That this House takes note of the impact of the English Baccalaureate on the take-up of creative and technical subjects, and the case for broadening the curriculum to create a coherent and unified 14 to 19 phase.
My Lords, I begin this debate by declaring my relevant interests: I am a governor of Bexhill Academy and chair of the Suffolk Youth Pledge. I am grateful for the opportunity to have this important debate and I look forward to all noble Lords’ contributions and thank them for the time that they have invested in preparing to take part. I also thank the many organisations that have sent briefings, which show that they really understand the challenges faced by our education establishments, employers and young people.
Today we will debate the impact of the English Baccalaureate on the take-up of creative and technical subjects and the case for broadening the curriculum to create a coherent and unified 14 to 19 phase. Looking back on previous Questions and debates on this subject, I am mindful that we would do well not to repeat much of those previous contributions. I think, however, that this hope might be too ambitious—so no promises, but let us try. I also hope that we can debate this today in the spirit of how we help, and what is best for, our young people who are either entering, or are already in our education system, to ensure that we are preparing them for a future in which they can compete with the knowledge, skills and confidence to succeed and be full of hope and aspiration. Let us make the facts speak for themselves.
I think it might be helpful for me to outline why I wanted to hold this debate. The economy needs businesses at this time—they are a main contributor to achieving a good economy and, in order to do so, they need people in their workforce who are well educated, both academically and technically, and are motivated and highly skilled. Building such a workforce starts at the earliest point of a young person’s education. Not all pupils—and I count myself here—thrive and succeed in a purely academic environment. Many are suited to one that is more technical and practical. For young people in this category, it can be apparent at a very early stage that it would be helpful for them to start their journey on that route sooner rather than later. Our education system does a good job for the majority but, for those who are not suited to a purely academic future, it sometimes does not do all that it could. Let me say now that I am not knocking the EBacc, but asking for it to be able to accommodate more GCSEs that employers in the creative industries need for their workforce and that, for those who need it, the journey will start sooner rather than later.
Originally it was the Government’s plan for 75% of young people to study the EBacc by 2022, rising to 90% in 2025. I understand that the Department for Education has now confirmed that:
“In the light of the consultation responses, we have also decided that it is not appropriate to expect the same rates of EBacc entry from UTCs, studio schools and further education colleges with key stage 4 provision as in mainstream schools. The pupil cohorts in these education settings will therefore not be included in the calculation of the 75% ambition for 2022, or the 90% ambition for 2025”.
I thank the Government and congratulate them on taking account of this issue raised in the consultation and on their decision. I also take this opportunity to thank the Minister and his colleagues for all their efforts to ensure that we have a system that is fit for purpose. On the face of it, I think the decision means that UTCs, studio schools and further education colleges are now exempt from this performance measure. It would be helpful if the Minister could confirm that I have understood this correctly and that performance at these establishments will be reported on the basis that they are exempt, because, if not, they will appear to be failing when they are not.
I used to be a patron of a studio school that tragically closed. There were many reasons for that, not just one. However, if the change in reporting to which I have previously referred had been in place, the school’s success would have been more appreciated. In fact, for every year that the school operated as a studio school, every single one of its graduates went on to higher education at the establishment of their choice: none went into clearing. In 2016, the studio school was the 15th in the country for pupil progress from 16 to 19, and in 2017, every student got A* or distinction in theatre arts. As I understand it, it was the best in the county.
Studio schools were established to be industry-facing schools and align their curriculum with the needs of the current and future labour markets. The creative industries have long been recognised as a sector which can provide rewarding careers for young people, and many studio schools have focused on these industries. Subjects taught at these schools have been carefully selected with significant input from the creative industries, both nationally and locally. If I have understood the position correctly, there has been no demand from employers to teach the EBacc. Indeed, often there is resistance rather than demand. However, I acknowledge that many students studying EBacc at A-level have found that that opens up a wider range of opportunities as regards their choice of university.
I know that all noble Lords are distressed, as I am, that our noble friend Lady Fookes has been very unwell for such a long time. In fact, at one point I thought that we were going to lose her, but noble Lords would expect her to fight back and that is exactly what she is doing. I know that she is on the mend because she sent me a message this morning to tell me that she was very sorry she could not be present for this debate but that, if she could have been here, she would have said the following: “The point I would make is that discovering and encouraging artistic talent in unlikely places is extremely difficult and does not lend itself to the methods used for measuring intellectual ability. It’s like chasing a will o’ the wisp”. I am sure that we wish my noble friend a continued recovery.
Across the country, the engineering, manufacturing and creative sectors are critical to the success of our economy. Combined, they are worth more than £500 billion—29% of the overall economy. The challenges facing our economy need no repeating in this debate. We know that we need to develop our home-grown talent to ensure that we produce a highly motivated and skilled workforce. We need to build on the progress made on the skills agenda and we need to make sure that the EBacc reflects the needs of the industry and fulfils the aspirations and abilities of young people so that they can play their part in this critically important workforce.
I am very sad to say that between 2010 and 2017, total entries for GCSE creative subjects have fallen by 28%. I do not want to be too dramatic but I shall provide some context for that. It equates to about 181,000 GCSE entries. The most dramatic drop is in design and technology, which shows a drop in take-up of some 116,000 entries, equating to 43%.
It is argued that the EBacc is just a core and that pupils are able to study creative and technical GCSEs in addition. For most young people who study nine to 10 GCSEs, this may well be true. However, the lowest quartile of attainers take an average of six to seven GCSEs each, ironically making the narrow academic EBacc the whole diet for those young people, who are more at risk of disengagement but may be wholly suited to a career in the creative industries if they follow the right route.
While 40% of young people across the country are now entered for the EBacc range of subjects, just 26% pass it—I understand that is increasing—so we run the risk of creating a generation of young people who either have a narrow range of academic skills or will feel that they have already failed at the age of 16. We cannot have that and we must avoid it.
I looked at what other people have said, as that is important. As the Social Mobility Commission has recognised, the EBacc is a recipe for some young people’s disengagement. In my time at Tomorrow’s People, I saw the impact this had on the lives of young people. There is a solution worthy of our consideration. I would like us to broaden the EBacc to include a creative and a technical subject to give every young person a truly broad, relevant and balanced curriculum.
In preparing for this debate, I looked at what works well in other countries. There is evidence from Germany that a more academic curriculum resulted in an increase in disengagement with school and attendance drop-off. This led me to look at what was happening around the world. I thank the Edge Foundation for giving me some very good information. In a passage from one of its papers headed, “Learning from world leaders”, we read:
“England is one of a handful of countries where 16 is the strict dividing line between lower and upper secondary education. Elsewhere in Europe, choices are usually made earlier”.
One example of this is Austria. The facilities in Austria for young people to enter an engineering career cover the following: classroom tuition, practical experience in workshops, a range of equipment for manufacturing and measuring metal and plastic components, IT and computer-aided design. This has contributed to Austria having one of the lowest youth unemployment rates in the EU. In countries where a high proportion of students choose a technical and vocational path, there are often lower rates of youth unemployment and vice versa.
Our Government’s technical education reforms are to be welcomed and built on, but, in summary, the impact of the EBacc could be seen as not meeting the needs of employers in a market with great economic growth and potential; not preparing some young people to meet their aspirations and potential in a predominantly academic system; a significant reduction in GCSE take-up, which has a negative impact on employers having the highly motivated and skilled workforce they need; and not starting early enough for many young people, thus making them follow a route which, for them, is not fit for purpose.
There is much to be proud of with the EBacc. Let us build on what we have to ensure that we give up the best to get the better and have a system that includes high-quality employer engagement and careers advice and provides a broad and balanced curriculum which suits all young people. It needs to culminate in a coherent and wide-ranging true baccalaureate and be judged on the strength of young people’s successful destinations into apprenticeships, university and work.
A cross-party group from this House meets informally to discuss this issue. Would the Minister like to join us for one of those meetings? I do not say that because we want to put on a performance, bang the table or jump up and down; we are way past that sort of thing. However, I think that we would all find the Minister’s comments helpful and would hope that they would move us forward. I beg to move.
My Lords, there is an advisory speaking time of seven minutes for Back-Bench speeches for this debate. However, there has been a reappraisal in the Whips’ Office of the mathematical formula and I am pleased to inform the House that the speaking time is now eight minutes. However, speeches should be wound up as the clock reaches eight.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Viscount on his maths. I also congratulate the noble Baroness on securing this important debate and on the excellent way in which she has introduced it. I remind your Lordships of my interests in respect of my employment as the chief education adviser at TES.
This debate goes right to the heart of what we think the vision for schooling in this country and the curriculum should be. I have ringing in my ears the voices of a discussion that I hosted this morning. Andreas Schleicher, the head of education at the OECD, led that stimulation for us. He talked about the exponential change going on across sectors throughout the world, particularly in the world of work, largely driven by technology. There is massive change everywhere except in education, where not a lot changes generation by generation. He said he thought that there was a risk of schooling becoming obsolescent in our digital age.
This debate goes to the heart of whether we think that schooling is about churning out children whom we define as “educated”—as being familiar with a canon of knowledge that they have an ability to recall at will at small desks in large sports halls in June, and whether, in turn, their ability to perform in those exams can work as a sort of academic sift. We have a system designed around sifting, rather than developing, people so that they can then go to university—probably 40% of them and, if we were ambitious in my day, perhaps 50%.
However, I question whether that is still valid. The person who will be babysitting in our home on Sunday is a very bright 20 year-old with excellent A-levels. She is now in the Civil Service and has worked in the private office of a Cabinet Minister and, post the Brexit referendum, she worked for the Department for International Trade on trade negotiations. She now has another excellent job, while her friends from school are saddling themselves with huge amounts of debt and are looking jealously at her career progression. The assumptions about a sifting system to get us into a university system that is starting to creak need to be challenged.
At the same time, that system obviously fails around 40% of young people who miss the sift. They do not get the five A* to C equivalents at GCSE. They are pushed through an accountability system that is getting tighter and tighter around test recall, and they are turned off learning in the way that the noble Baroness described. Yet what they really need for their future in the workforce is a love of learning, because they will be cycling through multiple careers.
The person who has just refitted our bathroom is an excellent plasterer, electrician and plumber, and his tiling is superb. He is a Bulgarian who fully qualified as a veterinary surgeon. He is not going to continue with his building skills because his wife, who is a lawyer in Moscow, is not allowed a visa to come to live in this country, so he is moving to Moscow to set up two internet businesses with a Chinese partner. That will be his third career, and he is not unusual in this world. We do not have an education system that prepares people to reinvent themselves in the way that we need them to do.
