The EBacc debate in parliament – The Usual Studio

There are big changes ahead for education in the UK this Autumn and it’s going to have a very real effect on the future of the creative industries.

From the Autumn, art and design subjects will be excluded from the school timetable for over 90% of students, as the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) qualification becomes compulsory. Just like that, students will be required to study a minimum of seven narrowly defined subjects including English, Maths, Science, choose a language and a humanity, at the exclusion of creative, artistic and technical subjects.

Schools performance will be judged on how many pupils achieve the EBacc standard, instead of the traditional five or more GCSEs, so the emphasis on the core academic subjects would be even greater. The changes are designed to ensure that all pupils have the chance to study the subjects needed to earn a place at a top university. But in reality, with many students unlikely to study creative subjects at all, this would disadvantage those students who could go on to have very successful careers in industries where creativity is essential.

The EBacc debate in Parliament Last week in Westminster, MP’s held a 3 hour parliamentary debate which was sparked by a petition called: ‘Include expressive arts subjects in the EBacc.’ The petition was signed by over 100,000 people who were in agreement that:

‘the exclusion of art, music, drama and other expressive subjects is limiting, short sighted and cruel.’

Over 200 Arts and Cultural organisations including Aardman Animations, the BRIT School for Performing Arts, Design Council and the Royal Academy of Arts, are all backing the campaign to reform the EBacc.

This comes at a time when the creative economy is thriving, a recent report found that the creative economy was adding new jobs at more than twice the UK economy average, which highlights the importance of creative enterprises to the UK's economy.

Downturn in the number of students studying creative subjects Any reduction in opportunity to study the arts at a young age will no doubt have ramifications once this generation arrive in the workforce. Official exam figures show that 46,000 fewer students were taking GCSEs in arts subjects in England in 2016, compared to 2015. Design and technology was hardest hit, with 19,000 less students. These figures really surprise me at a time when Design and Innovation are more prominent topics in the media and our day-to-day lives.

As I tweeted during the EBacc debate: “I NEEDED to study multiple arts subjects to do the job I have now, kids today need those same choices.” There is no way that I could have pursued a career in the design industry without a grounding in several creative subjects.

For those of you who have found this blog via the EBacc debate, I run The Usual Studio a design studio based in Coventry, which specialises in producing visual identities for fashion, arts and retail clients. Our projects include designing magazines, brand identities for restauranteurs, festivals and entrepreneurs. Without studying the range of arts subjects I did and having my creativity nurtured at an age when it’s most impressionable, I believe it would have been much more difficult for me to pursue a career in the creative industries. What I studied and how it took me to the job I do now...I’m sure I’m not the only creative person, who knew they wanted to do ‘something’ creative but weren’t 100% sure what exactly but that was/is the beauty of GCSEs and the broad start they give students.

Art showed me how to use form, colour, texture, light, tone... We experimented in traditional media, mixed media, photography, made - awful - self portraits, chipped away with chisels and hammers to make sculptures out of breeze blocks. Art honed drawing and observation skills, it was the grounding I needed for a creative career.

In Media Studies we learnt about media channels, marketing, advertising, wrote our own film scripts, practiced storyboarding, learnt camera angles and made collaged moodboards from magazines to explain our ideas, early version of Pinterest?! It's ironic that I now design magazines that I would once have spent time cutting up for collages in Media Studies. I like the idea of students thumbing through my work in the future; cutting, pasting and reusing for their own purposes and projects. Recycling at its best!

Design and Technology allowed me to explore Product, Graphic, Fashion and Interior design. Studying Design and Technology helped me decide which area of design I wanted to pursue.

Then English taught me how to form ideas, construct an argument, analyse text and pick out key points for discussion through the works of Shakespeare, Bill Bryson and Mary Shelley.

My least favourite was probably Drama but even that was useful; we did plays and skits, held mock courts acting as judge, accused and jury, attempted to act out comedy`s and tragedies. All good, confidence building stuff.

I was at school a long time ago and even then creative subjects were being slowly pushed out of the 'normal' school day. But I didn't mind staying at school for an extra hour on a Wednesday, to fit Art into my timetable. It was worth it. I couldn't choose between my favourite creative subjects, I wanted to study them all. I was fortunate enough to be at a school which had the flexibility and foresight to make it work for myself and fellow arty students.
Let’s think again about EBacc. By forcing students to make choices early on and reducing their range of options so dramatically, their creative potential is being limited before it gets a chance to grow.

The government must rethink the compulsory EBacc, if these plans become a reality there would be little room for pupils to study creative, artistic and technical subjects and they would be squeezed out of schools altogether.

For any creatives reading this whatever discipline you may work in: designer, writer, actor, dancer, musician, artist - please speak up for your industry and write to your local MP about creativity in schools. Tell them why students today, need the same choices you enjoyed. Everyone else, please sign the petition,keep this conversation going using #EBACCdebate #baccforthefuture or find out more at