Unicorn Theatre reports fall in visits from school groups

The Unicorn Theatre, one of the UK’s leading theatres dedicated to producing work for young people, has reported a six per cent drop in school group visits during the period from August 2014 to June 2015, compared to the previous year. The theatre has also experienced an increase in cancellations from school groups.

Credit: Manuel Harlan

Credit: Manuel Harlan

Unicorn’s learning associate Catherine Greenwood said in response to the figures: ‘We are hearing from some teachers and head teachers that they are finding it increasingly difficult to justify the time out of the classroom. With schools facing cuts to budgets in the next financial year, and with the government recently announcing plans to make the Ebacc compulsory in all schools, this situation will only get worse.’
The Warwick Report, published in February this year, found that young people from low-income families are least likely to engage with and appreciate the arts as part of the school curriculum or their home life. Greenwood thinks there is a ‘serious danger’ that the current climate will create a ‘two-tier system:  those schools who choose to make the arts available to their students and those who don’t.’ Greenwood believes that letting such a system take hold would be ‘failing many young people.’
‘We need schools, head teachers and governing bodies to actively redress this imbalance if we are to ensure students from all backgrounds have access to theatre. A visit to the theatre can provide schools with a rich context for learning across the curriculum – which many teachers take advantage of, and we have first-hand experience showing that it improves literacy and learning among less able students in particular.’

EBacc to return to secondary education

The EBacc, or English Baccalaureate, is due to make a return this September after it was scrapped in 2013 to make way for ‘a more balanced and meaningful accountability system,’ as previously proposed by Michael Gove, former Secretary of State for Education.

The EBacc is set to affect students nationwide

The EBacc is set to affect students nationwide

Intended to further control compulsory GCSE subjects in state secondary schools, the plan features an alarming lack of acknowledgement of the arts. Previously a method for ranking schools on a league table depending on pupil merit in ‘core academic subjects’ (maths, English, sciences, languages, and history or geography), the EBacc excludes arts subjects altogether, signifying that the Department for Education does not consider them reliable indicators of a good education.

Despite an increase in students taking arts subjects since the plan was overturned two years ago, the Department for Education has returned to introducing a compulsory list of GCSE subjects, with current Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan confirming that ‘every child starting in year 7 in September will be expected to study core academic subjects that make up the EBacc right up to GCSE.’ This is in spite of Christine Blower of the National Union of Teachers describing the EBacc as a ‘narrow vision for education which constricts the curriculum and fails to meet the needs and aspirations of many young people.’

Following the announcement, cross-sector campaign Bacc for the Future is fighting to make the Department for Education rethink its motives and ensure that creative subjects are equally accountable in school rankings. They argue that there will be less encouragement and support around the arts, ultimately having a knock-on effect on the creative industries, which contribute £76.9bn to the UK economy every year.

The EBacc is forseen to cause a drop in students taking arts subjects

The EBacc is forseen to cause a drop in students taking arts subjects

Bacc for the Future is supported by a range of arts figureheads, including Cog Design founder Michael Smith, who said that the ‘marginalisation of arts subjects indicates a lack of understanding of their vital role in our education ecology.’ Similarly, Neil Constable, Chief Executive of Shakespeare’s Globe said: ‘The Government proudly cites the UK creative industries as world leaders, one of the fastest growing sectors, providing £8.8m an hour to our economy. Yet it proposes to impose the EBacc on schools which will starve the industry of fresh talent, stunt the growth of our young people and make us all the poorer.’

The campaign aims to raise awareness surrounding the importance of arts-based subjects, including music, drama and art. Indeed, as pointed out by Rachel Tackley, Director of the English Touring Theatre: ‘Sophocles said: “Whoever neglects the arts when he is young has lost the past and is dead to the future.”’