Instead, that 40% who are turned off by the system are channelled into work-related learning. Why is not everybody channelled into work-related learning? We have heard how important the creative sector, the manufacturing sector and the technical sectors are to around a third of our economy, yet the higher-performing people have no learning relevant to work; it is all about relevance to going to university.
The noble Baroness talked about design and technology and the fact that in the last seven years there has been a 43% drop in GCSE entries in those subjects. The device on which I have the notes for my speech was designed, along with all the other Apple products, by a British hero, Sir Jony Ive. His dad was a design and technology Ofsted inspector. A Christmas treat for Jony was to work in the labs in his dad’s school during the holidays, and Jony did a degree at what was Newcastle Polytechnic. He has changed the world through design and technology. This country has a rich tradition in design and technology, yet we do not have room for it in the curriculum in many of our schools. We need young people to be confident in the human skills of empathy and of getting wisdom from reflection through the creative subjects in particular, and they need to have the resilience to deal with the changes that are coming thick and fast in our society.
Today, Andreas Schleicher talked about a curriculum that is a mile wide and an inch deep. I worry about just extending the EBacc into some more subjects, because I worry about the level of prescription to which we already require our teachers to adhere. Then, at 16, we go all of a sudden from width into great depth, which, compared with what happens internationally, is very unusual.
We will also be creating a binary choice for children when the T-levels come in in 2020. They will have to decide at the age of 16 whether they are going to be academic or technical. Incidentally, I do not know how the T-levels will work against apprenticeships, with employers being asked to take on work experience people for T-levels or for more directly vocational qualifications. I would love the Minister to tell us how that middle route will be any better than or different from the diplomas which I was responsible for steering through and which ended up not really taking off because of a change of Government. I do not know whether, having got their kids into a great school at 11, parents will be aspirational to allow them to leave at the age of 16 to go to college to pursue a middle-level qualification that is not quite vocational and not quite academic.
Instead, I would love to see us collapse a lot of the curriculum, free up the 14 to 19 phase, get rid of GCSEs at 16 altogether and have a free run at it, embracing UTCs and studio schools. I would love us to have some public examinations at 14 to test the recall of a broad and balanced curriculum, but then to free up and trust teachers to build their professionalism and collaborate, as we see them doing in Shanghai and Singapore. Teachers there are trying to learn from what we used to do with creativity. Then, we can not only give employers, with their increasing frustrations, what they want from a schooling system but we can give our young people the best possible chance to live fulfilling lives and make a meaningful contribution to our society.
My Lords, I join in thanking the noble Baroness for this very important debate at a time when, against the backdrop of Brexit, this country’s need to build on its skill base is ever more important.
I begin with two facts, one of which I mention often, and it has already been referred to by the noble Baroness. It is that the creative industries are the fastest-growing sector of our economy. However, there are currently 17 creative roles on the Government’s shortage occupation list, yet there is hard evidence that creative subjects are being squeezed out of the school curriculum.
Clearly, something is awry, and this appears to be the EBacc. It includes computer science, which is vital to our creative economy, but not any creative subjects. As we have argued often from these Benches, this is a serious omission. Our creative industries are hungry for talent and skills and they are crucial for the future prosperity of this country.
Darren Henley, now chief executive of Arts Council England, back in 2012 in his review into cultural education, noted that this area of cultural education,
“is no longer valued as much as it once was”,
and, further, the EBacc system has so far led to creative subjects being abandoned by state schools. Five years on, there is no improvement. The GCSE results for 2016-17 show a great drop in the uptake of creative and artistic subjects. I will not requote the figures because we have already heard them from the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott.
Yet it is a fact that schools providing high-quality cultural education get better academic results across the board, not least, in my view—I think that the noble Lord, Lord Knight, said the same thing—because it inculcates a love of learning. It is a fact that private schools entice parents with access to culture. Thomas’s Battersea, so much in the news at the moment, offers alongside the national curriculum specialist teachers in art, ballet, drama, ICT and music. Does the Minister agree that what is offered to a Prince should be offered to all?
The Government’s long-awaited response to the EBacc consultation appears not to accept this, and the DfE data publication to which it refers insists:
“There is little correlation between the change in EBacc entry and the change in arts uptake in state-funded schools”.
Can the Minister explain why this does not take into account figures from before the introduction of the EBacc in 2011, or indeed the latest figures from Ofqual, as mentioned earlier by the noble Baroness, and why the DfE excludes design and technology from the list of subjects included in its analysis despite it being the hardest hit subject and such an essential part of the creative process, as the noble Lord, Lord Knight, has mentioned.
The Minister may suggest that it is up to the individual schools as to what is on their syllabus, but there is no incentive for them to offer creative subjects. There are 119 accountability measures that a state secondary school has to consider, and not one of them pertains to the arts. The fact is, as that great creative figure Grayson Perry has said:
“If arts subjects aren’t included in the Ebacc, schools won’t stop doing them overnight. But there will be a corrosive process, they will be gradually eroded ... By default, resources won’t go into them”.
That is backed up by the principal of Ferrers art college, who has,
“spoken to many headteachers who are cutting subjects … in order to feed into the EBacc … So … now the school is saying, geography is in the EBacc, drama isn’t, we really, really recommend you do geography”.
We on these Benches believe in STEAM not STEM. The success of those in the creative industries lies in a fusion of creative and technological skills. It was this fusion that fuelled the first Industrial Revolution. The Victorians understood this. They had a Science and Art Department and invested in what was to become the V&A in order to develop the skills needed to feed British industry. In today’s world, in what is referred to as the fourth industrial revolution, inventors recognise the need for creative skills to maximise the potential of their products, and they are working in ever closer collaboration with those who possess these skills, and vice versa. Notions of “us and them”—a perceived opposition between those who practise science and those who practice the arts—are being proved obsolete.
To ensure that our next generation is a generation of creators, schools need to be encouraged to promote not just either science or art but the arts-science crossover. I know the Government believe, as we all do, in the need for the pursuit of knowledge, but it is unnecessary for bogus battle lines to be drawn between the learning of fact and creative interpretation.
It seems a long time ago, but it was actually the beginning of this year, when the Prime Minister acknowledged the need for investment in skills. She said:
“We will go further to reform our schools to ensure every child has the knowledge and the skills they need to thrive in post-Brexit Britain”.
She also said:
“A Global Britain must also be a country that looks to the future. That means being one of the best places in the world for science and innovation”.
The emphasis on science and innovation is right, but does the Minister accept that the creative industries are an integral part? Does he also accept that the recent proposed reforms of the EBacc will not achieve the Prime Minister’s stated aims and should not be implemented?
Instead, we on these Benches, support the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and the Edge Foundation’s new Baccalaureate, which delivers, as it says in its report,
a very good word—
“curriculum which provides a solid academic core alongside creative and technical subjects”—
and one which, crucially,
“links to the needs of the economy”.
We are a creative isle. Our arts and culture enrich us both literally and metaphorically as well as economically. We have hugely successful industries spawned on the back of our creativity that have generated soft power. However, unless nurtured and encouraged, we risk losing at this crucial stage in our history a great success story.
My Lords, I am glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott has secured this debate. By her laying down an alternative point of view, as the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, has also done, one of the things this debate provokes—perhaps even more than is usual in education debates—is the fundamental question of what is and is not a good education for our children; and, furthermore, is that not the education they are currently receiving?
I want to try to answer these questions myself by using as a starting point a couple of things that School Standards Minister Nick Gibb has said this year. The first, which is in the excellent Library briefing, is from the Written Statement of 19 July of this year repeated in this House. It stated that the EBacc subjects,
“are the core of a rounded and well balanced education that should be the entitlement of the vast majority of pupils”.
The noble Lord, Lord Nash, has repeated on a number of occasions that he thinks that what is being offered is a rounded education.
The other is from comments made by Nick Gibb at Chobham Academy in east London and reported last week in the Times Educational Supplement. He said:
“If you keep the Ebacc small enough … and don’t give in to the temptation to add more and more subjects to that core, you … enable pupils to also take a vocational subject … to take arts to GCSE, and that’s really what lies behind the whole Ebacc policy”.
I too believe passionately in a rounded education—I will say why in a moment—but the first and most obvious thing to say is that by including sciences but not the arts within the core subjects then, by definition, you are not facilitating a rounded or well-balanced education because you are elevating the one thing above the other. This seems to me so obvious that it is difficult to understand why the Government are doing what they are doing.
However, in his other comments, Nick Gibb makes a distinction between core and vocational subjects—which is a distinction that people make. Not everyone who studies the arts goes on to become a professional artist or a professional musician, just as not everyone who studies the sciences or mathematics becomes, in the most specialised sense, a scientist or a mathematician. Indeed, in all these cases they are in the minority. The underlying assumption is of course that, as subjects to study and understand, the so-called “vocational subjects”—a term I would dispute—are not worthy of study to the same extent, the prejudice, as we know, being towards the inherent form of the knowledge imparted.
However, education is not just learning towards a specialisation or even a practice—although the Minister would do well to take on board many of the noble Baroness’s arguments in this respect. It also means that through studying subjects you will become part of the audience for them. This, in my view, is the meaning of education for its own sake, a phrase we do not hear often enough these days. This is the process of literacy which enriches society as a whole—meaning also, in the case of the arts, it should not just be a minority of privileged students who can afford, for example, music lessons through private schooling or private tuition, but all students.
I would say that, without even considering yet evidence that the EBacc is harming creative subjects, the Government’s set of core subjects which represents a very particular vision of education—supposedly the right requirement for entry into a certain group of universities—is simply wrong from the outset. Wrong because it is restricted and restrictive—perhaps any set of core subjects is—and curiously standing in contrast to other courses around the world which prepare students for university and other colleges, such as the International Baccalaureate, which assumes that creative subjects will be studied up to pre-university level.
At some stage students want to specialise. We might argue when that should be but they should not be forced into a box—which is what the EBacc is—but able to make their own choices, and to do so from the more powerful position of an already wide-ranging education.
