long-term needs of the economy. My noble friend Lady Morris said that this is about priorities. By imposing the full EBacc the Government are claiming that foreign languages, and history or geography, are inherently, and in all circumstances, of more value than non-EBacc subjects. If the Minister can point to the evidence to support that theory, I and many others with an interest in education would be eager to see it. It is certainly important to ensure that disadvantaged children are not left with a second-class education. EBacc subjects have a clear role to play in that. Every talented child should study as many of the core subjects as possible, and every encouragement should be given to them by schools and teachers.

We can all appreciate the essential nature of English, maths and science, but for modern and ancient languages, much less so. On history or geography, I must ask, why? The Minister may be interested to know that someone applying to study geography at Oxford University does not require an A-level in geography.

There are other things that should be an equal part of any student’s education. It can surely be argued that the arts and technology are just as important as modern languages, not least because, as the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, said, the creative industries are now such an important feature of our economy. We should not be sending a message to schools and young people that creative and technical subjects are not valued. A great deal has been written about the need to close the divide between academic and vocational education, but with the EBacc the Government are unequivocally promoting the superiority of the academic pathway.

There is also likely to be a major teacher-supply problem, not least in modern languages. Time prevents me from going into detail on that crucial issue, but the National Association of Head Teachers’ response to question 4 of the Government’s current consultation set it out with great and persuasive clarity.

Only 39% of students took the EBacc in the past academic year. Yet already there has been a significant effect on other subjects since 2010—most notably, on what I argue is the key subject of design and technology, for which there has been a 29% drop in take-up. The curriculum should not be driven by the needs of the minority who are going to the most selective universities. Every student should have elements of the EBacc subjects in their curriculum. Equally, they should have artistic and practical elements. Many of the essential work-related skills that the CBI says are in short supply may well be better developed in artistic and practical contexts.

Last week in the debate on adult educational skills, the noble Baroness, Lady Evans, stressed the Government’s promotion of the apprenticeship route as a valid alternative to university. The Government now allow FE colleges to recruit 14 to 16 year-olds directly, and are encouraging still more university technical colleges and studio schools, which will almost certainly not offer the EBacc. To say that these initiatives leave the Government’s position a little confused would be an understatement.

The EBacc adopts too narrow a definition of rigorous academic study. The progress 8 measure, as various noble Lords have said, offers a better balance. I urge the Minister to give more thought to the effects of the proposals before it is too late and today’s children pay the price.

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, for securing this important debate and I am grateful to noble Lords for their contributions. I welcome the chance to explain our thinking behind the EBacc and to share what we are doing to ensure that all pupils, regardless of their background, have the right to a balanced and rounded education that opens doors to their future, prepares them for realising their potential in adult life, whatever their ambitions may be, and, as the noble Earl said, responds fully to a child’s natural curiosity, which is so important.

The Government expect that all pupils should have the opportunity to study a range of subjects at primary and secondary school, including the creative arts. Art and design and music are compulsory subjects within the national curriculum for five to 14 year-olds. The national curriculum also sets the expectation that pupils will have opportunities to study drama as part of the English curriculum, and dance as part of the PE curriculum.

Every child deserves to leave school fully literate and numerate, with an understanding of the history, geography and science of the world they inhabit and a grasp of a language other than their own. These elements form the core of a rounded academic education. I have to say, I found quite a bit of today’s debate extremely depressing—it seemed to infer that we are moving away from some kind of golden age of education in this country. We must realise the appallingly low base that we started from in 2010. As the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, said—I have a great deal of respect for her—we all know that schools respond to incentives. That is why we have to look so closely at the incentives that we put in the school system at this point in time.

In 2010, many pupils, often those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, were being denied a basic education in the core academic subjects. Only 31% of pupils took a GCSE in history, only 26% took a GCSE in geography and only 43% took a foreign language GCSE. These figures are shocking. Between 1997 and 2010, the number of pupils taking the core suite of academic subjects fell from 50% to 22%, as vocational subjects were rated as equivalent to GCSE. I have mentioned some of these subjects—cake decorating, hazard control and fish husbandry—in the past. Some of them were rated as equivalent to four GCSEs. When you take out grammar schools, which account for 5% of education in this country, it means that, in 2010, fewer than one in five pupils educated in comprehensive schools were receiving a core, basic education that one would expect in any country—and certainly in any independent school.

The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, talked about social justice. To get social justice you need social mobility; to get social mobility you need social immobility—you need to give pupils from a disadvantaged background the core suite of cultural knowledge they need to compete with pupils from a more advantaged background. This has been acknowledged across the board, including by Diane Abbott and in studies by Edinburgh University.