Unicorn Theatre reports fall in visits from school groups

The Unicorn Theatre, one of the UK’s leading theatres dedicated to producing work for young people, has reported a six per cent drop in school group visits during the period from August 2014 to June 2015 compared to the previous year. The theatre has also experienced an increase in cancellations from school groups.

Unicorn’s learning associate Catherine Greenwood said in response to the figures: ‘We are hearing from some teachers and head teachers that they are finding it increasingly difficult to justify the time out of the classroom. With schools facing cuts to budgets in the next financial year, and with the government recently announcing plans to make the Ebacc compulsory in all schools, this situation will only get worse.’

Unicorn Theatre's production of The Velveteen Rabbit (Credit: Manuel Harlan)

Unicorn Theatre’s production of The Velveteen Rabbit (Credit: Manuel Harlan)

The Warwick Report, published in February this year, found that young people from low-income families are least likely to engage with and appreciate the arts as part of the school curriculum or their home life. Greenwood thinks there is a ‘serious danger’ that the current climate will create a ‘two-tier system:  those schools who choose to make the arts available to their students and those who don’t.’ Greenwood believes that letting such a system take hold would be ‘failing many young people’.

‘We need schools, head teachers and governing bodies to actively redress this imbalance if we are to ensure students from all backgrounds have access to theatre. A visit to the theatre can provide schools with a rich context for learning across the curriculum – which many teachers take advantage of, and we have first-hand experience showing that it improves literacy and learning among less-able students in particular.’

U-turn over English Baccalaureate plans

Michael_Gove_croppedThe government has dropped plans to replace GCSEs for English Baccularate Certificates following concerns from the Commons Select Committee on education.

Education secretary Michael Gove has now twice had his plans for GCSE reform rejected, as he had originally intended for GCSEs to return to the era of CSE’s and O levels.

Gove described the implementation of the Ebacc as, ‘one reform too far’. Students were due to begin studying under the new qualifications in 2015.

The backtrack has been due to concerns raised by MPs, including deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, exam regulator Ofqual, teachers and students. One of the suggested reasons that Gove was prompted to make the decision to abandon the Ebacc was that his intention to have one exam board to act as provider for a particular subject might be in contention with EU regulations. Exam boards too had expressed their concerns with the new measures.

While GCSEs will remain, they will be subject to major reform: Gove is keen to reduce coursework and modules in order to rid students of ‘bite-size learning and spoon feeding’.

When questioned by the MP for Slough, Fiona Mactaggart, about the place of creative subjects as part of the reconstructed National Curriculum, Gove stated that: ‘Artistic and creative subjects are central to a broad education.’

Speaking in the House of Commons, the education secretary said: ‘Let’s work together, as we have so successfully on other issues, to ensure children get the high quality education they deserve.’

NUT survey reveals low teacher morale

shutterstock_107801354A survey of teachers has found that there is ‘a crisis of morale in the profession’, according to the National Union of Teachers (NUT).

The YouGov survey, commissioned by NUT, was taken by over 800 teachers in December 2012. Over half of the participants described their morale as low or very low.

A similar survey had been conducted in April of last year and saw that over the eight-month period, those describing their morale as high or very high had dropped from 27% to 15%.

The survey also revealed that 77% of teachers described the government’s impact on education as ‘negative’. Over 70% said they had rarely or never been trusted by the government.

When questioned about the implementation of the Ebacc, more than 80% of those surveyed felt the consultation period had not been sufficient.

NUT general secretary Christine Blower said of the survey’s findings: ‘This survey paints a very sorry picture and is a damning indictment of coalition government policies. Michael Gove has been allowed to rush through educational reforms and his academies and free schools projects based on little or no evidence.’

Gove announces next set of education reforms

Education secretary Michael Gove has announced the latest changes to take place among England’s education system, with the current A-level qualification set to transform over the coming years.

The department for education has stressed that, ‘A-levels will not be replaced under any circumstances.’ The reforms would see the A-level qualification incorporate more characteristics of the international baccalaureate (IB) – seeing it redeveloped as the advanced baccalaureate (ABacc).