The EBacc may be a performance measure and entered by less than 40% of pupils in state schools, but it is the culture that the EBacc represents that is being instilled in and felt by schools, with creative subjects being squeezed out of the teaching day. To answer my second question: yes, of course the EBacc is now having a huge effect and schoolchildren are not getting the education that even the Government say they should be getting. For example, a new Norwich University of the Arts study on Norfolk schools finds that since 2010 there has been a decrease of 40% in staffing in art and design and/or design and technology. Design and technology has 25% fewer teachers with 23% fewer teaching hours. A similar story is being revealed by a growing number of studies. The National Society for Education in Art and Design’s survey of teachers last year,
“told us that the implementation of the EBacc has reduced opportunities for young people of all abilities to select art and design at GCSE”.
A study by the University of Sussex of more than 700 schools in England shows a decline in music in the curriculum. Across the country there are significant falls in the number of hours taught, a decline in specialist teachers, in teachers overall, and in resources.
There are also knock-on effects within the system. The City of London Corporation briefing notes, which we probably all received, talk about the Guildhall School of Music and Drama’s concern at the decline in good students from state schools. And of course we are seeing dramatic falls in the take-up of creative subjects at GCSE, the figures for which were quoted by the noble Baroness. Evidence of the decline of creative subjects in our schools is becoming a torrent. How will Ofsted reflect the Government’s EBacc policy in its inspection procedures, as it has promised to do? How will non-EBacc subjects not then start to be neglected?
In the interests of a rounded education, as the Norwich University of the Arts paper recommends, what is urgently required is parity of esteem between creative and STEM subjects. This will be achieved only through radically reforming, or better still scrapping, the EBacc.
My Lords, when I was helping to fashion the national curriculum in the 1980s, I selected 10 subjects. The basic subjects were English, maths and science and seven more to ensure a rounded education, with art and other creative subjects among them. The idea was to prepare GCSEs for the 10 subjects and hope that 70% of schools could reach the standard. In fact it proved to be too ambitious. You do not have to worry too much about bright children because they will survive any education system, and that is true right across the world—if they are not neglected they will do very well. I was more concerned about the long tail of underachievers who were not coping with such a demanding curriculum. So I very much welcomed the Dearing report in 2003 which recommended a simplification of the curriculum. Certain subjects like history, geography and a foreign language were made voluntary, as it were, at GCSE. The world did not fall apart because of that. There was a much greater variety of GCSEs; indeed too many were rather light and careless ones which were quite properly excluded in 2010. On the whole, however, pupils got a much more rounded education as a result.
In 2010, Michael Gove decided to impose the EBacc on the education system. It covers just five subjects: English, maths, science, history or geography and a foreign language. Everyone is expected to take it. The EBacc is the policy of an American educationist called E D Hirsch. There are very few examples around the world where it has worked, but none the less it is what we have got, and of course it has had very serious consequences. As all the speakers in the debate have said, a whole range of subjects have been dropped. From 2010 until now, art, music, drama and dance have all declined at GCSE; that is irrefutable. I am very concerned about design and technology, a subject that I introduced in 1988, where the take-up has fallen by 30%.
By the age of 16, many youngsters will not have had any experience of a technical education at all. It is not surprising that that is in huge contrast to Germany where by the age of 18, some 70% of young people have had experience of a technical education, while in Britain it is 30%. The policy of the Government is to expand technical education, so what proposals does the Minister have to arrest the decline in design and technology? For example, could a bursary be given to teachers of design and technology similar to those which are available to the teachers of maths and physics? There should be a policy to reverse this decline.
The other subject that worries me considerably is the status of computing. At GCSE there are two exams—computer science, which is a tough exam, and a less tough one in IT. This year the take-up of the tough exam rose by 4,000 but the easier one fell by 11,000. This July, 7,000 fewer students took an exam in computing. This is the digital revolution and the Government have a digital strategy, so where do those figures fit into the strategy? I am very concerned about that. The charity I chair wants a fundamental change, but I do not think that this Government are going to bring one in. Perhaps we could settle for something that would move towards it.
At this point I want to put a positive proposal to the Minister. It is not a wrecking proposal, but a positive and helpful one. The concept of a choice between subjects in the EBacc is already in place because students must choose whether to study history or geography. Why can there not be a choice between a foreign language and computing? Some 300,000 students study a foreign language while only 65,000 take computing. It is more important that the students of today should have an understanding of a computer language than a smattering of a foreign language, particularly when we are on the edge of having instantaneous translation. It will soon be possible to speak in your own language and have it translated into the language of the person you are talking to, and his response translated into your own language. Given that, I do not believe that the importance of learning a foreign language is anything like as great as it was. This is a positive proposal and I hope that one day I might get a response to it.
The real problem with the Department for Education is that it is rather bifurcated. There is the side where my noble friend Lord Nash is—I should like to thank him for the very considerable support he has given to UTCs; he understands what we are trying to do—while the other side of the department is concerned with FE colleges and so on. At the moment they seem to be on different tracks. The FE side wants more apprentices, but if a student has studied only academic subjects up to the age of 16, it is very difficult for that student to be employed by someone as an apprentice. They have not had any practical experience. This is the great advantage of university technical colleges. By the age of 16, our students will have worked in teams on projects, something you do not get in normal schools. They will have worked on problem solving, something else you do not get in normal schools. They will have made things with their hands and designed things on a computer, which you do not get in normal schools any longer. These students are highly employable as apprentices.
By far the most remote UTC in the country is up on the energy coast near Sellafield. It is 100 miles away from the next UTC. In July this year, the school placed 59 apprentices, 30 of whom were 16 years old. No other school in the country will place anywhere near even 10 apprentices, let alone 59. If those young people had gone to normal schools in Cumbria, they would not be apprentices at 16. Employers want them because they have handled metal, they have designed things, they have solved problems, and they have experience of all those things which no longer happen in normal schools. This particular UTC also achieves a 96% pass rate in engineering and 80% in English and maths. Some sixth-formers took the triple A in engineering and they all got A*s. This simply would not have happened if they had been studying for the EBacc.
On most days the Minister likes UTCs and he knows what we are trying to do. There has to be a greater variety. We have to train youngsters today for the jobs of tomorrow, and not with the sort of curriculum that I studied years ago, which is what the EBacc is. In fact, it goes back even further. Its progenitor was the curriculum announced by a Minister at the board of education in 1904. It is word for word the same curriculum. Those who support the EBacc so strongly should perhaps ask why it has not worked well for 120 years and why are we still committed to it.
I hope that my proposal to offer a choice at the age of 16 between foreign languages and computing will be considered seriously by the Government.
My Lords, like most people speaking in this debate, I have form on this subject. We were warned by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, to try and avoid the dangers of repetition but I fear that that is inevitable and some things bear repeating. I congratulate and support the noble Baroness in bringing forward this important debate. I also express the hope that the Government, having unaccountably ignored my attempts to convince them up to now, will find some of the arguments put forward today more compelling coming from a distinguished member of their own Benches.
The noble Baroness focused her attention on the 14 to 19 curriculum and the EBacc. I agree with pretty much everything she said and with a great deal of what was said by other noble Lords. I hope the House will forgive me if I take the opportunity of the debate to look a little more widely, as the issues the noble Baroness and others identify stem from a broader problem that affects the whole school system: primary and secondary, not just 14 to 19. That problem is the consistent failure on the part of Governments for at least 20 years—obviously, I am not making a party-political point, although it has got a lot worse in the last few years—properly to grasp the value and significance of arts education, cultural and creative.
This has little if anything to do with the personal convictions of individual Ministers, many of whom over the years, including the noble Lord replying to this debate, have often been anxious to stress how much importance they attach to cultural studies. It has to do with policy and with a growing emphasis on education as a largely utilitarian process: information in, jobs out—not quite Gradgrind but uncomfortably close. This process was eloquently described by, among others, my noble friend Lord Knight and by the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty. A very experienced education practitioner of my acquaintance said to me only yesterday, “We have forgotten what education is for and that is bad for democracy”. That is an important point. When people are stuffed with information but do not have their imaginative and critical capacities enhanced to the same extent, they will not be able to make the kind of nuanced choices that a mature democracy requires of each and every one of us. We can see some of the effects of that before us right at this moment. That is deeply regrettable because ultimately, this undermines fair access to cultural capital, which, as we all know, is a crucial asset for young people to acquire if social mobility—mentioned before in this debate—is to have any meaning at all.
As an example, I refer briefly to my own grandchildren, who are currently at a maintained primary school in London. It is a perfectly all right school, there is nothing wrong with it at all, but it has limited access to music, drama or any other arts-based opportunities to offer its pupils. My granddaughter, who is nine, is an inexpert and not altogether always enthusiastic trumpet player. It is quite hard to persuade her to do her practice—this will be familiar to many noble Lords. This summer, she had the opportunity to spend a week at a brass academy at which pupils ranged from her at the bottom end on grade 1, right through to those about to go to conservatoires. She spent a week among these people and came away probably a slightly better trumpet player. What she certainly came away with was an experience that she really found, in her little way, life-changing. She learned, first, the real merits of working hard at something and getting better and, secondly, the merits of teamwork: working together in a band—literally a band—towards an aim. The aim was to produce a concert at the end of the week, which they did. Unfortunately I was not there, but I have seen the video and there at the back is this little girl, not a very good trumpet player but my goodness me, she is participating. She did not learn from that that she will have a career as a musician—she almost certainly will not—but she did learn an enormous amount that she will now feed back into the school community of which she is part.
Her brother is a keen footballer and gets a lot of the same things out of playing football. He also plays the piano because his parents understand the value of all of that being on offer to their children. They are not wealthy parents: one is a teacher, the other a performer—you can do the maths yourselves. However, they understand that importance. Not all children get this advantage from home. It is not just about money but about understanding how important it is for children to have these experiences. Schools should be able to reinforce that understanding and fill the gap where necessary, but they do not get the right level of encouragement to do so. Often, they would like to do more, as the unmet need for what the Royal Shakespeare Company’s associate schools programme can provide demonstrates, for example. I declare an interest as a member of the board of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
If you glance at any school prospectus, it will be full of lovely photographs. Are they of children taking exams? No, they are very often of a school orchestra—if there is one—a school play or some sporting achievement. Schools know what makes their offer attractive. Arts-based education is much more than just a nice-to-have extra. It enhances cultural capital and develops flexible, marketable skills such as those already mentioned: empathy, resilience and an ability to adapt. As already mentioned, there is a huge and diverse range of job opportunities available in the creative industries, which is a successful and growing part of our economy.
