The EBacc debate

It wasn’t that long ago (the ITC summer conference to be exact – see my blog here) that Simon Mellor of ACE was suggesting Michael Gove might just be the great hope for the arts.

Headlines earlier this month (3 Nov) would seem to put paid to that idea. Gove announced the EBacc as a way of measuring schools performance. English, maths, science, a language and history or geography were all included in the qualification but not a sniff of the creative arts.

The The story has pretty much remained in the news throughout the period. Here is Charlotte Higgins article following Elizabeth Price’s prize winning speech at the Turner Prize award. Here too is a letter from an influential group of Rectors, Vice Chancellors and Principles from leading art, design and performing arts universities expressing their concerns over the qualifications. And here is a summmary of leading arts figures views (from the Guardian). You can find more links to the coverage of the story in the paragraph below and at the end of the blog.

[IF YOU CLICK ONE LINK ON THIS BLOG – PLEASE CLICK HERE – THE FACTS useful even though the consultation period has finished]

The original announcements were front page news in the Guardian (with this piece by Charlotte Higgins) and even fourth lead in the BBC bulletins .(In addition to these links there is a summary of media coverage at the end of this blog). The arts world figure heads were quick to voice their opposition. Jude Kelly of the Southbank said ‘this is a huge step backwards’ whilst Deborah Annetts CEO of ISM added ‘look at how well Britain does in the academy awards; our thriving film industry, our very strong music industry. We are the leading country for theatre. All these areas will be undermined’. The real fear is that the arts curriculum will be relegated to the status of second class citizen. ( the e petition is here It ought to be a no-brainer argued Judith Mackrell – If we believe that culture matters, we should be giving our children proper access to it in schools.

The whole debate has led to outgoing ACE chair Dame Liz Forgan writing to government encouraging them to reverse the changes( see this story here in @artspro).


It was earlier this year at the #shifthappens conference that @lyngardner suggested the concept of the ghost artist (the artist that might have been had they had the access or the opportunity). She said

‘‘when we celebrate the success of The War Horses and the Matildas of this world we explain that such shows could never have emerged from the commercial sector which quite simply would never have countenanced the amount of money and length of time that it takes to create such a show. What we do not mention is all the ghost War Horses and Matildas that will never emerge, and which are lost to us quite simply because those who might have gone on to create them never got access to the theatre (or the arts) in the first place’

The cultural industries in 2011 contributed 6 percent of GDP to the UK economy, employ two million people and export £16billion annually – it’s one of our leading industries. What price will we pay if instead of cultivating talent we breed ghost artists? It’s this argument that many of the heavyweight s have seized upon.


But for me the economic argument is only part of the story. In a recent speech to the Royal College of Psychiatrists ed Miliband called mental health ‘the biggest unaddressed health challenge of our age’. The World Health Organisation predicts that by 2030 depression will be the leading cause of disease around the world’. Miliband sees this ‘growing as a result of unequal societies, a long hours culture and from the erosion of social bonds’. ‘Good mental health’ he goes onto say ‘starts in our workplaces, our schools and our communities’

The arts and creative curriculum have a potentially huge role in the well being of each and every child. Countless case studies have told us this as has the government’s own reports by Darren Henley out of which has come the yet untested music hubs and bridge organisations. And if you click here you can read an academic report into the value of drama in schools (the key findings are reproduced below).

The government – and Michael Gove – must know that the best schools strive to achieve a balance between academic achievement and enabling the development of children as well rounded individuals. Policy should not be relegating these as peripheral concerns.


At the heart of the arts curriculum is creativity, free thinking, freedom of expression and the development of enquiring minds. We need these skills more than ever. The arts themselves (as JOnathan Holloway notes below) may not cure the incurable disease but they will nourish, sustain and enviogarte the person who does. English, science, maths et al will not be enough to face up to the challenge s of the 21st century as the world’s resources diminish and inequality continues to rise.

The EBacc is a huge policy mistake. It is – as Jude Kelly suggests – a huge step backwards. Taking us back financially, in terms of well being and in terms of ensuring our society thrives throughout the 21C and beyond. We need another U turn.

The e petition once again is here and links to campaign resources (both as individuals and as organisations are here)

Other coverage
Evening Standard – Arts figures issue Ebacc warning
Dance under serious threat says Alistair Spalding in the Independent
Arts Professional
BBC article Arts must be secure in curriculum, argues leading head
The Telegraph
@bobandroberta blog here
Media coverage of Billy Bragg’s John Peel speech ‘education reforms risk stifling creativity’ here which you can listen to here
BBC – keep arts in the curriculum
Britain’s creative edge is at risk argues Nick Serota
Leaving arts subjects out of the Ebacc will deprive poor children of culture writes Grayson Perry
This comment is worth reading on the Guardian comments section
Ebacc without arts could kill off audiences (The Standard)
An open letter from Professor Stephen Lacey
The Stage round up of luminary views is here
Transcript of the Lords debate is here

Here are the summary findings from the 2011 DICE report ‘Drama Improves Lisbon Key Competences in
Education ‘For the full report see here
‘compared with peers who had not been participating in any educational theatre and drama
programmes, the theatre and drama participants
1. are assessed more highly by their teachers in all aspects,
2. feel more confident in reading and understanding tasks,
3. feel more confident in communication,
4. are more likely to feel that they are creative,
5. like going to school more,
6. enjoy school activities more,
7. are better at problem solving,
8. are better at coping with stress,
9. are significantly more tolerant towards both minorities and foreigners,
10. are more active citizens,
11. show more interest in voting at any level,
12. show more interest in participating in public issues,
13. are more empathic: they have concern for others,
14. are more able to change their perspective,
15. are more innovative and entrepreneurial,
16. show more dedication towards their future and have more plans,
17. are much more willing to participate in any genre of arts and culture, and not
just performing arts, but also writing, making music, films, handicrafts, and
attending all sorts of arts and cultural activities,
18. spend more time in school, more time reading, doing housework, playing,
talking, and spend more time with family members and taking care of younger
brothers and sisters. In contrast, they spend less time watching TV or playing
computer games,
19. do more for their families, are more likely to have a part-time job and spend
more time being creative either alone or in a group. They more frequently go
to the theatre, exhibitions and museums, and the cinema, and go hiking and
biking more often,
20. are more likely to be a central character in the class,
21. have a better sense of humour,
22. feel better at home.

In other words they are more rounded people – something which has been said in a different way by Jonathan Holloway (of Perth International Arts Festival) quoted in Matt Burham’s piece for @gdnculturepros Arts Funding We are Stronger Together

“One of the repeated objections to funding for the arts is that it’s all very well, but it isn’t going to cure the incurable disease. That is of course true; we in the arts are not going to cure the incurable disease… but someone in a room somewhere IS going to cure it, and I would like to bet that they go to the cinema of an evening, or to the theatre on a Saturday night.

“They read books and they go to galleries to find inspiration. They listen to music when they need their spirits lifting, or simply to remember why life is actually worth living and therefore worth saving. They recognise that the journey to breakthrough passes first through creativity, free thought and innovation. We in the arts won’t cure the incurable disease, but someone will, and every step along the way we’ll get their backs, lift their spirits and inspire them to reach ever further.”

(originally posted 9 Nov, updated 16 Nov, updated 7 Dec)


3 thoughts on “The EBacc debate

  1. Pingback: We must believe in it – otherwise we’ll lose it « Matthew Linley’s Blog

  2. Pingback: Attending, Caring and talking it up – making the case for the arts « Matthew Linley’s Blog

  3. Pingback: A year on my blog – the top ten posts of 2012 « Matthew Linley’s Blog

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