As with the changes recently announced for KS4, A levels would see modular exams abolished. However, it is expected that this would happen over a longer time period than has been set out for the changes to the KS4 examinations.

Under the new system, A-level students will be encouraged to select a diverse range of subjects – those focusing on arts subjects will be expected to choose a science subject or maths to study. Students with a primary interest in scientific topics will also be expected to choose an arts subject to study at KS5.

The changes, put forward by Michael Gove, are in response to criticisms from universities who have previously voiced concerns that some students start university unprepared in both academic knowledge and technique. Students applying to Russell Group universities, such as the University of Warwick and King’s College London, will have to write a 5,000 word dissertation as part of their application.

A spokesperson for Universities UK said in response to the news: ‘We would welcome efforts to improve skills in extended writing, critical thinking and research. In terms of subject choices, however, it is important to remember that there is not a magic formula to gain entry to specific university courses.’

GCSE exam to be replaced by Ebacc

Exams in key subjects are set to be overhauled with the English Baccalaureate certificate (Ebacc) set to replace GCSE examinations.

The new format will see the abolishment of coursework in English and maths. Modular exams will be culled, leaving students with one intensive exam at the end of study. There are also plans to have the Ebacc certificate administrated by just one main exam board.

Education secretary Michael Gove announced the changes to parliament, saying the Ebacc would create ‘truly rigorous exams, competitive with the best in the world, and making opportunity more equal for every child.’

Head of the Nasuwt teachers’ union Chris Keates responded to the announcement by saying: ‘The government will have to work hard to ensure that these reforms are not the final nail in the coffin for the provision of a broad and balanced curriculum.’

Changes are currently under consultation, with plans to introduce the Ebacc into schools in 2015. The first students to take the new exams in English, maths and science will be those starting secondary school this year – set to take the KS4 exams in 2017.

There are plans to further roll out the exam format to other subjects, including history, geography and languages in 2016 – where history coursework will also be scrapped. Further research will then be conducted to see how the Ebacc might be used to structure other subjects.

Teaching Drama contributor Susan Elkin tried to ease the fears of drama teachers, writing in a blog for The Independent: ‘Subjects such as history, geography and languages will probably be phased in gradually. But drama, dance and music will not. And quite right too. You can’t assess these subjects through a three-hour silent exam as you can maths, chemistry or English. Music or drama need to be taught by building up practical skills in regular sessions over a long period of time.’

CULTURAL EDUCATION REPORT LEADS TO £15 MILLION INVESTMENT FROM GOVERNMENT

Recommendations have been made in order to improve the state of England’s cultural learning after a report, undertaken by Classic FM’s managing director Darren Henley, found that ‘patchiness in provision of cultural education [remains] across England’.

The report suggested that, to improve cultural learning, students should study arts subjects up until the age of 16. Henley has said that cultural education in England could become ‘the envy of the world’ if the government are to take his recommendations on board. The Department for Education have now confirmed that they will invest over £15 million over the next three years in order to develop Henley’s ideas.

The coalition government’s backing of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc), which includes no studying of arts subjects, has been cited as one of reasons behind the problems in cultural education. Henley has suggested that there should be a ‘creation of a sixth grouping of subjects included in the EBacc, which would include cultural education subjects such as art and design, dance, drama, design technology, film studies and music’.

It was revealed today that many of the report’s recommendations have already been set in motion. There are plans for an academy for student film-makers, headed by the British Film Institute, and the creation of a national youth dance company which will be funded by the DofE and the Arts Council.

Education secretary Michael Gove said: ‘Britain has forged a well-deserved reputation in popular culture – in film, dance, music and art. But I want to introduce more children to high culture. Cultural education must not be a closed shop for poorer students. I want to end any suggestion that high culture is only for the privileged few.’

For more information and to view the report in full, visit http://www.education.gov.uk