The inclusion of arts subjects in EBacc is important for its own sake and for the reasons amply demonstrated by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, and others. Should it come about, it would also exemplify a commitment from the Government to make clear the vital role arts subjects play in a fully rounded education at every level, from reception to A-level. Will the Minister commit to a simple first step by requiring Ofsted to withhold “outstanding” status from any school that does not provide a full range of creative opportunities, no matter how excellent other aspects of its provision may be? This really matters. The Government should say so unambiguously and make it stick.
My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Baroness obtained this debate, which she introduced so tellingly. I start with some good news about the EBacc, although I am not sure that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, will agree. Among the languages that can be included is Latin. Students taking advantage of this option may learn that the word “education” comes from the Latin “educare”, itself closely related to the similar verb “educere”, meaning “to draw or lead out”. That encapsulates what education should be about: drawing out people’s talent and potential to enable them to achieve what they are capable of, both for their own benefit and satisfaction, and for the society in which they live. Education should seek to identify and draw out the specific abilities of each individual to the fullest possible extent. It should encourage them to go as far as they are able in the fields they choose to study. Above all, it should foster the highest possible aspirations, so that learners reach beyond their comfort zones to achieve ambitious goals.
What sort of curriculum might best support these aims? I have no argument with the centrality of literacy and numeracy in the EBacc. However, given the ever-increasing importance of technology—here, I may be more in line with the noble Lord, Lord Baker—I would add digital skills and understanding to these fundamental requirements. Although computer science is among the science options for the EBacc, it is regrettable that some element of digital skills, including online safety and data protection, is not a mandatory requirement—not just for the EBacc but in all apprenticeships and technical education qualifications. Beyond that the crucial need is for the EBacc, as a qualification aiming ultimately for 90% take-up, to be sufficiently flexible to address the needs and aptitudes of all students, not just those looking to progress into careers via the higher education route.
One of the characteristics of an excellent school is its ability to draw out students with very varied interests and aspirations. I was lucky enough to go to a first-class school with a dauntingly high standard of academic performance for those whose talents lay in that direction, but at the same time offering outstanding facilities and tuition for development in other areas: sport, drama, art, music, design, engineering, becoming Prime Minister and more—your Lordships may hazard a guess at its identity. To my mind, a large part of Eton’s success is due to offering a broad enough range of curriculum options to attract, inspire and draw out students of widely differing dispositions and interests. Of course, few schools can offer as wide a range of options as Eton but all should go beyond the narrow scope of the EBacc.
I share the concern of other noble Lords that the EBacc as currently designed is likely to limit the range of aspiration and opportunity for many students—to box them in rather than drawing them out. It does not allow room for them to pursue different subjects better aligned with their own inclinations, particularly for less academic students who find it hard to manage even the minimum seven GCSE subjects necessary for the EBacc. Of course, there is nothing easy or undemanding about many of the creative subjects which are so deplorably absent from the EBacc. Music, my own passion, requires deep knowledge and understanding even for listening and proper appreciation—if I had more time, I might have been tempted to quote my hero Berlioz on that subject—quite apart from the advanced practical and technical skills required for performing or composing. On the educational benefits it can bring, let me quote Julian Lloyd Webber in a recent letter to the Times. Music, he said,
“develops areas of the brain related to language and reasoning, encourages memory skills, increases hand-to-eye coordination, expands creative thinking, builds self-confidence, and has been proven to help children with their other school subjects.”
It is perhaps no accident that the UK’s leading music conservatoires, 94% of whose students get jobs within six months of graduation, on average, rank among the top higher education performers in this respect. I am sure the Minister does not need reminding of the £87 billion of GVA that creative industries contribute to the UK economy, including £4.1 billion from music alone, or of the fact that businesses are crying out for creative and digital skills, as we have heard, with hundreds of thousands of unfilled vacancies in these areas.
One of the most troubling aspects of the absence of creative subjects from the EBacc is the disproportionate effect this will have on the opportunities available to students from disadvantaged or less well-off backgrounds. Leading schools and affluent parents can always ensure their children have access to arts and creative subjects, outside school if necessary. Far from enhancing social mobility, the EBacc proposal as it stands seems likely to widen the opportunity gap between the haves and the have-nots. Surely, the Minister would not adopt what might have been Marie-Antoinette’s reaction to such a situation: “Let them learn Latin”.
I will conclude with one point that puzzles me. The Government rightly seek to transform post-16 technical education to align it much more closely with the needs of employers and move it towards greater parity of esteem with academic education. This is laudable and should open new opportunities for numerous, often less academic, students. But how can this eminently sensible and long-overdue reform be reconciled with the intention to require 90% of students before the age of 16 to follow the much more restrictive and inflexible EBacc path? I hope this debate may elicit an answer from the Minister. More importantly, I hope that with his clear and admirable commitment to improving our education system, he will look for ways of broadening and improving the EBacc, for example on the lines suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, and others in this debate.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott for giving us the opportunity of this debate and I declare my interest as editor of the Good Schools Guide and parent of a 14 year-old.
I am unusual in this debate, in that I am a fan of the EBacc. In a fast-changing world, an academic education is as good a foundation as you can offer any child. I share the Government’s estimation that eventually, we might be able to offer that to—I say “offer to” rather than “impose on”—90% of children. There is a lot to do to get there but we are doing a lot. A lot of good things are happening in education and I am very cheered by a move to evidence-based practices, but there really is a lot to do. I listened to a 16 year-old today who had just moved from a Kent comprehensive to a Kent grammar. She said to me, “At last, I can ask a question without losing my friends”. When education at that sort of level has a disdain of academic success, I really feel that there is potential to improve.
Because I believe in the EBacc, I am an immense opponent of having more grammar schools. I cannot begin to understand how the Government reconcile their ambitions for the EBacc with the creation of selection for the top 25%. Nor can I understand how they continue with comparable outcomes as a measure at GCSE. What is the point in thinking that you can give 90% of children an academic education if the system of scoring in the exams means not more than 60% can succeed? These dissonances at the heart of the Government’s education policy need sorting out but I still support the EBacc.
Beyond the EBacc, we all need a strong, creative part to our lives. As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said, we need what we individually do best to be valued while we are at school. It is an enormous motivator; if you are good at art and art is valued at school, it really helps you to do well in your academic subjects. It gives you confidence and impetus, so we must not lose the breadth and the art content, particularly in 11 to 16 education.
However, we do not deal with it best by fighting over how much more we can stuff into the pie and what we should chuck out. I will go with George W. Bush on this: we must make the pie higher. There are lots of ways of doing this and I will suggest a few to my noble friend. There should be a real, concentrated effort to reduce teacher workload so that they have more space to bring their passions into it. There is an overemphasis on marking but some interesting things are going on: the Michaela school, for instance, is really working to reduce it. We should pick out good practice on how to chuck the time-consuming rubbish out of teaching GCSEs. For instance, there is excellent work going on with the alternative qualifications created by Sevenoaks and Bedales. They show the way and we should pick up on that. There should be much more technology. If we really get assessment techniques so that an essay can be evaluated properly, rather than reducing it to, “Did you introduce these six forms of grammar and five points about the subject?”, that will make a great difference.
We can bring creativity into a lot of subjects which it has been excluded from. If you go to the American School in London, you will find that in the course of its art lessons they cover the physics of light, the chemistry of colour, the biology of sight and the mathematics of perspective. They link across the curriculum; that way, you get creativity running out into the science subjects. Sir Anthony Seldon is quite right that a lot is coming down the line from technology, which we will see in the next 10 years. I have seen my daughter pick up something from YouTube videos in no time at all, while most of the people who give us trouble in hacking scenarios have learned that all online. No teachers have been involved at all; it has been a totally online experience. Bringing that sort of thing into schools will enable more breadth and a greater density of teaching.
On good discipline, there has been a great Twitterstorm about a school in Norfolk that went overboard on that, but there are still too many schools where the discipline does not allow concentrated learning.
Another way is broader university courses. So much of the focus in school comes down to the fact that universities are selecting on just one subject, so GCSEs focus down to A-levels that focus down to university. That is entirely contrary to people’s interest in a varied life. They need to keep a broader base. There needs to be some breadth to university courses. Even if you are studying history, you need a bit of science, arts and business in there somewhere if you are really to flourish afterwards. You ought not to have to pick them up afterwards.
We also need collaboration. There is a marvellous experiment going on in Plymouth that I urge my noble friend to visit. The whole city—businesses, the city authorities, higher education, further education, the university technical college and the schools—has come together to help kids who need to have a space to exercise their programming skills and be valued for them. When you get the whole city working together like that, there is so much more you can do than if you try to break things into little bits. It offers enormous opportunity in science, English and other areas to bring practical experience into GCSE and A-levels and broaden people’s experience. Switzerland does that much better than us. Early involvement with the real world is something to aim for.
We need state school/private school partnerships. I know my noble friend listened to a lecture on those yesterday. If you are looking for access to the arts, as Thomas’s Battersea does, open out your extraordinary facilities to local state schools.
As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said, Ofsted is crucial in this. Only it has a mechanism to force schools to keep breadth in 11 to 14 key stage 3. It ought to be communicating much better with parents about what is going on in schools. The whole Ofsted model needs to be revisited so that it is much more ongoing, rather than the just once every five or 10 years we are stuck with at the moment.
We really need to support the Careers & Enterprise Company on the skills passport. It produces a mechanism for things outside the EBacc that are to be valued.
Finally, we need really to focus on the measures we are imposing on schools in league tables. We need to make sure that what they are incentivising is in the interests of the child, not the school. What we have seen revealed in Orpington in the past week or two is not uncommon, and we have to root it out.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness on securing this debate. We share an interest in this area, and I like to think of her as a friend as well. I declare an interest as chair of the governing body of my local primary school. I have been on the governing body for a while, but as there was a vacancy, I thought I would try my hand at chairing it. It has been an interesting challenge. I was reflecting on the point made by my noble friend Lady McIntosh about the importance of the arts when watching a recent school play in which about 100 young children took part. They were singing and dancing in a production written and devised by a previous deputy head who still comes back to the school to produce it. It brings joy to the heart to see those children, and you just hope that when they transfer they will not lose that joy in artistic creation. Surely that should be part of our aims and objectives.
What are the Government’s objectives? They are clearly set out in their consultation response and reflect the manifesto ambitions. They include that 75% of year 10 pupils in state-funded mainstream schools start to study for GCSEs in the EBacc combination of subjects by September 2022 and that 90% of them do so in 2025. I looked at the opening paragraph of the statement by the Minister for Education and I like it. It says that we need to become a great meritocracy and,
“need an education system which ensures that everyone has a fair chance to go as far as their talent and hard work will allow. We need to remove the barriers that stop people from being the best they can be, and ensure that all children are given the same chances through education to succeed”.
