Having very recently retired from teaching Art & Design after nearly 30 years in a public sector high school I had decided before Christmas to write a piece on the state of art education. The first piece of many I hope.
Now that the English Baccalaureate is about to take hold and send the creative arts spinning back to the old days of budget cuts and the 'steering' of the more 'academic' (often the usually better behaved pupils with a willingness to learn and experiment) away from the arts in general it just feels the right time to express an opinion, although I can't understand why there is so little protest from educators about these damning changes.
On a drive home across the road from hell, the M62, it was a delight to hear THE JOHN PEEL LECTURE delivered by Billy Bragg. I have always enjoyed Billy Bragg's writing and this particular lecture was very close to my heart. It is about Billy's journey as a performer and also his views on the English Baccalaureate and creativity. I hope he doesn't mind me quoting a few paragraphs as he puts it much better than I could. There is a link to the full piece at the end of this blog.
'The coalition government are about to introduce a new exam system that threatens to exclude creative subjects from the core qualifications expected of our 16 year olds.
The English Baccalaureate, the new GCSE performance measure, requires that schools publish the number of students that get A-C grades across 5 subject areas at GCSE level. These are: English, Maths, Science, Modern Foreign Languages and Humanities (History and Geography). These subjects will be expected to take up 80% of the curriculum.
Under such a regime, there is a real danger that the creative arts will struggle to compete with the core subjects. And at a time of cuts to the education budget, the pressure on schools to dump subjects like music and drama if favour of those that offer high marks in performances tables will only grow.
The insistence that knowledge is more important than creativity, that the latter will flourish if left to its own devices is, like the English Baccalaureate, a throwback to the per-art school days of the early 1950s.'
People are quite happy to have enjoyed the wonderful spectacle of the Olympic opening ceremony, they may visit the occasional art gallery or sculpture park, buy designer clothes, browse through a magazine, buy their children picture books.
They may even occasionally marvel at a piece of architecture, the design of the latest car or the attractive packaging of the food, jewellery and anything else that comes wrapped or boxed.
They may be thrilled at a movie or a well filmed and designed television programme. They may go to the theatre to see a play or a popular musical and marvel at the production, but do they think about the hundreds of people, artists, designers, actors, dancers etc who have created this for them?
The Department for Education has no mention of the words creative, art, drama or music in its general article about the English Baccalaureate. The only near mention is in a paragraph about why it was introduced:
'The number of non-academic qualifications taken up to age 16 had risen from about 15,000 in 2004 to about 575,000 in 2010, with a higher take-up of vocational qualifications by young people from deprived backgrounds. Many of these qualifications do not carry real weight for entry to higher education or for getting a job.'
Let's see that again: 'Many of these qualifications do not carry real weight for entry to higher education or for getting a job'. I don't see how that statement could be any less condescending, a real slap in the face for creative educators.
You'll notice that any mention of sport and fitness is also missing from the DfE article. What happened to the Sports Colleges, oh yes, that's right, they're now Academies doing the English Baccalaureate. Perhaps children are now fitter than they used to be and have no need for PE, and after winning all those gold medals at the Olympics do we really need any more?
In my time as an educator I have seen fashions come and go, and often come back again, but this English Baccalaureate could have real long term repercussions for the arts in general. A sad state of affairs.
'Imagination is more important than knowledge, for knowledge is limited while imagination embraces the whole world.'