The EBacc: Gibb’s own-goal?

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Oh No!  Gibb’s scored an own-goal! 

Dear Mr Gibb

As you may or may not have read, a few weeks ago Liverpool Football Club announced substantial match-day ticket price rises. The supporters united and left the ground 13 minutes before the end of a game, possibly causing their team to concede two goals and draw the match. They announced further action over an extended period of time, and it looked like the start of a long, acrimonious battle between the club’s owners and its supporters. But then a few days later, the club made an unexpected announcement and admitted it had been wrong to raise its ticket prices and that they would be frozen for two years and be unchanged from last year’s prices. The supporters were naturally both surprised and delighted and full of praise for the club’s owners. Peace and harmony had been restored and club and supporters could get back to what they were there for – to encourage the team and win matches and trophies.

Now let’s apply this sequence of events to teachers and the DfE. The responses to the EBacc Consultation, and their coverage on social media, along with the recent NSEAD survey into the provision of the teaching of Art in our schools, clearly indicate the extent to which teachers are unhappy with your current stance on the introduction of the EBacc as a performance measure. They’ve not threatened to walk out before the end of their lessons, but an increasing number are leaving the profession and morale is poor because their experience tells them that what is being imposed is not in the best interests of the majority of our children, many of whom will in future be further denied access to inspiring, well-taught courses they would have succeeded in.

It remains to be seen what the DfE’s response to the EBacc consultation will be. Because you asked for suggestions for ways of implementing the scheme, you could simply ignore the criticisms that were widely made in the responses. There’s nothing to stop you carrying on with your intentions as before and simply dismiss the fact that you are acting in conflict with the wisdom of the majority of the workforce. But if you were unaware of the strength of their feeling before the consultation, you certainly do now, just as Liverpool FC’s owners discovered about their own supporters.

And then of course there’s the problem of finding enough academically experienced and qualified teachers to deliver the EBacc. The more the DfE keeps telling teachers that “While we recognise the challenges [on teacher recruitment] that school leaders face in particular areas, we are working with the sector to address them with constructive action.”, the more they know you haven’t a clue what to do about the situation.

There is, however, another approach you could consider, and that is to give way on what is an undesirable and undeliverable policy. You’ve just shown that you do have the capacity to listen to Primary School Heads over their concerns about the marking timetable for the new end of KS2 SATS, and to make some appropriate and welcome concessions, although of course you still need to go a bit further than that in the long run. I’m sure you could now find some clever words that would enable you to reconsider and modify your approach to the EBacc as an accountability measure without appearing to do too much of a u-turn.

And if the you did, teachers and headteachers, just like the football supporters, would all be surprised and delighted and praise the DfE for listening to what the profession had said about the undesirability and impracticability of the EBacc and for taking their concerns into account, acting quickly and decisively averting a crisis. Peace and harmony could be quickly restored and everyone could get back to doing what they were there for in the first place – to encourage children to learn and do well in school and flourish for the rest of their lives, whether they end up at Oxbridge or not.

A manager of a football team who does not have anything like a big enough squad to play in exactly the particular way he wants them to can’t expect to win many matches. All he can do is to anticipate a glut of transfer requests and for top players to move abroad rather than want to transfer to his team, while the club quickly drops into an even lower league. A manager who has lost the confidence of the dressing room is doomed to failure: it’s essential for him to work with the players, to maximise their abilities and strengths and believe in them, and not just arbitrarily impose what he believes is the only right way to play.

So Mr Gibb, which is it to be? Are you about to score a disastrous season-defining own-goal and become seen as being even more toxic than Gove, or to admit that perhaps there’s more to teaching and learning that you realised, and that you are prepared to listen to and consider the advice you are being given by the profession? Surely you can see that Education is too important to be left to politicians alone?

Is that a Yes or a No, Minister?

Yours sincerely

All Change Please!

PS. I recently came across these two photos – they make an interesting comparison, don’t they?

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Pass Notes: Art Attack!

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What? Has someone had a Heart Attack? Quickly. Call an ambulance!

No, no, no! Though you might have one after you’ve read the latest NSEAD (National Society for Education in Art and Design) survey. You can download a pdf copy here. It’s the teaching of Art & Design in our schools that’s in critical danger and may not survive much longer.

