EBacc basics

Lord Lipsey

The government’s consultation on its proposals for a EBac, the English baccalaureate, close today, but one theme is sure to be prominent: howls of outrage at the way Michael Gove is trying to downgrade the place in our schools of the arts in general and of music in particular. History, geography, languages, English, maths: no one disputes that they should be part of the planned suite of qualifications for EBac. What is disputed is that they should be the only qualifications; for surely cultural subjects, such as music, are also central to a rounded education.

That was the view expressed in more than 340 submissions to the House of Commons Education Committee inquiry into the system. In a masterly understatement the committee said that the decision “could be seen as odd in light of the Government’s views that “involvement with the arts has a dramatic and lasting effect on youg people but perhaps even more so considering Michael Gove;s own words……’I’m proposing that the Government look at how many young people in eac h secondary schools secure five good GCSE’s including…as humanity like history or geography, art or music.’ “

Darren Henley, managing director of Classic FM, recommended in his widely-applauded review of cultural education for the government that it should consider making  a cultural subject to GCSE mandatory. 60 organisations have set up a campaign for the inclusion of Music, Arts, Design and Technology, Drama and Dance as a sixth subject group in the English Baccalaureate.

I have particular reason to know how damaging it will be to the art is if the government does not have second thoughts. I  chair the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. The talent of the applicants we admit has to be heard and seen to be appreciated. But unless the basic skills are taught in their teenage years, these young people will rarely reach the heights that they are capable of.

I am also an economist; and it also worries me that this would damage Britain in an area where we have a worldwide comparative advantage. As Danny Boyle’s wonderful opening ceremony for the Olympics shows, Britain leads in cultural creativity. And cultural creativity in turn leads to much our future economic success requires. If we are to get beyond an over-reliance on our battered financial services industries, if we are to provide rewarding jobs for our young people (so in turn they can support out older people), then we need an education system with creativity at its heart.

12 comments for “EBacc basics

  1. Rhodri Mawr
    10/12/2012 at 1:46 pm

    I’m really only in favour of Bac because i know how much higher the standards are in French schools, to one of which I went as an 11 year old.


    I agree also with the cultural aspect prescribed by L Lipsey. How much can you not learn about the myths and legends of the arts by going to the ROH or the Coliseum to watch ballet and opera. How much can you not learn about physical well being (ouch those toes!) as well?

  2. maude elwes
    10/12/2012 at 1:49 pm

    Music is essential for the choice of children with this aptitude. And the arts ingeneral are often underated. Which is ridiculous when you think of how much money it brings in to the country.

    I will simply add this clip which shows children of not only amazing ability but those with what is considered, limited ability, can and do gain a great deal from the close contact and understanding of music. Which is a joy.

    Mr. Gove should broaden his horizons on this matter. Although in the main he is on the right track.


    These children are very special. They are of all abilities.


    And the hot.


    Children need more than academics to live a well balanced life. And an educational system that is worthy of its pupils should make it possible for them to enjoy their education.

  3. Senex
    10/12/2012 at 2:21 pm

    Well at my school we had gardening – dutch style wooden clogs – brussel sprouts and cabbages. Got me out of history, geography, languages, english, maths and cookery; now look how I turned out, just another blogging vegetable.

    We had a music lesson and an art lesson too. We did water colours learned to hold a pencil at arm’s length to give a sense of scale. In music we learned that every good boy deserves favour and lets face it was on another scale.

    I put my creativity down to being an artful dodger but never learned to fiddle. However, as an adult I was obliged earn my living with a degree of science something you missed for some reason from your list; draw the dole on occasion, whistle a tune and appreciate the art in a catapult.

    What did you do?

  4. Dave H
    10/12/2012 at 7:10 pm

    Michael Gove, like his predecessors, feels it is his duty to tamper with the curriculum. At age 13 I was glad to give up history and geography because I found them boring and largely irrelevant to my planned career. I was even lucky enough half-way through my O-level courses to move (due to my father’s new job) to a school where English Literature was an option, so I ditched that and signed up to do metalwork, which is the one I’d reluctantly dropped due to only having five options at the previous school. Admittedly I’m not a typical case, but I’d decided what I wanted to do, looked at university requirements and was trying to get any qualification that might help towards that and discarding the rest.

    I would have deeply resented having to give up something of interest to do history at that point, and it would probably have put me off history for life. Certainly the extra time I had to do English literature has left me with a deep disinterest in that subject. History, on the other hand, I picked up as an adult and now find it interesting.

    I wonder how many people, having been forced to do something at school that at the time was irrelevant and uninteresting, are then put off the subject for life? How many of them would have come back to it in later life once they had settled down?

    I learned far more from my own reading on all sorts of subjects compared to the set works at school, although back then it appears we had less homework than is required now, so we had opportunity to pursue our own interests instead of being taught how to pass exams.

