Nick Gibb: No apologies for focus on academic subjects

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Schools minister Nick Gibb will today dismiss criticism that the government’s emphasis on academic subjects is “crowding out” the arts.

Mr Gibb will give a speech this evening in which he will say he makes “no apology” for the focus on an academic curriculum, despite growing concerns that creative subjects are being sidelined.

As part of its election manifesto, the Conservative party said it would make the English Baccalaureate compulsory for every secondary student in the country.

Today the minister will say that details about the policy – where students will have to study maths, English, a science subject, a humanity and a modern foreign language – are imminent, but will insist that the arts will not suffer as a result of the policy.

Last month, headteachers told TES that the changes would create "significant problems" for schools, and Mr Gibb will admit that the new measure will pose a "significant challenge" for some schools.

“It has also been suggested that our emphasis on academic subjects in the National Curriculum, and especially the introduction of the EBacc, ‘crowds out’ the study of other important subjects, particularly the arts,” Mr Gibb will tell an audience at the think tank Policy Exchange.

“We should acknowledge that the curriculum always involves trade-offs: more time on one subject means less time on others. Over the years, I’ve been asked to add tens of subjects – from intellectual property, to Esperanto, to den building – to the National Curriculum. Many of these are important and interesting.

“The question, though, is always whether they are sufficiently important to justify reducing the time available to the existing subjects of the curriculum, and I make no apology for protecting space for the English Baccalaureate subjects wherever possible,” he will add.

Mr Gibb will insist that schools will be given “adequate lead in time” to prepare for the changes, and will consult with “teachers, headteachers, and parents” on how to implement the policy. 

In May prominent headteachers, such as Tom Sherrington, head of Highbury Grove School in North London, voiced their fears that the compulsory Ebac would hit creative subjects.

“We already ask students to take a science, humanity and language at GCSE, but we also demand they take an arts subject and there is a real risk that the take up of the arts will decrease massively,” Mr Sherrington told TES.

Mr Gibb has also been working with teachers and publishers to increase the use of textbooks in schools.

“Good textbooks provide a structured, well-honed progression through a subject’s content,” he is expected to say.

“They also ease workload for teachers, who no longer need to spend whole evenings and weekends preparing ad-hoc resources. Despite these benefits, textbooks are now a rare sight in English classrooms: only 10 per cent of primary maths teachers here use a textbook as the basis for their teaching, compared to 70 per cent in Singapore and 95 per cent in Finland.”

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Richard Vaughan

Richard has been writing about politics, policy and technology in education for nearly five years after joining TES in 2008. He joined TES from the building press having been a reporter and then later news editor at the Architects’ Journal. Before then he studied at Cardiff University’s school of journalism. Richard can be found tweeting at @richardvaughan1

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