Ah. But I keep reading that the Department for Education say that the numbers taking Art GCSE have risen by as much as 1%, so all this whining about children not being allowed to take creative subjects at GCSE is really just a lot of fuss about nothing. 

Well, for a start you shouldn’t believe DfE political propaganda statements, just as you’d be advised not to take a headline in the Daily Mail at face value. The problem is that the DfE’s figures don’t include the large numbers of students who previously took BTEC courses in Art & Design, but that now do GCSE instead. When they are added in it’s clear that the overall figure has fallen by thousands, and will continue to do so for many years to come as more and more children are forced to take all the EBacc subjects. And meanwhile entries in all other Arts-based subjects, such as Music, Drama and Dance, have fallen over the past five years.

Oh well, at least children still get plenty of time in primary school to get develop some good skills in drawing and painting.

Not according to the NSEAD survey they don’t. Apparently primary schools are substantially cutting back on Art to spend more time preparing for the National Key Stage 2 tests. And that means children are less well prepared for the standards they are expected to achieve at KS3 when they get to secondary school.

OK, but then there’s three years of regular lessons when they get to Key Stage 3 in Secondary School – a double period a week as I recall.

Ah, those were the days! The survey reveals that in many schools there is much less time allocated for Art at KS3, and in some it’s been made part of a rotational system where it’s only studied for a term each year. And many schools now start their GCSE options in Year 9, so KS3 only lasts for two years. Meanwhile new teacher recruitment is down, so there is evidence of more classes being taught by non-specialists.

I remember when I was at school art was dead good – we used to go on lots of trips to local galleries and museums, and a real-life designer came into school to make things with us. 

Hmm. You didn’t go to an independent school by any chance did you? Because if you did you’re far more likely to have been on trips and had visits from practitioners than if you went to a free-school. And yes, it’s all in the NSEAD survey.

But come on now, be honest, let’s face it, taking an Arts subject isn’t going to help you get a job, is it? I mean, all those years starving in an attic, spending all your money on expensive oil paints. Well that’s what I was told, anyway. 

If that’s what you think, you’ve been badly mis-led! Last year the Creative Industries contributed 81 billion to the economy and employed 2.8 million people. Studying Art & Design doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll end up being an ‘artist’ – there are a wide range of other opportunities to work in creative areas that need good visual problem-solving and communication skills. And that’s got to be better than doing an over-subscribed academic degree and ending up working a coffee shop.

With the introduction of the EBacc it seems like the country is in the process of throwing away its established global reputation for the excellence in its work in the Creative Industries – something that China and many other countries are now investing heavily in.

Well I have to admit, taking Art GCSE raised my confidence and self-esteem and had a knock-on effect in improving my results in other subjects, and I feel I have had a much broader and richer education that many of my peers did. It gave me an opportunity to think and work in a completely different way, and I’ve been able to apply that to many of the things I do today. It certainly changed my life! Everyone should take Art at school!

Yes, many teachers would agree with you about that. It’s just a shame that in years to come it looks like most children won’t have the opportunity to have same experience you did.

You’re making it all sound rather depressing.

That’s because it is extremely depressing.

So what’s to be done? How can the patient be saved?

There’s one simple remedy – the DfE could back down on the use of using numbers of EBacc subject entries as a measure of school performance in league tables. Another treatment that’s not been tried before would be for headteachers to get together and refuse to administer the DfE’s medicine and just ignore it.

Meanwhile we also need the wider world outside the teaching profession to know that our children are being increasingly denied access to the world of the Creative Arts. Then they need to take action, such as writing to their MP – so please share this post with all your relatives, friends and neighbours (by email/twitter/facebook, etc), particularly if they happen work in the Creative Industries – their support is very important.

So why’s this happening? I thought Nicky Morgan was supposed to be teacher’s friend?

Generally speaking she is. It’s Nick Gibb who is causing the problem, as he’s in charge of curriculum surgery. He’s the one spreading all this EBaccteria nonsense and children will end up having to take subjects they don’t want to do, and being taught by teachers who are inexperienced and not properly qualified. If he’s not careful, Gibb will be the next DfE politician to be branded as being toxic and dumped in the waste disposal bin, as Michael Gove was.

Do say: Apparently Nick Gibb’s background was as a chartered accountant.