  5. Croft
    11/12/2012 at 12:07 pm

    Hmm Dave,

    “Michael Gove, like his predecessors, feels it is his duty to tamper with the curriculum”

    As we have an estimated @ 100,000 pupils leaving schools each year who are functionally illiterate (and a higher figure for maths) I’d suggest your implication that things can just be left as they are is not credible.

    As to later life learning the evidence is against you. Most peoples historical knowledge is broadly what they learned at school. The number who substantially improve is small relative to the consequences of say a 10 or 20% increase/decrease in pupils taking the subject at school.

    On ‘boring’ that is I suggest a function of bad teaching. Good teachers can make almost anything interesting.

    • Dave H
      11/12/2012 at 6:15 pm

      I have to admit that if I was in his job I’d be doing my best to rip up much of the last thirty years, so I agree with him on some things.

      However, it still comes down to the problem that school is a sausage machine which has the goal of producing economic units to go work in the factories and quangos. While there are exceptions, children are taught how to pass exams so the schools score more highly in the league tables. There’s no chance to spend time in class exploring an interesting side issue because it’s not going to be in the exam so shut up and keep learning the facts. There’s not much chance to spend time learning outside class either, got to do that homework and learn more facts that might appear in the exam. Teachers are stuck in the middle, most of them would probably love to engage the enthusiasm of the children and help them learn through their own questioning, but they have to keep force-feeding the facts otherwise they get jumped upon.

      Most people probably have any love of learning for its own sake crushed and broken by school, which is why they never bother to study in later life.

      I admit that I might have a somewhat jaundiced view of the profession (and no, I’ve never taught in a school).

      • Croft
        12/12/2012 at 11:57 am

        Having spent some time in the far east where they really do have a production line education system (which tops just about all the international league tables) I certainly don’t recognise the UK by comparison as overly obsessed in learning facts.

        If you know of any peer reviewed studies on fluffy -v- rigorous learning systems and later life learning I’d like to hear about them. The only correlation I know of is between literacy levels and later life learning.

        • maude elwes
          14/12/2012 at 10:59 am

          It is said music expands the system in the brain for learning. Music is related to mathmatics. And that a bombardment of the ability via music appreciation and activity with intruments aids the abilty to function aritmetically.

          Orientals are aware of this magical activity and its ability to awaken a brain to many activities not normaly associated with the practice.


          To offer young children the opportunity to understand and be involved in the creation of music, aids their ability to absorb academic subjects with ease.

          Exposure, therefore, is of benefit to all who teach.


  6. MilesJSD
    11/12/2012 at 5:40 pm

    If you are truly serious about improving Education, for every-one
    not just for the cream straight-As top-brits
    then you will be paradigm-progressing The Public
    to participate in a new individual-human-development Movement.

    Please see my submission to Lord Norton’s “drugs” blog, above;
    for a simple focal curriculum for an affordable and sustainworthy generic education for the Lifeplace (as distinct from The Workplace).

  7. MilesJSD
    15/12/2012 at 7:06 pm

    Also, please seriously deliberate, at length, the probable need for a ‘one-human-being-sufficient-living/income’

    and that the Church-of-England Catechism requires that one shall “labour to get my own living”


    not two, three, 10, 20 … human-livings each

    (in the current case of certain Bankers, Doctors, Lawyers, Parliamentarians, and Footballers/Screen-Stars
    several HUNDRED human-livings each).

    I mean, what is do damned clever about not being able to live off one-human-living

    nor (in that very weakness and gross-failure) not being an emulable model of human-expertise ?

  8. Lord Blagger
    17/12/2012 at 11:11 am



    So who is going to be forced to pay for others?

    Who is going to have their money taken by force to pay for others not to work?

    • MilesJSD
      17/12/2012 at 9:48 pm

      Q. “Who is going to be ‘forced’ to pay for others ?”

      Answer 1: Jesus.

      Answer 2: The private-orchard-owner who can pick the most fruit in a day.

      Answer 3: The same billions of oppressed poverty-liners worldwide whose natural-stock and resources are being forcibly-cornered, controlled and consumed by a few million multiple-human-livings-fattened, die-hard erstwhile colonialist, “first-world-leading-democrats, and EBacc individual-capitalists” (amongst whom we should not forget to be including one ‘Lord Blagger’, eh ?)

      Answer 4: The same over-worked permanently-low-income British citizens who today and traditionally have shillings and pennies forced out of them to cornucopialise the already overfattened pockets and bellies of
      (a) tens-of-thousands of failing Establishmentarian, Upper, Royal, and Private-individual classes of people
      (b) thousands of Bankers
      (c) hundreds of thousands of Civil Servants

      (I need to take a break for breath, so choking are the private-car fumes being forced into my aging lungs 24/7/52)

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