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Change from GCSEs to EBacc leads to fears for secondary music

18 September 2012

Michael Gove, secretary of state for education, has announced that the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) – which excludes music – will replace GCSEs from 2017 onwards.

The announcement sees the upgrade of the EBacc from a controversial performance measure to a fully fledged qualification. Currently, the EBacc is awarded to students who score six C grades or above in the following GCSEs: maths, English, two sciences, a humanity and a language. But from 2017, it will be awarded to students who achieve English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs) in each of those subjects. These will be developed with a view to making syllabuses more 'rigorous', with much more importance placed on the final exam. ‘After years of drift, decline and dumbing down, at last we are reforming our examination system to compete with the world’s best,’ said Gove.

MT criticised the original incarnation of the EBacc and condemns the proposal to upgrade it to a qualification. Christopher Walters, MT’s editor, said: ‘In the name of supposed rigour, the EBacc has encouraged schools to divert their energies away from several vital subjects – including music – without which it is impossible to offer a rounded, modern education. Now that this arbitrary six-subject benchmark is set to replace GCSEs, schools will have little incentive to invest in music, art, technology or any other subject excluded from the EBacc.’

At present there is little information on what will happen to the subjects excluded from the EBacc. One government spokesperson said that GCSEs in those subjects could continue to exist in a ‘toughened up’ form, while another said that the GCSE ‘brand’ had become ‘tainted’ and new qualifications in the non-EBacc subjects could be developed.

The Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) – with whom MT campaigned against the EBacc in its original form – has also condemned the proposals and believes that they will increase pressure on pupils to drop creative subjects in favour of the six EBacc subjects.

Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the ISM, 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.’

Annetts added that the CBI, Creative Industries Council, ISM and Cultural Learning Alliance will all continue to push for reform of the EBacc to include ‘at least some of what the UK economy is good at: creativity and culture.’

Diana Johnson, vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Music Education and a former Labour education minister, said: ‘The secretary of state for education has clearly forgotten all his warm words about music education in the past to launch an assault on music in secondary schools. Music education in the UK is world class, contributing hugely to our economy. The government should at least include music in the English Baccalaureate.’

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