‘You Can Draw, but You’re Still Stupid’: Why the retraction of the English Baccalaureate is a positive step for culture

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For a party whose very name strikes an ethos of preservation, the Conservative party have taken it upon them to introduce a great many social reforms since their implementation as the dominant partner of the coalition marriage in 2010. Outside of the NHS, education reforms, spearheaded by Michael Gove and intended to  return the English education system to an O-level styled structure have stirred up perhaps the most controversy.

Mr. Gove was intent on doing this through the medium of the ‘English Baccalaureate’, a qualification that isn’t a qualification, but a measuring technique to understand whether or not students are capable of attaining a ‘C’ grade in certain subjects. However, due to systemic unpopularity and caution from Whitehall, Mr. Gove has had to call time on this project, and retract the implementation of the ‘EBacc’. This move on by the government should be applauded, as it will lead to the retention of choice that has allowed those outside of the ‘EBacc’ subjects to flourish educationally.

The English Baccalaureate consists of students doing English, Maths, the Sciences, a language and either History or Geography. That’s it. No Art, no music, no philosophy, not even the study of the very occupation Mr. Gove is in, politics, unless you want to be accredited one of the supposedly less worth GCSEs. There’s a serious problem here, and it will have two cultural affects, neither good.

Firstly, the English Baccalaureate was set to replace GCSE’s, as the mode of Key Stage 4 evaluations. After this there are A-levels, which may not interest some people. Many people who aren’t interested in simply adding up numbers and understanding the symbolism of The Great Gatsby may prefer to go to college to learn artistic occupations, get an internship in photography, or just paint for a living; all of which are occupations which can be just as rewarding as other careers. However, for these people, because they couldn’t understand the complexities of Newtonian physics or because they can’t soak up French words like water to a sponge, it means employers and further education institutes will be less likely to give them the opportunities they need to succeed.

The problem was that Michael Gove’s idea of an efficient and helpful educational system is highly restricting to the arts, and the arts are just as important to some people as chemistry is to others. Some people don’t enjoy biology, they enjoy Bach. Some people don’t enjoy Wordsworth, they enjoy water-painting.If you restrict what people can learn at one educational stage, then you restrict their ability to progress to other more pivotal stages, which will inevitably hamper their ability to do what they want. Even if just one person becomes a cashier instead of a studio musician because the baccalaureate had stopped them doing music at GCSE and stopped them from getting a regular (and free!) exposure to educational training, then the government would be failing our population.

The second cultural problem here is that, aside from creating a stigma whereby we judge people on their ability to do the core subjects, and not be recognised in furthering themselves in more artistic fields, the next problem is that it has ramifications for culture as a whole. The foundational cornerstones of any culture, whether people like it or not, are artistic; fashion, music, artistic expression, taken as broad concepts, underlie how we view a period of time – how many people remember the 60’s in Britain for medical breakthroughs or Twiggy and ‘The Beatles’? This isn’t to say that technology and the social improvements made from the subjects in the English baccalaureate aren’t hugely important, they are; what it is saying is that the main contribution to the ‘zeitgeist’ are artistic fields.

Resultantly, why would we want to restrict and hamper the chances and opportunities of those who will vbe affecting the important (and lucrative) cultural scene in years to come.  Admittedly, the English Baccalaureate won’t stop the Sheffield music scene thriving, nor will it stop British dramatists performing at the Royal Albert Hall, but it could have a stultifying effect on art throughout the nation.

And when we can see the impact of art, from Marlowe to Adele, the question remains; why would we want to do a silly thing like that?

Article by Simon Renwick. Edited by James Wilson.

  • James

    On the other hand, ‘artistic’ subjects need not be taught in school; as a rule they are hobbies that, for a few lucky people, become lucrative enough to earn a living from. Science, on the other hand, needs to be taught rigorously in schools; and tends to be regarded as less interesting and fun than artistic subjects. A system that promotes harder subjects, such as science and maths, over softer ones (which need not be even taught in schools) is no bad thing.