Putting creativity at the heart of the curriculum

Reading time: 2 minutes. Relevant event: SSAT National Conference 2018 

Tom Middlehurst, SSAT’s head of policy and public affairs, highlights some of the constructive and challenging contributions to come in December’s National Conference

Last week at ResearchEd, school standards minister Nick Gibb; responding in particular to criticism that the Ebacc has led to a decline in other subjects, apparently repeated his claim that arts subjects are not under threat.

Mr Gibb is either deluded or downright deceiptful. It simply cannot, cannot, be a coincidence that so many arts and vocational subjects have seen such declines in GCSE entries since the Ebacc’s introduction four years ago. It can only be the government who are to blame for this trend; part of a wider narrowing of the curriculum at every key stage coupled with insufficient school funding.

Ofsted’s investigation into the curriculum revealed that much of key stage two is dominated by English and maths in preparation for SATs, to the detriment of other subjects; and that KS3 is often seen as merely preparation for GCSE.

The Ebacc, the high stakes accountability of national assessment and the funding crisis have together meant that fewer young people are doing creative subjects (including not only the arts but engineering and computing). This is wrong, and politicians need to be honest about the impact of their own policies on qualification choice and what schools can offer.

At SSAT, we believe it is right to incentivise more students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to take more academic subjects than previously – and that prior attainment and social disadvantage should never be reasons not to offer a broad academic curriculum. But the Ebacc is restrictive. To qualify for the Ebacc students must take:

  • English language
  • English literature
  • Maths
  • Either combined science (two GCSEs) of three of the four individual sciences
  • History, ancient history or geography
  • A modern or ancient language.

Already, that’s seven or eight (depending on science options) subject choices. With the new, greater content of the reformed GCSEs, there simply isn’t the curriculum time (or indeed money) to study many other subjects. It is no surprise therefore that the number of students who take more than one arts subject has drastically dropped in the last five years.

We’re keen to draw attention to this at our National Conference in December, the theme of which is ‘pure imagination’. Following the singer and activist Charlotte Church’s guest editorial on BBC Woman’s Hour, we decided to invite her to speak to delegates, and are delighted to confirm that Ms Church has accepted. She will make the case for a broad and balanced curriculum that includes the arts as a core component – based not only on her own career but also recent plans to open her own school. Ms Church’s observations will be illustrated by headteachers who have put the arts at the centre of the curriculum, through further mainstage and workshop sessions. For example, senior leaders from Formby High School ask the provocative question in their workshop title: ‘Taboo or not taboo? Championing the “dark arts” in uncertain times’.

To hear Charlotte, Formby High and a range of other inspirational speakers at this year’s conference, on Wednesday 5 – Thursday 6 December at the ICC in Birmingham, please visit the webpage to find out more and book now.

Read on the SSAT blog: A glimpse into Ofsted’s thinking on the curriculum and its implications for schools in 2019

Follow Tom Middlehurst on Twitter

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