Michael Gove’s proposed “revamped” EBacc which will replace current GCSEs will include only five core subjects (maths, English, sciences, languages and humanities) and will place no emphasis on creative subjects such as drama, design and performing arts. Crazy? Concerning? I certainly think so. What will the future of the arts industries be if we close them off to young people and, furthermore, what message are we permitting by suggesting that creative expression should not be cultivated because the government believes it is not a “core” asset to society?
The implication that creative subjects are not as useful as these core subjects seems completely ungrounded to me. When I was at school I took art, music and drama as my optional subjects and I was warned that this could have serious repercussions in my future career as they are not academic options. My teachers did get something right: this decision has had an effect on my career because I now work in the theatre industry.
It is arguably true that studying the five “core” subjects may be more academic than studying drama or design but it certainly doesn’t set students on a clear career path. When I came out of university with a good degree (in Philosophy and Biblical Studies) from a good university, I was left, like many graduates, floating in a pool of unemployment and indecision because I wasn’t trained to work in any industry at all. And, furthermore, even if I did decide to go to university to get a science degree, there would have been no guarantee that I would have been able to find a job any more easily. There are no guarantees. I actually have quite a few friends with what the government might deem “useful” MAs and PhDs who cannot find work or are working in jobs that are totally unrelated to their studies.
I have always had a passion for theatre and worked on productions alongside studying, so the first thing I did when graduating was to throw myself into the theatre industry and it was then that I realised that theatre is just that: it is an industry. As Julian Bird (Chief Executive of the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) and Theatrical Management Association (TMA) emphasises in an open letter to Michael Gove, creative industries “employ more than 80,000 people and contribute billions to the UK economy each year”, so giving young people the environment to learn relevant skills at school can only be a good thing.
But although studying towards a career is undoubtedly important, the debate shouldn’t be entirely career-centred. Giving young people an environment to be creative is about giving them a platform to express themselves. As Fiskit Theatre wrote in their AYT blog about the new EBacc last month, the arts engage people “in a way that encourages freedom of thought”. We shouldn’t be denying young people their passions, we should be cultivating them, and only encouraging “core” subjects is a far cry from doing this.
This decision could have a “devastating effect” (Bird), so we now need to stand up for the Confederation of British Industry’s recommendation that a creative or technical subject be included in the new qualification. How can we do this? Support the UK design industry’s #includedesign campaign, sign the petition and write to your MP in the hope that a sixth pillar – one made up of creative subjects – will be added to the new EBacc.