Don’t ask: Was painting by numbers Gibb’s favourite activity in Art lessons at school?

Lord only knows?

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There was extensive gnashing of teeth when the menacing Lord Gnasher recently spoke in the House of Lords.

The Most Excellent Earl of Clancarty had secured a short debate in the House of Lords to ask what effect the EBacc requirements will have on ensuring that children receive a balanced and rounded education in schools. In his opening speech he said:

“Children will not necessarily be excited by everything. Real social justice is to treat children as individuals who are open to a variety of possibilities. The narrow and, crucially, uniformly set EBacc curriculum…leave very little room, if any, for art, music and drama, or other subjects, including technological courses.

The EBacc is a flawed measure. It should either be radically reformed, or dropped entirely.

In this sense, an EBacc without the arts should be unthinkable; a core curriculum without the arts will not raise standards but lower them. Students being able to make connections between disparate subjects is not only part of the learning process; it will be that innovation that fires the future… Finally, a rounded education treats the main areas of education as being of equal value.”

Other excellent contributions to the debate included:

Baroness Morris of Yardley (Lab): There is nothing to stop schools doing art, drama and all those things… However, the reality is that schools are not doing so and are losing the facilities needed. The teachers are not being recruited. The time is not being made available.

Baroness Pinnock (LD): The business leader said that what business wanted was soft skills in young people entering the world of work. He defined these as the ability to communicate, to collaborate, to co-operate in a team, to be critical and to work on projects—none of which he felt would be developed in young people through the EBacc diet.

Altogether, we are proposing a narrow diet for our young people when they face the world of work which is opening up. I beg the Minister to reconsider what he is offering.

Lord Freyberg (CB): our creative industries account for one in 12 jobs and have been the fastest growing sector in the UK economy, increasing by 15.8% since 2011 to 1.8 million jobs and contributing some £84 billion to the UK economy. …our country is already crying out for a combination of creative—in particular, design—and technical skills.

…a recent report, commissioned by the Creative Industries Federation, highlighted that countries such as China, South Korea and Brazil have learned from our success and are investing heavily in their creative education because they, too, can see the economic value of culture.

Lord Aberdare (CB): I am also struck by the lack of focus on digital skills in the EBacc proposals. The report published last February by the Digital Skills Committee, on which I served, argues that digital literacy should be taught as a core subject alongside numeracy and literacy and be embedded across all subjects and throughout the curriculum, but it seems to appear in the EBacc only in the guise of computing as an optional science subject.

Lord Watson of Invergowrie (Lab): Only 39% of students took the EBacc in the past academic year. Yet already there has been a significant effect on other subjects since 2010—most notably, on what I argue is the key subject of design and technology, for which there has been a 29% drop in take-up. The curriculum should not be driven by the needs of the minority who are going to the most selective universities.

And then it was the turn of the The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State from the Df-ingE to respond:

Lord Nash (Milton Abbey Independent Boarding school and Oxford, Corpus Christi, studying Law, Con.). Yes, that’s the same Lord Nash who in April 3013 was co-chairman of the governors who appointed an unqualified teacher as headmistress at the new Pimlico primary school ahead of its opening in September. Further criticism followed when she resigned after four weeks in the job…:

“I welcome the chance to explain our thinking behind the EBacc and to share what we are doing to ensure that all pupils, regardless of their background, have the right to a balanced and rounded education that opens doors to their future, prepares them for realising their potential in adult life, whatever their ambitions may be, and…responds fully to a child’s natural curiosity, which is so important.”

It’s just a pity Lord Gnasher didn’t instead welcome the chance to listen, consider and respond to the  thinking behind the specific challenges of the EBacc raised by the natural curiosity of the rest of the Lords, which were so important. And there’s a big difference between children ‘having the right to’ and ‘being forced to’ take the ivory tower academic EBacc subjects.

We must realise the appallingly low base that we started from in 2010. In 2010, many pupils, often those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, were being denied a basic education in the core academic subjects.

This is just political rhetoric. The phrase ‘appallingly low base’ is meaningless point-scoring over the previous Labour party administration, and is a gross mis-representation. Meanwhile All Change Please! has yet to see the objective evidence of actual ‘denial’ of a basic education in core subjects (i.e. where a child capable of achieving a good pass in an academic subject has been forced to take a different, less-academic subject instead).