Who could quarrel with that in its broad thrust? However, we have to ask whether the EBacc approach creates that kind of meritocracy. If we examine it, I do not think it does. That is the problem. It is all focused on narrow, academic achievement leading to a degree qualification. It is what I call a shoehorn approach, predicated on the view that the vast majority of pupils—90%—will benefit from the EBacc as one size fits nearly all. I do not often differ from the noble Lord, Lord Baker, but when he used the phrase “bright children”, I worried a bit because it made me think that perhaps the rest of them are not so bright. I know he did not mean it in that context, but my quarrel with it is that it assumes that all children develop in a similar way, and we know that they do not. It is not a question of whether they are academic, but sometimes they will develop more slowly and sometimes they will have a different range of skills and talents. If we are serious about developing an education system that will be a genuine meritocracy and will release all those talents and skills, we must make sure that this is the right approach. I think it is too narrow, and I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that we should make the pie higher. It is just too narrow. I hope that the Minister will reflect on this debate.
As my noble friend Lord Knight said, it is not what all employers want. It is not just about qualifications. There are other essential skills—I always bridle when I hear people talk about soft skills as they are not soft skills; they are essential skills—such as the ability to communicate, to work as part of a team, to create, to problem-solve, to learn in a workplace environment and to participate in lifelong learning. Are we to assume that if you are not part of the 90% taking EBacc you have failed? I do not think that is what the Government believe or intend, but, I was somewhat surprised to see no mention of apprenticeships or the Government’s much-heralded T-levels in the Government’s consultation response. I assume that the target of 3 million apprenticeships during this Parliament is still an objective. If we look at the demographics of a number of key industries—they have already been cited here today, so I am not going to go through them again—we know we are going to need huge numbers of high-grade technicians and a lot more people in the creative and arts environment because we know how important it is to the economy. We surely want them to go down the apprenticeship route, starting at 16, 18 or whenever. That is essential, with the added bonus that apprentices can earn while they learn and enhance their job prospects.
Nobody has mentioned the B word during this debate, and I hesitate to do so, but whatever happens, whether we get a hard Brexit or a soft Brexit, one thing is for sure: we need more of our own home-grown skills. I have never understood where the academy for Polish plumbers is, but it must be bloody—pardon me, very—successful in the numbers that it turns out, and now there is a Bulgarian academy as well. I say that not really in jest because there is a genuine need to ensure that more young people take on these skills. I thank the Edge Foundation for the document it produced. I am going to cut short some of the points in it because I have not got time, but it makes a point about the decline in design and technology, and the Government need to take that very seriously. The document notes that Alan Milburn’s Social Mobility Commission recognised that,
“there is a risk that an inflexible EBacc will disengage some children. There is some evidence from Germany that a more academic curriculum resulted in an increase in disengagement with school and an attendance drop off”.
The good news is that on page 16 of the Government’s response, they recognise that there are alternative educational routes which do not need to apply the EBacc formula and assessment. I hope they will answer the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, about what they are going to do with UTCs, studio schools and so on. I hope that they will recognise that there are alternative educational routes leading to very good careers.
How can we measure success? We can measure it when young people have real choice in education and career paths—all young people, including those who perhaps have been statemented, those who suffer either physical or mental disabilities—and when vocational education is seen as a valid choice that may eventually lead to a degree. Perhaps, in the final analysis, we would be able to see the numbers of those who are not in education, work or training, come down to a minimum. That is when we will be able to say that we have succeeded.
I congratulate the noble Baroness on this really interesting discussion. It one of those discussions that you think will go in one direction, but before you can turn around, it is going in all directions and covering virtually everything that we need to think about that is coming in the world in the next 10 or 20 years. Mark Carney said at the Roscoe lecture a few months ago that over the next 10 or 20 years, 50% of all jobs that are now considered white-collar or middle-class jobs will disappear. But what will they be replaced with? That is why this debate is one of the most significant. I was in a debate last week about overcrowded prisons. I know the answer to the problem of overcrowded prisons: it is to do something about the education system. As Justine Greening admitted to me, given that 37% of our children fail at school and then become 80% of our prison population et cetera, we can see the importance of education. We can see that education is important not just because it will give you a good job but because it will give you a good chunk of humanity.
I have to declare that, in spite of appearances, I am a young father. I have a 10 year-old and a 12 year-old. When I realised that my children suffered some of the dyslexia that I suffer from—it was picked up a bit earlier—I took them out of the state system and put them into a Steiner school. Now, Steiner schools are very strange schools, often described as the kind of school you put your children in if you want them to grow up as hippies. I am quite happy that my children will grow up as hippies, as long as they do not harm anybody in the process. In Germany, for instance, a lot of state schools are Steiner schools, and there are many other examples. On their first day of school, my children picked corn—or wheat, or whatever—broke it down and separated it. Then what did they do? They made flour and bread—on their first day at school. On their second day at school, they were in the woods, finding out about the difference between the trees—a bit like in South America where, if you happen to be a young child up the Amazon, you will know, by the age of four, 300 or 400 different trees. We have to find a way. This is where the Government will find it very difficult because Governments are rather cumbersome thinkers and have to go on results and things that add up. But we are moving into an intellectual revolution that has to be reflected in the way we educate our children.
Maybe I should not say this because it is on the record, but my children are two of the most refined creatures I have met. They are 10 and 12 years old, and if you meet them—I hope some of your Lordships will—you will find that they know how to relate to human beings, including adults. People are astonished by this. It is because they are very good at languages, very good at chess and very good at working in teams. When they discuss history, they go to places such as Hadrian’s Wall. They take up theatre: my children are obsessed with theatre, because they use theatre to learn history, to learn medicine and to learn geography. It is absolutely incredible, and I wish we would all dump the present system that we have and adopt another.
Looking at my own education, I went to what is now quite a desirable Catholic school in Chelsea, but then it was a bit rough and I did not learn anything. When I left school, I was largely unable to read and write. I could pretend that I read books, and carried them around, but I was not very good at it. I was rescued by Her Majesty’s prisons department. It was the greatest moment of my life when, after a boy’s prison, I was put into a reformatory and given an education that cost twice the amount of Eton—where I believe my noble friend Lord Aberdare went. It cost twice that amount to educate me for a period of two years, and they had me climbing trees and learning all sorts of things. They mixed it all up, for example the technical with the creative. We went to the Old Vic and saw Laurence Olivier or somebody—we did not know who it was—and went to see the Guildford orchestra. We read books—Thomas Hardy and all sorts of things. This was a school for naughty boys. It was a wonderful invention, and I learned all sorts of things there. For part of the day I had to go into the glasshouse and learn the difference between the abutilon megapotamicum, the squarrosa “louisae”, the aphelandra squarrosa “louisae” and the zonal pelargonium.
This is what they did to our working-class children who had erred and fallen. Unfortunately I got into a bit more trouble for the next maybe 10 or 15 years, but I got out in the end. The thing was that the redemption rate—whatever the rate is that they judge people on—was enormous: 70% or 80% of people went in bad and came out better. If we can do it for the most disfranchised, why can we not do it for those 37% of children? That is going to take a revolution in thinking from central government, making sure that when we talk about education, we talk about broadening and emphasising all sorts of things.
I am a great believer in systems. The first thing I would teach a child when they go in at the age of four or five is about their body. I am a 71 year-old man and I do not know where my pancreas is—I do not know anything. This beautiful system can be taught as a work of art, a work of technology, as a work of all sorts of things. If we start to teach our children about systems, we can move on to the weather, to the environment and to other things. Why is that most people who hate capitalism do not know how capitalism works? Because they do not know how money or art works. They do not know the relationship between theatre or music, and they put them into these silos and do it that way. In my opinion, this is one of the most interesting discussions and I am really glad I participated in it. Thank you very much.
My Lords, I too congratulate my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott on initiating this important debate, which has produced some wonderful speeches this afternoon. I want to focus my remarks today on one subject which was mentioned very powerfully by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, which is music.
In the debate on EBacc last year the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, said:
“I am not against maths, English, science, foreign languages, history or geography”,
but she went on to say that if you have a priority, you are saying that you,
“give less priority to the other things”.—[Official Report, 4/2/16; col. 57.]
The worry is that when you say that some subjects are important, you are saying that other subjects are less important.
Some of your Lordships may have heard Julian Lloyd-Webber on the radio last week talking about the brand-new Birmingham Conservatoire which has just opened and where he is the director. He said that removing arts subjects from the core curriculum was not conducive to creating the artists of the future. He compared Britain to countries in the Far East where he said it was perfectly normal to learn a musical instrument. He was worried that here in Britain we are missing out on a massive amount of talent. The Minister and other Ministers say that they share these ambitions for music. I looked at the Government’s national plan for music education, published six years ago, and it said all the right things: music education should be available to as many children as possible; music can enhance the lives of all young people; and music should not be the preserve only of better-off families who can afford tuition in musical instruments.
My brother and I, many years ago, attended the same school in Manchester. In our first year, aged 11 or 12, we were taken to the Manchester Free Trade Hall to hear the Hallé Orchestra. My elder brother heard Handel’s “Water Music”, then badgered our father to buy him the LP, which he played morning, noon and night until the record actually wore out. When it was my turn to go, I heard Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet Overture”, with the conductor explaining how the music told the story of the fighting, the love scenes and the death scenes. These were really inspiring musical experiences. Many noble Lords will have seen Gareth Malone on television struggle to build a choir in a school among very sceptical, if not hostile pupils, especially the boys. It was an uphill struggle, yet somehow he pulled them all together and when they finally performed in front of the school and their parents, the pupils, including the boys, not only discovered the joy of making music together but also discovered something new in themselves—a previously hidden talent, teamwork and a new confidence.
As other noble Lords have said, we know from research and from experience that the benefits of a music education go much wider. It can help you retain verbal information, enhance your intellectual development, increase your social confidence and help with maths. The connection between music and maths is very well known. Of course there are huge benefits to the economy from the creative industries and the music industry. We have some of the best musical colleges and conservatoires in the world, some of the best orchestras and some of the best musical theatre, but we have a shortage of skilled orchestral musicians who are leaders, principals, sub-principals or in numbered string positions. We need a pipeline of talent coming forward.
