High profile figures from the arts have joined with the National Union of Teachers in condemning the Coalition’s planned secondary school Key Stage 4 examination changes.
The NUT included statements from leading arts figures as part of its response to the Department for Education’s ‘consultation process’ on Monday.
Leading playwright David Hare described Education Secretary Gove’s plans to replace GCSEs in all the English Baccalaureate subjects (maths, English, sciences, a language and history or geography) as ‘class-reinforcing insanity’, while distinguished director Richard Eyre warned the government is creating ‘cultural apartheid’.
Christine Blower, General Secretary of the NUT, said: ‘It is essential that for once Michael Gove listens to the ever-increasing list of people and organisations telling him that his plans for examination reform are simply not right.
‘Whilst not being opposed to reform of the examination system, nor to the drive to raise standards, schools need to be able to offer pupils a broad and balanced curriculum.
‘Proposals for the EBC and the Ebacc will make this very difficult.
‘The NUT and NAHT have written to Michael Gove expressing our concerns and have launched a petition calling for the consultation to be wider.’
The playwright and director David Hare said: ‘It seems hardly believable at a time when local authorities are known to be strapped for cash and cutting back on inspiring visits to dance, music and theatre events, that the government should meanwhile take away from less privileged children the chance to access these life-changing subjects through a central curriculum.
‘The new proposals for the English Baccalaureate are the very opposite of joined-up government.
‘The rigidity of the proposed list of subjects means that the arts will now be denied to the very pupils who have least chance of exposure to them in their daily lives.
‘Insanity, and worse – class-reinforcing insanity.’
Leading director Richard Eyre said: ‘You don’t have to be a teacher to know that music makes schoolchildren better at maths and that drama makes our society more tolerant.
‘You don’t have to be an economist to observe that the cultural industries are of enormous and growing value to the British economy or that a healthy cultural realm is a powerful reason for Britain’s magnetism as a tourist destination.
‘You don’t have to be a diplomat to testify that British cultural excellence is a valuable element of British identity abroad.
‘You just have to be human to experience the fact that the arts illuminate things that make us aware of our common humanity.
‘By diminishing the opportunity to study the arts – by excluding them from the core subjects of the curriculum – we condemn future generations to a life a little less than human and, in time, the already large gap between those for whom the arts are a part of life and those who feel excluded from them will widen to an unbridgeable divide.
‘What’s next? Cultural apartheid.’
Neil Constable, Chief Executive, of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre said: ‘At a time when we have just been celebrating one of the world’s great playwrights with the World Shakespeare Festival and when our creative and cultural skills have shone around the world with the Olympic and Paralympic Games ceremonies, it appears bizarre for government to now marginalise the arts and stop students enjoying the opportunity for a fully rounded education.
‘At the Globe we welcome over 100,000 schoolchildren annually and enrich their study and enjoyment of Shakespeare.
‘We cannot now deprive an entire generation of children of the cultural skills that they will need.’
Film director Ken Loach said: ‘It is sad and short-sighted that creative subjects are to be excluded from the Baccalaureate.
‘Many students find confidence and fulfilment in music, art or drama. Other work is then supported and enriched.
‘If these courses do not contribute to the Baccalaureate then there will be pressure to drop them.
‘This will diminish not only the students themselves but the wider society.’
Actress Julie Walters said: ‘Considering that we have just had the Olympics celebrating our cultural heritage and showcasing bright new talent, it seems ironic that the government wishes to undermine Creativity and the Arts by side-lining them from the curriculum.
‘Creativity is as important in education as literacy, and determining somebody’s intelligence shouldn’t be limited merely to academic subjects.
‘We should nurture creativity and its power to encourage innovation. The Arts has the power to liberate people as well as to entertain.’
Nicholas Serota, Director, of the Tate Gallery said ‘The facts tell a worrying story.
‘The omission of arts subjects from the English Baccalaureate has already resulted in art teachers losing their jobs, applications for PGCE courses in the arts declining, and children being channelled away from the arts.
‘The arts are a vital part of a rounded education, and that should be available to all.
‘Business leaders, teachers, arts leaders, designers and others are united in their concern that the cost of the arts not being securely in the curriculum now is the UK’s creativity in the future.’
The NUT also joined forces with the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) in launching a petition calling for greater consultation on the new English Baccalaureate Certificate (EBC).
The petition has already been signed by, among others, the Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg MP, Labour peers Estelle Morris and Jim Knight, as well as the actors’ union Equity and the Musicians’ Union.
The unions were also writing to their own members and to Gove to warn that current proposals leave too many questions unanswered, especially on the future of subjects of great importance to the cultural and economic health of the nation.
Blower said: ‘Time and again we see Michael Gove rushing to push through educational reforms that are not properly thought out and are simply a reflection of his own personal preferences.
‘The Education Secretary needs this time to stop and listen to the many voices that are warning him that the EBC is not the way forward.
‘Many children’s lives will be blighted as a result. This is of concern to us all.’
Russell Hobby, General Secretary of the NAHT, said: ‘The current consultation begs important questions.
‘We need to consider assessment, curriculum and accountability together.
‘Otherwise, the new certificates will be undermined by all the old problems.
‘We need properly to address the needs of all students, to stretch and challenge pupils with a wide range of skills and abilities.’