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House of Lords debate, 'English Baccalaureate: Creative and Technical Subjects'

On Thursday 14 September 2017 a House of Lords debate took place. The debate was moved by Baroner Stedman-Scott (Con) and read:

'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.' Those participating in the debate were on all sides of the House.

The following quotes show the range of evidence largely indicating the negative impact of the Ebacc on creative subjects and ways to broaden the curriculum between 14-19 phase:

Baroness Stedman-Scott: '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%.'

Lord Knight of Weymouth (Lab): '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.'

Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury (LD): '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 Earl of Clancarty (CB): 'Education is not just learning towards a specialisation or even a practice – 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.

'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”.'

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall (Lab): '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.'

Lord Lucas (Con): '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.​

'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.'

Lord Young of Norwood Green (Lab): 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?

Lord Bird (CB): 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.'

Sixteen members of the House participated in the debate. The motion was agreed.

Read the full dbeate here.

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