I acknowledge what the Government are doing. Music education hubs have been established to give children the opportunity to learn a music instrument. The exam board of the Royal Schools of Music, the ABRSM, examines 300,000 pupils each year in the UK who are learning to play a musical instrument. The Department for Education has worked with the ABRSM to develop the Classic 100 music app for primary schools, with music ranging from “Peter and the Wolf” to Beethoven’s fifth and Handel’s “Messiah”. My right honourable friend Nick Gibb, the Minister, is on record as saying that the new national curriculum will ensure that music is taught as an academic subject. However, in a survey of schools in 2016-17, in only two out of three schools was music a compulsory part of the education, despite it being part of the national curriculum.
My final and most important point is that music can be intrinsically life-enhancing and inspiring for every child and every adult throughout their lives. So while I am sympathetic to the emphasis placed on core academic subjects, it should not downgrade other subjects which are crucial for a child’s personal development. My plea to the Government is this: please do everything you can to make sure that music classes are not the ugly duckling of the school curriculum; they must not be the last courses to be added and the first to be cut.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Sherbourne of Didsbury, and his love of “Romeo and Juliet” by Tchaikovsky, which I, too, studied at school. I welcome the enterprise of the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, in bringing this vital issue before us today.
I always try to avoid being overly melodramatic when speaking in your Lordships’ House, but I have to say to the Government that the exclusion of creative subjects from the English baccalaureate has been viewed by the creative industries as disastrous. Let me explain this concern in just one particular respect, one that might—I use that word advisedly—be compounded by the outcome of Brexit negotiations. Orchestras in this country are already worried about a drop in young musicians coming through the education system, as we have heard. If recruiting from abroad and, indeed, touring abroad becomes more difficult they foresee huge problems in the coming years. Young instrumentalists need to start while their muscles and limbs are still malleable—not to mention their minds. It is like tennis, cricket, skiing or football—the earlier you start the easier it is to gain a technique or “muscle memory” as trainers like to say. That is why the Russians have such fantastic techniques. They may lack other things, but they start really young.
Can I forestall one aspect of the Minister’s possible response? He might, with some justification, point out to us that creative subjects are still available but just not as part of the EBacc. However, this, many of us feel, rather diminishes the role of the arts and music and is having a deleterious effect on the take-up of, for example, music. As my noble friend Lord Aberdare pointed out, this tends to mean that the well-off can give their children music while the poor are at a disadvantage. This at a time when the Government are always at pains to praise the revenue and reputation that the creative industries bring to this country.
Then there is the dividend of social cohesion that the arts bring to young people and thereby society at large. Here, I am very much with my noble friend Lord Bird. The arts tend to pick up waifs and strays who somehow do not fall easily into the required niche as so well described by the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth. These waifs and strays—I would have included myself in this bracket at one point—tend to fall by the wayside if not catered for. When I think back to my schooldays, it is the maverick, the outsider, who has often achieved the unexpected, the remarkable. A music master who took an interest in me helped to lift me from lacklustre academic achievement to a route that fulfilled what limited talents I had. I still have the well-thumbed scores of Bach’s “Double Violin Concerto in D minor”, Bartók’s “Concerto for Orchestra”, and yes, Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet”, which were the O-level set works and which have remained dear to me ever since.
Acting in various school productions, from Gilbert and Sullivan to Pirandello and from John Mortimer to Shakespeare, was the best kind of education into the workings of the world and us hapless mortals—and goodness, how we need help with that. It undoubtedly helped to give me the confidence which, I am sure, helped me later as a broadcaster.
I am always amazed that this country boasts such a stunning array of world-class talent, given that our history is rather more philistine than that of some countries. We did not, for instance, have a court system of commissioning music. Hunting was more the order of the day. Sir Peter Hall, who has just died and to whom I pay tribute if I may, was just the kind of visionary who transformed British theatre by presenting not just the classics but insisting on the best of the new—David Hare, for example. Hall and Hare, and so many other artists, have stressed the burning need to introduce the arts to young children not just as a choice but as a necessity—as a central part of the curriculum.
The numbers of high achievers in the arts who trace back their success to a particular teacher and the availability and opportunity—what an important word that is—that they encountered at a young impressionable age are legion. We are hugely successful in the field of the arts but we simply cannot sit back on our laurels. Rather, we must invest in the future not just financially but in terms of the respect and importance that we attach to creativity. That is why I believe that it really was disastrous to omit creativity from the EBacc syllabus.
I join in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, on securing this important debate. She is a doughty champion of creative and technical education and shares the concerns of so many of us around this Chamber at the decline in take-up up of such valuable subjects. As we have heard, the English baccalaureate has done good work in promoting the academic subjects it specifies, but has caused a deal of neglect of others which should rightfully have their place in the curriculum.
The Government’s concentration—an obsession one might think—with English, maths and other academic subjects is resulting in a school syllabus, and school leavers, with few outlets for more practical skills. School league tables and funding contribute to the focus on academic learning, and we have recently had highlighted the inequity of schools banning their lower-achieving pupils ahead of exams, to shore up their league tables presumably, but with little regard to the effect that that may have on the young people so treated.
As we have heard, education should be about so much more: preparation for life; creating good citizens; empowering young people to succeed; and giving them the aspiration, resilience, confidence and self-respect to know that they may have a contribution to make to society. This may, or may not, be an academic contribution, as set out by the noble Lord, Lord Young. Sadly, if it is not academic, schools have limited means of encouraging them. It was interesting to hear the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Bird, with the Steiner schools, and perhaps reassuring to know that if his children do become hippies at least they will be refined hippies. It was also interesting to hear of his own unplanned but, in a way, privileged education.
For education to succeed, we of course need the full co-operation of employers. We know that work experience has been shown to be invaluable in motivating young people and giving them a real step into employment. We also know that the country faces an acute skills shortage, in craft and creative as well as technical skills. Our creative industries play an immensely significant part in our economy, as well as our quality of life, as we have heard from my noble friend Lady Bonham-Carter and as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, set out so clearly. But young people do not emerge from their years of compulsory education equipped with the knowledge and skills to embark on careers in these areas.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, said in her introductory remarks, we note that the total entries in GCSE creative and technical subjects have fallen by 28%, 181,000 people in the last seven years. IT and computer skills have similarly been in decline. Schools are now so beset with the calls to meet targets and tick boxes that, as one head teacher said to me recently, “It knocks out any time for encouraging a love of learning”. The noble Lord, Lord Knight, spoke also of the importance of the love of learning. No longer can young people learn because it is fun and fascinating; there has to be a test at the end of it to be recorded into the school statistics.
How can we return to the days when all was not well with the educational world but at least there was time in the school day for music, drama, exploration and curiosity? What has happened to woodwork, metalwork, cookery and needlework? Many schools have dismantled the labs and kitchens, disposed of the chisels and sewing machines. But young people whose fortes are not grammar and algebra but doing and creating can be re-engaged into learning by those practical skills. I am sure that I am not the only the noble Lord who has found very little use for my wonderful proficiency in logarithms and trigonometry since I sat my O-level.
The negative impact of the EBacc on music provision in schools is clearly a concern for the commercial music industry, which contributes £4.1 billion to the UK economy. Michael Dugher, the CEO of UK Music, recently warned that cuts to music in schools, coupled with the closure of hundreds of small venues, means that the music industry is potentially facing a perfect storm which, if allowed to develop unchecked, poses an existential threat. How much the poorer would life be without music? We wish every success to the granddaughter of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and her trumpet—and I speak as the grandmother of a cornet-playing grandson. I know what enormous pleasure they get from this, even if practising it is not always at the top of their agenda; computer games sometimes, alas, take precedence. The noble Lord, Lord Sherbourne, also spoke eloquently of the importance of music.
What steps will the Government take to ensure that the existential threat is averted? My noble friend Lady Bonham-Carter cited the concern of Darren Henley, who was brought in some years ago to advise the Government on creativity and music. His voice should have been heard far more clearly than it has been.
The EBacc set out to remedy what was perceived as a shortfall of academic achievement in schools. It is intended as a core, but with seven subjects that leaves little space for any but the most academically able students to take up additional ones. I notice what the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said about doing computing instead of modern languages. As a modern linguist, I always bitterly regret any suggestion that modern languages are not important. Post Brexit, it will be even more important that we can communicate with our European and international neighbours and friends in their language, rather than speaking our own loudly, as is so often the way with the British. I also note that in the Edge proposals, modern languages go not head to head with science but head to head with history, under the humanity heading. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, will be reassured that computer science is contained within the sciences, so it is not entirely neglected even if it is in competition with chemistry.
The EBacc did not arise out of demands from the teaching profession to reform the exam process. Any teacher knows that the benefits of any reform, whether changing the name or curriculum, or changing the marking from letters to numbers, only ever emerge after totally disproportionate administrative burdens, which take teachers away from delivering exciting lessons and into the tedium of administrative negotiations. Teachers prefer reforms and updating which are introduced gradually to allow the continuation of lesson planning and time spent on students. Sadly, that is not dramatic enough for politicians, very seldom themselves practising educationalists, who love to make their mark on future generations. Can I put in a plea for school decisions to be taken primarily by those in the profession, with politicians standing well back?
The Government love to say that our teachers are the best ever. That is a bit of a blow to some of us who were teachers way back, because we did not think that we were totally hopeless then—but there we are. But if they are the best ever, why are they so beset by constantly having to record and justify their work? As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, why cannot the Government not just trust the teachers more and assess them less?
The report from the All-Party Design and Innovation Group, Developing Creative Education after Brexit, drew on a wide range of specialist organisations to support art and design as a core component of the EBacc. Art subjects could cover music, drama, dance, film—all the parts of our highly successful creative industries sector, which is being starved of talent in the state sector because of its exclusion from the syllabus. It is notable that the private sector sets great store by creative activities, as we have heard from the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare. But why should these wonderful skills be available only to those already privileged? What steps are the Government taking to stop the decline in craft and creative teaching and learning? How are music, art, drama and technical teachers encouraged to stay in the profession, and will the Government give serious consideration to the Edge Foundation’s proposals for the EBacc, which would give a broader base for our young people to be equipped for life? I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, it is entirely appropriate that the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, secured this debate. To no one’s surprise, she opened it with a flourish and covered so much ground that it left very little for others to say that was new; I certainly find myself in that position.
