These are real stories about how the EBacc has affected creative subjects in schools. We want to hear your stories about how your school has already been affected by the EBacc. Please send us your quotes and stories which we will use in our campaign and lobbying work. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I've been retired from teaching for some time now, so I can't give as much detail as I'd like. I'm writing about what used to be West Somerset Community College, but since it became an academy is called West Somerset College, where I taught for over 30 years.
I don't know if it's due to the EBacc, but I have been appalled to discover that the College has totally given up drama as a subject. It used to be a really lively department of the college. Apart from entertaining the staff and parents with school productions, drama proved to be a really effective way of delivering the personal and social education which is crucial to young people's development.
Drama students took part in Minehead Youth Theatre and most of the other community drama groups who appear at the Regal Theatre, West Somerset's community theatre. Several went on to make good careers in performing arts, as actors, dancers or in production roles.
My successful A level DT (Design & Technology) has been cancelled due to ‘small numbers’ and the GCSE group has halved in size. We have been a successful department for around 20 years with students going to Oxbridge Universities, Russell Group universities and the top design colleges globally. We are worn down.
I teach in a primary school. Last year we received a donation of some musical instruments from a big, successful, local secondary school because they were apparently stopping all music in the curriculum. They had got rid of their music room and put in a computing suite instead. They were going to bin the instruments, including several electronic keyboards, but their caretaker happened to have a child in my class and asked if we would like them. I said yes!
Since the introduction of the Ebacc, the number of students opting for Art and Design (at GCSE) has fallen dramatically. In my school students are channeled into certain option routes. The most able are told that they have to take the Ebacc route where they have to take a language, a humanities subject and triple science, this then leaves them with one option choice from a list of maybe eight other subjects. A lot of these students are very good at Art and yet they do not choose to take the subject at GCSE. I think that it is far too soon for these young people to drop a subject like Art, especially if they don’t know what they want to do in the future. On several occasions, I have had year 11 students come to me saying that they regret not taking Art at GCSE and now realise that they want to do it at A level and take it further to degree level. When this happens it makes it very difficult for the student to catch up on two years of skills and technique development. As a consequence of this situation, I have now started to run twilight Art GCSE lessons after school, so that students have the opportunity to take Art as an extra GCSE and can keep the doors of opportunity open for a little while longer. In September I will be teaching more students in the twilight group than in the timetabled Art lessons!
With the drive for aspirational 90% EBacc uptake, my school has had to reduce the offer for arts subjects down to one group of 23 per GCSE year rather than the two of the same number we used to offer. This has a big impact on uptake at KS5.
I am Head of History in the most deprived ward in Sheffield and have witnessed first-hand how a persistent narrowing of the curriculum is damaging students. A relentless focus on academic subjects such as Maths, English, and Science is switching many students off from education.
I am so lucky to have come through school and been given access to a broad and balanced curriculum. Even though I was mostly in high set classes, I would argue that hours spent doing Design Technology, Food Technology and even Art (which I was terrible at) massively helped my mental health, creativity and concentration in more academic subjects. My Thursday timetable during my GCSE years was particularly ‘heavy’ as it would start with Biology and Chemistry one after the other. Without being arrogant, I would class myself as one of the new academic students in my school and I would find even one day with double science hard work.
The students at my school have no access to Drama, have only one lesson per week on rotation of Technology and Art. They have only recently started Music lessons. This means that the vast majority of students have some combination of core subjects every single day. If my school experience had bee dominated by Art, which I struggled to access, I would unsurprisingly have switched off from education. We are asking these students to spend the majority of their time working on subjects they don’t enjoy and find difficult and, unsurprisingly, many of them are increasingly disengaging from education.
I would argue that the confidence and public speaking skills I gained from studying GCSE Drama were just as valuable in my becoming a History teacher as more academic subjects were. The government needs to halt this damaging course of action and invest significantly in a broad and balanced curriculum.
We were a performing arts college, now we have completely lost dance from the curriculum, drama is not available until ks4 (numbers have dropped from over a hundred to an average of 10-15 for the last few years). Music has managed to almost maintain numbers though we had a serious dip when ebacc first came in, I believe we have only been able to maintain numbers due to regular grant funding from a charitable foundation. I am now the only music teacher having previously been two full time. There are no specialist drama or dance teachers anymore. We are desperate for a change in this stupid policy. I personally wrote to the DfE and they simply fobbed me off with the standard cherry-picked data and figures used without context.
In my youngest daughter's secondary school there isn’t enough uptake to run GCSE Art or Music next year. She is in Yr 8 and was told to take EBacc subjects - she only had one choice which she decided to take Drama but her friends who wanted to take Music and Art were told they didn’t have enough pupils to run the courses and many pupils who are unsuitable for MFL have been pushed into taking them.
My twin boys are currently sitting their GCSEs. When making the subject choices they had to select the usual Maths and English, RE is compulsory together with science, a humanity and a language. This left the boys and their whole year with only one subject choice left. Neither was interested in taking Spanish, History or RE but they were forced to study these subjects. One selected drama and the other selected music. Both would have liked to also study sports science and each other’s single choice.
Trying to study a subject you have no interest in while feeling regretful about dropping subjects you love is so disheartening and is setting children up to fail. If you study subjects of interest, higher grades are inevitable. I am a parent governor now and we are looking to change this situation but it is a challenge for schools when they are still graded on EBacc subjects.
The Art & Design department I ran had four teachers and over 100 students completing both Applied Art and Art & Design GCSEs. Since I retired the department now has 1.5 teachers and no more than 16 to 20 students completing Art and Design courses. This is because the students are encouraged to consider STEM subjects as the most important and there is less opportunity to choose creative subjects as an option in years 10 & 11.
The Forest High in Cinderford. Gloucestershire, while run by E-Act appointed a performing arts teacher after the long-serving music teacher retired. He had been teaching less and less music. The teacher had no significant music skills and the subject died. There were only about 320 pupils in a year 7 to 11 secondary in Special Measures. E-Act were stopped from running the school and after a long delay SGS took over. A different performing arts teacher was appointed, neither did much music.
Through this time, working with some of the succession of heads I tried getting music going again as a freelancer and was asked to run a Music Level 2 Btec Course, I recruited about 14 young people but 2 of them were “off rolled” (one had recently had his dad die and was angry with the school for not letting him have extra time with his dad, then was erratic in his attendance, the other had a ASD diagnosis). The school then decided to put the course after school which knocked the numbers down to eight (out of a year group of about 65). One of whom was a girl who really wanted to do music but whose family could not afford for her to drop her paper round (she joined us later on informally and performed in the final performance). The next year a new head said he was keen to continue, but still after school. He also did various other things to start to build up music again, but the Academy chain bosses pulled the plug on it at the end of the second term, leaving some very disappointed young people. That head got the school out of special measures, and hugely increased its reputation in the town, but left for another job, I suspect out of frustration over resources and various academy chain decisions.
As far as I know, they don’t even have a performing arts teacher now and the only music is a lunchtime club and after school club run by The Music Works, an independent charity, with funding from other sources.
“We ignore the arts at our peril”
Educationalist, Henry Pluckrose, writing in the 1980s
I have had those words ringing in my ears for so long and have to say when will they ever learn. We have just completed a tailor-made music and drama programme for eight vulnerable girls in a primary school in west London. We did it on a shoestring with the local music service offering a string player for five of the seven sessions. We had to fund the rest as the school has over 70 children who would benefit and we had to make choices. All the children could go on to engage further with the arts to build their confidence and resilience.