GCSE reform – a mixed response

Following the announcement of Education Secretary Michael Gove’s proposals to replace the current GCSE system with the EBacc, we round up some of the responses to the news so far.

Since Michael Gove unveiled his plans, many teachers and other professionals have voiced concerns that the proposed introduction of the EBacc will marginalise creative subjects in schools. The new EBacc would see students studying a ‘core’ group of subjects – including English, maths, science, but not music or art – from 2017.

Commenting in the Guardian, Julian Lloyd Webber is amongst a group of leading musicians and music teachers who fear that, due to the EBacc’s more prescriptive curriculum, a generation of talented British schoolchildren will now be overlooked.

“Some of these children will never touch a musical instrument, so will never find out how much natural talent they have,” said Webber, who campaigns for wider access to music teaching and is an ambassador of Children & the Arts.   He also warned that music was becoming increasingly viewed as an activity for well-off children.

“Music should be a birthright for all of us, but the more that teaching is limited to children in fee-paying schools or with parents who can afford lessons, then the stronger the idea that it is only for the elite will become,” he said.

‘The end of teaching of creative subjects in schools’

The Schools Music Association, which is being backed by Webber, has also expressed unease at the reforms and has called for assurances from Michael Gove that Britain’s “world class” music education will be protected when the EBacc is introduced.  In a public letter, the SMA maintains that musicians working with secondary schools fear that government proposals ‘will effectively mean the end of teaching of creative subjects’.

Not all the responses to the reforms have been critical. Sir Mike Tomlinson, a former chief inspector of schools said he was generally positive about the proposals and was particularly in favour of creating one single exam board to set examinations, rather than the current few.  Business leaders have also praised the changes; Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, stated that ‘a stronger curriculum and more rigorous exams would shore up confidence in the British education system’.

A ‘missed opportunity’

However, many commentators have been strongly vocal in their dislike of Gove’s ideas. Writing in The Independent, author Glen O’Hara called the reforms ‘a curious and dispiriting mix’, while the Guardian’s Melissa Benn wrote: “The international evidence on what makes a modern, stimulating curriculum  is being rejected in favour of an old-fashioned test that will surely turn off the majority of students’.

The i’s editor Stefano Hatfield condemned the change for its ‘entirely self-destructive method of teaching our children primarily to pass exams, rather than actually educating them.’

But perhaps one of the most forceful criticisms has come from the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM), which campaigned against the Ebacc. ISM chief executive Deborah Annetts said: ‘These proposals represent a missed opportunity to reform our education system. Michael Gove will ensure with these so-called reforms that the UK loses its competitive edge in the fields in which we are world class. It is as if the Olympics never happened. Design – gone, technology – gone, music – gone.”

 If you have yet to read Children & the Arts CEO Jeremy Newton’s response to the proposals, you can find that here.

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