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.