The Government had to act and, in 2010, the EBacc was announced as a measure in the school performance tables. The EBacc recognises the success of young people who enter and achieve good GCSEs across core academic subjects. The success of that strategy is clear: the proportion of pupils entering the EBacc has risen nationwide from 22% in 2011 to 39% last year. We have made considerable progress in our school system over the past five years: we now have 1.4 million more pupils educated in good and outstanding schools; last year we had 120,000 more pupils than in 2012 achieving the core phonics ability in reading; and we have many more pupils leaving primary school with the literacy and numeracy skills they need.

Pupils who are eligible for free school meals are half as likely to be entered for the EBacc as those who are not. It cannot be right that where a child goes to school or the wealth of their parents should determine what they study. So, last year, the Government announced that, in time, 90% of pupils would be entered for the EBacc. Proposals to achieve this goal are set out in the public consultation, referred to by noble Lords, which closed at the end of January and to which we will respond in the spring.

As the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, mentioned in his speech, as did many other noble Lords, there are concerns that this ambition will damage the creative arts. However, on average, pupils in state-funded schools enter nine GCSEs and equivalent qualifications, rising to more than 10 for more able pupils. This means that there still remains room for other GCSE choices, and Progress 8 will be the key accountability measure going forward. As noble Lords know, this will be the key deciding accountability measure in deciding whether a school is coasting. I certainly do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, that we should abolish accountability measures—all the international evidence is that autonomy and accountability is the right balance.

I am sorry; I agree entirely with the noble Lord—we should not. One only has to look at Wales to see what abandoning accountability does for an education system.

I reject suggestions that music and arts are not core subjects. We believe strongly that every child should experience a high-quality arts and cultural education throughout their time at school, which is why at key stage 4 all pupils at maintained schools have an entitlement to study an arts subject if they wish. Our commitment to rigorous arts qualifications is a reflection of the significant and ever-increasing contribution the creative industries make to our country, as my noble friend Lord Freyberg mentioned, bringing in £84 billion a year and outpacing growth and job creation in many other industries. EBacc qualifications help support this growing creative sector, and of course we have introduced computer science.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, mentioned music education hubs. The network of music hubs provides valuable extra-curricular activities, after school and at weekends. These hubs also play an important role in supporting music within the school curriculum. One of their many roles is to ensure that every child has the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument through whole-class ensemble teaching.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich talked about religious education, which of course counts towards Progress 8. In 2011, 32% of pupils in state-funded schools took a GCSE in RE; the figure is now 46%. I entirely agree with the right reverend Prelate that we need to increase our pupils’ religious literacy, which is so important, particularly in the modern world we live in. I know that the Church of England does a great deal of work on this; I attended an inspiring event recently called Living Well Together, and I know that it has a great deal of plans in that regard. As regards international links, quite a lot of work is done by the British Council on this, and I would be very happy to discuss this further with the right reverend Prelate.

I found some of the things the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, said, particularly depressing. A head teacher said:

“‘The EBacc is not appropriate to the modern world. It is not appropriate to modern learning.’ Oh dear. It sounds like the sort of person who would say that you don’t need knowledge because you can look it up on the internet”.

That is an exact quote from another head—I know it is not from the noble Baroness.

It was not you, but that was what someone said. Modern cognitive and neuroscience makes clear that you need knowledge to develop skills. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Watson, wants evidence. He mentioned ED Hirsch; if he would care to look at the effect of the Core Knowledge curriculum on the “Massachusetts miracle” in schools there, he would see what an effect such a curriculum can have, particularly on disadvantaged pupils.

Some students at key stage 4 may wish to start an element of technical or vocational study alongside the EBacc. We have of course reformed vocational education. Following the review from the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, which we instigated immediately after being elected in 2010, we abolished 96% of vocational qualifications so that we now offer high-quality and valuable qualifications, which employers value. That is also why we also focused on dramatically increasing the quality of apprenticeships.

I hope the noble Lords will recognise that enabling more pupils to leave school having studied a basic academic core is a commitment of the Government—and why we are doing this—which does not preclude the study of additional subjects, particularly creative ones. I am quite sure we can have 90% of pupils taking EBacc; I have absolutely no doubt. I know the noble Lord, Lord Watson, does not like me referring to anecdotes, but when we first arrived at Pimlico Academy in 2008 I remember asking the teachers why so many pupils were doing BTECs. Although the answers came couched in a lot of very politically correct words, they basically said that the pupils could not manage “study” subjects. Well, the same kind of pupils are now managing big time and getting into universities and on career paths which were not previously available to them. From my own experience, children never disappoint if you give them enough challenge and satisfy their curiosity. It may be that when we have 90% of pupils taking the EBacc that we can look again at the incentives that we place in the system and we will, of course, respond to the consultation, but I am satisfied that broadly, for the moment, we have our incentives right and I thank all noble Lords for participating in today’s debate.

Sitting suspended.