Labour is not opposed to the EBacc—certainly not per se. We recognise its value, and it is right that every student should have the opportunity to take all the EBacc subjects if they want to. But we do not believe that it should be compulsory. It is to some extent instructive that, of the 13 previous speakers, only the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, spoke favourably about the EBacc as it currently operates. Forcing it on 90% of GCSE students is sensible neither for them nor for the long-term needs of the country’s economy. Further, it amounts to yet another accountability measure on which schools will be scrutinised and judged, including by Ofsted.
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. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, handled that point effectively when he offered an escape route, should the Government desire one. If there is evidence to support the Government’s position on this, I do not think that I would be alone in your Lordships’ House in being very interested to see it.
The logic of the EBacc appears to be that GCSEs in these subjects are harder and therefore more worth while, and they are described as the facilitating subjects that Russell Group universities want to see. That means that you need to do two of them at A-level in order to be in the best position to get on to a Russell Group course. Two of them—not five of them—and only if you want to go to a Russell Group university, and only at A-level. So that rationale is exaggerated, at best.
Other subjects should form equally valuable components of a student’s rounded education, as other noble Lords have said. Surely it cannot be denied that arts and technology are important, not least because of the personal development that they allow young people to pursue, but also because the creative industries, as other noble Lords have said, are now such an important feature of our economy. So we should not be sending a message to schools and to young people that creative and technical subjects are not really valued. There has been a great deal of government rhetoric about closing the divide between academic and vocational education, but with the EBacc the Government are unequivocally promoting the superiority of the academic pathway.
The curriculum should not be driven by the needs of the minority who are going to the most selective universities. Many of the essential work-related skills that the CBI warns are in short supply may well be better developed in technical and practical contexts. To impose the EBacc on students regardless of their interests and ambitions for the future is simply not appropriate. That is not to say that some young people are not suited to academic subjects and so should be pushed down a vocational route. But there should be a genuine opportunity to choose at 14, rather than be forced into a government-designed straitjacket.
Quite rightly, the Government have been promoting the apprenticeship route heavily as a valid alternative to university, and further education colleges now recruit 14 to 16 year-olds directly. Equally, the Government are encouraging still more university technical colleges and studio schools, which, according to the Government’s response to the EBacc consultation, are to be exempted from the 90% threshold. To develop a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, in her opening remarks, perhaps the Minister can say what percentage will be expected of them and indeed whether any target will apply. Despite what the Government said in their response to that consultation, which was published in July, these initiatives leave the Government’s position confused, if not contradictory.
Changes must be made to the EBacc—otherwise, the Government will not meet their stated objective of improving technical education—but just as important is the effect the EBacc will have on restricting the range of subjects available in many schools. Research carried out by King’s College London for the National Union of Teachers showed that 74% of teachers believe that the EBacc has already narrowed the key stage 4 curriculum offer in their school. Arts and technical subjects are often the losers, and the Government’s persistence with a measure which reduces students’ opportunities to take part in such subjects risks disengaging some from education altogether.
The Minister has said in the past that there will be room for students to study subjects outwith the EBacc core—in theory, perhaps, but in recent years there has already been a significant shift away from creative and technical subjects in key stage 4. The impact on design and technology has already been referred to by many noble Lords, but between 2009-10 and 2015-16 there was a 35% drop in take-up, which must be a matter of real concern. My noble friend Lady McIntosh spoke passionately about the benefit of arts and culture being delivered as part of the curriculum. As we have heard, these subjects are already being squeezed.
The DfE response to the consultation makes great play of the New Schools Network survey published earlier this year. The New Schools Network is well known as a cheerleader for government education policy, but its figures do not square with those involved at the chalkface. I have already referenced the King’s College survey of teachers. The National Association of Head Teachers found that four-fifths of school leaders are against government plans to make 90% of pupils take the EBacc, while the Association of School and College Leaders is concerned that,
“this will have a significant impact on arts and technology subjects and increasingly squeeze them out of the curriculum for many pupils”.
These are the professionals dealing with our schools on a day-to-day basis and what they say should be given considerable weight.
At a time when school budgets are under severe pressure, head teachers will naturally look at closing classes that are not full or not as popular as others. Perhaps the Minister will inform noble Lords whether the Department for Education has cast its net wider than the NSN survey in considering the likely effects on narrowing the curriculum.
Enforcing the EBacc on 90% of students also means that the current teacher supply problem will be exacerbated, not least in relation to modern languages. Equally, there may be teachers of non-EBacc subjects who are deemed surplus to requirements. How does the Minister intend that staffing issues emanating from the EBacc will be dealt with?
Not all young people thrive and receive positive reinforcement of their strengths in a highly academic curriculum such as that of the English baccalaureate. The robust nature of the new grade 9 to 1 GCSEs is likely to propel the move towards a narrower curriculum offer to allow for greater focus on those core subjects. This will not serve young people whose strengths lie in hands-on technical and professional subjects, such as the creative arts, construction or the service sector, all of which make a considerable contribution to our economy.
The Government's current emphasis is on vocational or technical and professional education, outlined in the Post-16 Skills Plan for delivery from 2020. Young people and educators are being encouraged to focus on destination outcomes: work or higher education. Yet the opportunities for young people to experience subjects with a clear path towards work at key stage 4 are being eroded, in contrast with high-performing countries such as Norway. In the academic year 2009-10, 63,000 key stage 4 students attended college for at least one day a week on vocationally focused programmes. By 2014-15, that had dropped to 24,000. Evaluation of these increased-flexibility programmes points to the value they provided in confidence building and progression directly on to level 2 or 3 programmes post 16. The Government’s plans on EBacc will not address this problem.
Further, by 2022, when 90% of young people are supposed to be entered for the EBacc, the gap between the number of students entered and their achievement levels will inevitably grow. The danger is that more students will feel that they have failed—a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott—and failure, or perceived failure, at that level could have a negative impact on confidence as they progress to post-16 education.
The Minister may have seen or had drawn to his attention the OECD Education at a Glance 2017 report launched this week. My noble friend Lord Knight mentioned the OECD. Given that that report runs to some 487 pages, I would not recommend that the Minister or indeed any other noble Lord devour it in its entirety, but it shows that the UK spends less per vocational student compared with other OECD countries, most of which spend more on technical and vocational programmes than on academic ones. The challenge put forward for western OECD countries is to make teaching more financially and intellectually attractive—a point that the Minister and the Department for Education should note.
It is essential that the Government allow some flexibility in the development of the EBacc. Rigid adherence to the 90% target will not allow sufficient room for opportunities to study the creative and technical subjects better suited to many students. That would not only act as a boost to career opportunities for some of the less able and disadvantaged students, but more broadly it would begin to bridge the growing skills gap that the Government otherwise seem intent on tackling.
I say to the Minister that some consistency is required, because mixed messages and conflicting policies will help neither the next generation of the workforce nor the already uncertain future of the UK economy in a post-EU world.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott for calling this debate, and to all noble Lords who have contributed to this lively discussion.
I am sure everyone agrees that we need an education system that ensures all our young people have a fair chance to go as far as their talents and hard work will take them, regardless of their circumstances. An important part of that will be ensuring that children have the opportunity to study the core academic subjects at GCSE: English; maths; science, which could include computer science; history or geography; and a language. That is the EBacc.
From international studies, it is clear that there is a strong correlation between high-performing educational jurisdictions and EBacc-type content in their curriculum. Many studies have shown, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, that it is pupils from a disadvantaged background, who may suffer from not having that core cultural capital at home and who particularly benefit from gaining a high cultural capital from academic and arts subjects.
I begin by reminding noble Lords of the facts surrounding the recent history of our education system. Schools previously entered many more pupils in EBacc subjects, but those figures slumped under the Labour Government. For example, the number of pupils studying geography fell from 44% to 26%, the number studying history from 35% to 31% and the number studying science from 81% to 63%. As a result, in 2010, only 22% of state school pupils were studying a course of those academic subjects, which we call the EBacc and which will be regarded as minimum basic fare in any private school and in most successful educational jurisdictions. The fact is that during that slump in the EBacc, we also slumped down the international league tables for education. I am afraid it gives the lie to my noble friend Lord Baker’s point that these academic subjects are not connected to educational performance. Happily, thanks to our EBacc, the number of pupils now entering these academic subjects has nearly doubled in the last six or seven years.
We know why the Labour Government introduced a broad range of vocational subjects—I am sure it was a genuine attempt to improve vocational standards and the range of available opportunities for pupils. Their mistake, which is probably the most polite way I can describe it, was their use of the concept of equivalence, so that many subjects that were not GCSEs were ranked as GCSEs in the league tables. My favourite—I have mentioned it to noble Lords before—is the higher-level BTEC diploma in fish husbandry, a subject in which there were no formal exams, only coursework, but which counted for four GCSEs. Other favourites of mine include cake decorating and hazard control; sadly, there are many other examples. Head teachers and teachers inevitably respond to the incentives that are put on them; those were the wrong incentives. We believe the EBacc is the right incentive and they have responded well to it.
My noble friend Baroness Stedman-Scott spoke about the case for broadening the 14 to 19 curriculum. That is exactly what was tried, and I am afraid the result was that too many young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds were told that academic qualifications were not for them and that they should study these subjects. During that period, among the OECD countries, we fell from seventh to 25th in reading, from eighth to 28th in maths and from fourth to 16th in science. Happily, the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, helped us reform these vocational subjects from 14 to 16, and from 16 to 19.
The OECD’s adult skills survey found that the level of maths ability in England is no different among school leavers than among retirees, unlike in most other countries where school leavers perform at a higher standard than older generations. In fact, our youngest adults, aged 16 to 24, are amongst the OECD’s lowest scoring countries, alongside their peers in Turkey, Chile, Israel, Greece, Italy and Spain. That is why we are building an education system where pupils master the basics in primary school, study common core subjects up to the age of 16, and then start to specialise after that through high-quality academic, technical and apprenticeship routes.
My noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott talked about UTCs and studio schools. We have removed them from the target of the percentage of pupils that will study EBacc, but while we continue to keep this matter under review, we have not exempted them from the performance measures. It is for UTCs and studio schools to demonstrate progress to Ofsted by baseline testing their students as they enter to show Ofsted that they have made significant progress under their management.
