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A pretty personal account of why the English Baccalaureate is a disaster for children, the creative arts and the economy.

Ailsa Wilson Art education in schools BACC For the Future British creative economy British creative industry Creative arts education Creative economy Creative education in schools Creative industries Creative Industries Federation Department of Education English Baccalaureate GSCEs Sir John Sorrell

I had a pretty hairy time at primary school. Shyness, glasses, a lisp and legs as furry as a bear; I don't really look back at those days as being the 'best' days of my life (why do people say that? No amount of positive spin can convince most children that school is going to be their best days of their lives?). Add in dyslexia and number blindness into the mix and you can imagine… The key thing I do remember positively is painting. Specifically an orange. It was good enough to stop the teacher in his tracks as he watched over my shoulder. It was 'good enough' for a 'well done'. I was so happy with my picture of an orange. My spelling was never 'good enough' my 'number work' was never 'good enough', so imagine my joy at a rare moment of being 'good enough' That feeling has never left me.

I had a less hairy time at secondary school (I'd discovered hair removal products by then). But still the 'Art Block' and the generously spirited Miss Thornhill and Miss Wright were my islands of positivity. I took refuge there. It saved me a whole heap of trouble and the heartache of still feeling never really 'good enough'. Fast-forward a good few years and the 'O' levels, 'A' levels are irrelevant, pretty much, but the passion and desire to create is stronger than ever.

So it turns out I was lucky. Have your heard of the English Baccalaureate? If you haven't, you will. It's another government educational initiative (yay…). This one is going to make seven subject compulsory at GCSE level and not one of them in the arts. Most schools will guide their students to sit 8 GCSEs, up to 10 if they're looking like A* students. So what's that going to do to student numbers taking up the creative arts? What's that going to do to people like me?

By excluding all arts subjects from the Ebacc (and I'm including music here too) it's sign-posting the arts subjects as less valuable, less relevant. Second class subjects, to be 'squeezed in' if you've got the time. It all points to arts subjects providing less opportunity for success and career development and therefore ability to pay off your student loans. It explains the 20% drop in up-take of GCSEs in creative subjects since introduction of the Ebacc has begun. League tables won't include the creative arts so secondary schools have to think hard about the subjects they offer to gain their precious league points. But imagine what that's going to do to kids where they only subjects they're good at is the creative arts or music?

It's so shortsighted. The thing is, it's not just going to have an impact on students. It's going to have very real economic consequences (more yay…). The Creative Arts, in their various guises, contribute £84 billion (yep that's billion!) to the UK economy. There are 3 million people currently toiling away (a whole heap are freelance, self-employed, part time – you get the picture) in the creative industries. Interestingly the global demand for our creative, skilled workers is increasing twice as fast as the national average in other industries. So where's that going to leave the economy when the decline in students taking up these subjects finally bites? A massive skills shortage will begin to shrink the market and the demand will go else where. The economy will suffer (how much 'yay' can one take?).

“I believe in numeracy and literacy for all, but I also believe in creativity for all”

Sir John Sorrell,
founder of the Creative Industries Federation

I mean, who wouldn't? Ah yes; the Department of Education! So what can we do? Sign the petition. Write to your MP. Challenge the perception of arts subjects as 'also rans'. Sir John Sorrell, is heading a campaign, along with Elle Decoration, to raise the value of arts education in schools. I sincerely hope it works. 

Sign the petition here:

Write to your MP

Read more about the campaign here:

Additional content: Elle Decoration Campaign to Save Arts Education, February 2017

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