You need to give pupils from a disadvantaged background the core suite of cultural knowledge they need to compete with pupils from a more advantaged background. This has been acknowledged across the board.

This has also been challenged across the board, and most would agree that high levels of problem-solving creative and technical skills are what are now required to be competitive. Cultural knowledge on its own is not enough. It’s worrying that future engineers can arrive at top Russell Group universities with a string of A grade GCEs but no previous experience of problem-solving.

..on average, pupils in state-funded schools enter nine GCSEs and equivalent qualifications, rising to more than 10 for more able pupils.

Everyone else agrees the average is 8 GCSEs. Only the Df-ingE claims it is 9. And that means half the children do less, and they are the ones who will particularly suffer as a result of being denied access to a wider range of subjects. It’s the academically-less able who will be the losers, not the more able.

I certainly do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, that we should abolish accountability measures—all the international evidence is that autonomy and accountability is the right balance.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: I did not say that we should abolish them but that I was in favour of them.

Lord Young is quite correct – indeed he didn’t say that. It was the Earl of Clancarty who said he wanted to abolish them, citing Germany as having a highly successful education system that does not have them. Perhaps in future Lord Gnasher should pay closer attention to what’s actually being said, and by whom?

And where exactly is this autonomy of which you speak? Such as in 90% of children must be entered for exactly the same subjects, for example?

A head teacher said: ‘The EBacc is not appropriate to the modern world. It is not appropriate to modern learning.’ Oh dear. It sounds like the sort of person who would say that you don’t need knowledge because you can look it up on the internet.

Now this isn’t clever political debating, it’s just cheap Daily Mail spin. “You don’t need knowledge because you can look it up on the internet” said no head teacher, ever. As All Change Please! keeps pointing out, we have yet to work out what knowledge we now need to have stored in our long-term memories, but it’s certainly not the unnecessary excesses demanded by the EBacc.

“Modern cognitive and neuroscience makes clear that you need knowledge to develop skills”. 

And you also need skills to develop and understand knowledge. But Lord Gnasher probably doesn’t have any practical skills, so he wouldn’t know that.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Watson, wants evidence. He mentioned ED Hirsch; if he would care to look at the effect of the Core Knowledge curriculum on the “Massachusetts miracle” in schools there, he would see what an effect such a curriculum can have, particularly on disadvantaged pupils.

Yes, and he would also see the problems that the fact and recall-driven, one-size fits all ‘pub-quiz’ curriculum is causing due to its inflexibility and lack of relevance to most teenagers. And its rigid structure and right or wrong approach that is doing little to prepare today’s children for the reality of the very messy world they will quickly discover when they leave school. Meanwhile the ‘Massachusettes Education Miracle’ to give it its correct title (the Massachusettes Miracle is something quite different), has been dis-credited with suggestions it had been adopted primarily to attract extra funding, and it is one of 15 US states now holding back on further implementation based on the emerging evidence that over four to five years, test scores are declining and students are unprepared for college-level work. Strange that Lord Gnasher didn’t mention that, isn’t it?

I am quite sure we can have 90% of pupils taking EBacc; I have absolutely no doubt.

Indeed, there may be no doubt we can, but that doesn’t mean we should, does it? Taking is not the same as doing well in. So it’s not surprising that he didn’t mention that the majority will achieve very low GCSEs grades, mainly because there is going to be a massive shortage of suitably experienced and qualified EBacc subject teachers. Not to mention the fact the Earl of Clancarty mentioned, that according to the ASCL 87% of secondary school leaders are unhappy with the EBacc proposals. But Lord Gnasher probably had his fingers in his ears at that point. And his eyes wide shut.

Well Lord Gnasher, thanks for the insights into your firm, unwavering grasp of the situation. It’s good to know that there’s an unqualified teacher making an important contribution to the work of the Df-ingE, and we can only hope that you’ll be resigning soon, just like that headmistress from Pimlico did.

And finally, in true tabloid style, All Change Please! says…

It’s not the subject you study that’s important, what matters is how good your teacher is. It’s better to be taught an arts or technical subject well, than to be taught an academic subject poorly.

Image credit: Flickr/Paul Downey / D.C. Thomson&Co Ltd.