My noble friend and many other noble Lords referred to a decline in entry in many subjects. Some of the confusion here is caused by a substantial decline in the secondary school population—approaching 10% over the last six to seven years. I will therefore veer more helpfully here to facts relating to percentages. It is also relevant and undoubtedly the case that some pupils in the recent past, as I have alluded to, have been encouraged to take some of these subjects because, bluntly, they were seen to be easier. As I said, we have reformed the subjects to make them more rigorous and more internationally competitive.
I turn first to design and technology. A number of noble Lords referred to the decline in this. Indeed, the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, talked about a torrent. He is quite right; there was a torrent. There was a decline since 2010 from 40% to 28% in 2016, but from 1998—we do not have figures for 1997—to 2010 there was a fall from 65% to 40%. A number of noble Lords have spoken about the huge importance of music. Since 2010, in percentage terms, those taking music has stayed static at 7%. For art and design, the figures since 2010 have gone up slightly from 26% to 27%, but in the years prior to that from 1997 to 2010 they fell from a third of pupils to just over a quarter. Drama has declined a little from 13% to 11% since 2010. Business studies has gone up somewhat. Lastly, on computer studies and IT, it may be relevant—the noble Lord, Lord Knight, referred to the importance of not letting our school system become obsolete—that more pupils are interested in taking these subjects. The number of pupils taking computer studies and IT since 2010 has gone up from 7% to 23%—it has more than trebled.
The Government are in no doubt that studying EBacc subjects up to the age of 16 is right for most pupils. We are committed to unlocking their potential. That is why we would like to see 90% of year 10 pupils studying GCSEs in EBacc by 2025. I thank my noble friend Lord Lucas for his support in this matter.
Research shows that there are big differences in A-level subject choices depending on social background, and a major reason for this is that the GCSE subjects studied by pupils still differ depending on their background. Disadvantaged pupils remain half as likely to be entered for the EBacc combination of subjects as their peers. The Sutton Trust has found that this gap persists even among the most academically able pupils. We must therefore encourage more pupils to take the EBacc. The noble Lord, Lord Watson, asked for a broader church of research than the New Schools Network. Research was published last month by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at the IoE which shows that studying the EBacc combination of GCSE subjects increases the likelihood that a pupil will stay on in full-time education.
Contrary to the arguments of those who think that many pupils cannot study the EBacc, Sutton Trust research has found that when schools move to a core EBacc curriculum at GCSE, pupil attainment improves. In fact, pupils in these schools are more likely to achieve good GCSEs in English and maths, refuting claims that a more academic curriculum would distract them from these subjects. In 2016, the Ark King Solomon Academy, which has a high proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals, entered 80% of pupils for the EBacc and 76% achieved it. We have many more examples of successful schools. Some of our free schools have just reported some really quite stellar results in the EBacc. These are schools designed to promote the EBacc, particularly in areas of disadvantage. Taking the EBacc is important not only for those who want to pursue A-levels but for those who want to go into technical education. As I am sure noble Lords are aware, we have reformed GCSEs, AS and A-levels to be internationally competitive.
The noble Lord, Lord Knight, talked about university not being right for all pupils. I am delighted that he has accepted that his Government’s desire for many, many pupils to go to university was rather misguided. For too long, however, pupils from a disadvantaged background with the potential to study at our world-class universities missed out on that opportunity, simply because they never thought of applying or never knew that they could. In recent years, we have seen that the number of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university has gone up substantially.
Through our consultation on implementing the EBacc, we wanted to understand the barriers that schools face in increasing EBacc entry. We do not believe that it needs to be the case that studying the EBacc will deter pupils from studying the arts and creative subjects. We have always said that the EBacc should be studied as part of a broad and balanced curriculum. In fact, the EBacc was designed to be limited in size to enable pupils to do that. On average, pupils in state-funded schools do nine GCSEs, rising to 10 or more for more able pupils. The EBacc covers seven GCSEs, or eight for those pupils taking triple science, which leaves room for other choices. My noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott spoke about the fact that the lowest quartile of attainers take an average of six or seven GCSEs. In fact, in 2016, the Progress 8 measure showed that the number of GCSEs taken by this cohort has risen to seven or eight.
The noble Lord, Lord Watson, talked about not all young people thriving on an academic curriculum. It is of course for schools to decide about that. My noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott referred to an informal group of people who are focused on this and I would be absolutely delighted to meet them whenever suits them.
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, talked about the importance of arts-based subjects and a broad and balanced curriculum, and I entirely agree with her. She also raised the question of how it is possible for a school or academy to be deemed outstanding when many of them do not even offer the full range of arts subjects and talked about the narrowness of curriculum. I also particularly enjoyed the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Bird. I am personally concerned about the narrowness of curriculum at key stage 3 and about the narrowness of curriculum in many of our primary schools. I know that Her Majesty’s chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, sees a broad, rich and deep curriculum as of vital importance to all pupils. I entirely agree with that. She has commissioned a major Ofsted study of the curriculum, which is currently under way. The outcome of this will inform Ofsted’s approach to school inspections, and will inform the Government’s approach.
The noble Lord, Lord Watson, talked about the evidence to support the position advanced that entries to arts subjects have fallen as a result of the introduction of the EBacc. As we say in our response, we carried out an analysis of the trend in arts uptake in schools that had increased EBacc entry. This analysis was published. It showed that in the nearly 300 schools that increased their EBacc entry rates by 40% or more between 2011 and 2016, on average 49% of their pupils took at least one arts subject. This is the same as in other state-funded schools. Furthermore, we found there to be a small positive correlation between schools’ EBacc entries and arts entries, suggesting that schools where EBacc entry has increased tend to have also seen an increase in their arts uptake. I agree that there should be space in the curriculum for the arts, and good schools, such as the King John School in Benfleet, show that there does not need to be such a false choice. Between 2011 and 2016, it increased its EBacc entry rate by almost 50%, and during the same period the percentage of its pupils who took at least one arts subject increased by nearly 50%.
My noble friend Lord Lucas expressed concern about comparable outcomes, an approach that has been used by Ofqual since 2011 and is designed to ensure that the grading system is consistent and fairly reflects the ability of the cohort of pupils each year.
We should also remember that GCSE statistics do not tell the whole story. Many students take part in dramatic societies, choirs, orchestras and bands. A number of noble Lords were concerned about music—the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, the noble Lords, Lord Aberdare and Lord Berkeley, and my noble friend Lord Sherbourne. I entirely agree about the very great importance of music. My noble friend Lord Sherbourne referred to our music hubs and a number of our other initiatives that benefit many pupils. My noble friend Lord Baker suggested that there should be encouragement and bursaries for design and technology teachers. In fact, we have a bursary of £12,000 if you have a first or a PhD, and £9,000 for a 2.1. He also talked, as I have done, about the fact that computing counts towards the EBacc.
My noble friend Lord Lucas made a very good point about making sure that we study what works in schools and build on good practice. He referred to the Michaela free school’s approach to marking. We intend to look closely at those schools, including free schools, which have had remarkable success. We have funded the Education Endowment Foundation with £137 million to look at just this sort of thing.
Alongside reforming GCSEs, AS and A-levels, we are undertaking a programme of reform to technical education, which we debated in your Lordships’ House recently, and which I believe received fairly broad support. We will invest £2.5 billion by 2020 in apprenticeships. We are introducing the apprenticeship levy and raising the quality of apprenticeships. This will result in new, high-quality apprenticeships in many occupations, including creative and design—for example, junior journalist and broadcast production assistant, with standards for fashion studio assistant and live event technician in development.
Reforming technical education will help meet the needs of our growing and changing economy. It will have 15 different routes, each grouping together occupations where there are shared training requirements. Within these will sit our new two-year T- level programmes. We want T-levels to have real labour-market value and credibility, so we will work closely with employers to define the standards and the content. The T-level certificate, awarded on successful completion of the overall programme, will capture the technical qualification achieved, the work placement and attainment in English and maths. These reforms will ensure a consistent technical education system, raising its prestige and ensuring that it is a sought-after option. They will help young people and adults to achieve their potential, as we hope that T-levels will become a gold standard for technical excellence.
We do not expect that a technical education at 16 will close down to 18 year-olds options such as pursuing a degree. High-quality careers advice will of course help in this regard. We are confident that enabling pupils to progress from the core academic subjects that all pupils study up to the age of 16 to our reformed post-16 technical education routes will provide the skills and knowledge that we need for our growing and rapidly changing economy.
Again, I thank all noble Lords for debating such an important issue. Ensuring that every young person is allowed to achieve their full potential is of course vital. Our reforms to the curriculum and qualifications are aimed at just that. Our ambition for the majority of pupils to take the EBacc subjects as part of a broad and balanced curriculum is central to ensuring that every young person has the best preparation for life in modern Britain.
My Lords, first, I thank all noble Lords and the Minister for their efforts and contributions today. I hope that everybody has found an opportunity to put forward their views and for those views to be responded to. I hope too that they feel, as I do, that our hearts all beat in concert, in that we want our young people to have the best, as the Minister said.
I have just a few points to make to the Minister. We talk about broadening the age range and the subjects in the curriculum, but nobody wants to do subjects which are of no use to them at all; they want to do those that help them ensure that they meet the needs of employers and our economy, as well as ensuring that they can have a good and fruitful career. The Minister’s point about numbers and percentages was well made, but however you add it up or take it away, there is still a decline, and we want to stop that if we can.
We have covered a great deal of distance today and have probably given the Minister an action list that would put most people off. I am always told not to try to boil the ocean, which is probably what we have wanted to do today, but we are going to have a go—we are, I hope, going to turn the heat up.
I thank all noble Lords for their excellent contributions and for their balanced and measured thoughts. It would be wrong of me to thank everybody individually but I promise to write to all noble Lords to thank them and tell them the nuggets that I have extracted from this debate. I also thank the Minister for agreeing to join our informal group. I think that the membership will now go through the roof, which will be no bad thing. As the Edge Foundation hosts us, the refreshments alone will be worth coming for. I also thank the Minister’s team for their efforts, help and support.
Sadly, we recently lost one of the great icons of the creative industry. His success in his career brought joy to people, and I am sure that it increased the revenues in box offices and television companies. Sir Bruce Forsyth was just a great entertainer. He might not have been everybody’s cup of tea but he succeeded, and I am sure that we all wish his family well.
The noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, is my friend. When I asked him to speak in this debate, I told him that he would be my best friend if he did. Sir Bruce Forsyth, when begging someone to do something, said, “You’re my favourite”. My Lords, you are all my favourites today. I thank your Lordships very much for taking part in this debate—I greatly appreciate it.
Motion to Take Note