Surplus to requirements

13th May 2011 at 01:00
It's a grim outlook for many teachers of non-EBac subjects, as Meabh Ritchie reports

On a cold winter morning at the start of the year, Michael Gove was the featured guest on a Radio 5 Live phone-in when a call came in from a parent wanting to take Mr Gove to task on what he called his "laughable" English Baccalaureate (EBac).

"I'm seething because I don't understand where you got your arbitrary list of subjects from," said the father. "My guess is that this just reflects your own personal, narrow experience of education."

As Mr Gove tried to defend both himself and the EBac - the accolade awarded to pupils achieving at least a grade C in GCSEs or IGCSEs in English, maths, two sciences, a foreign language and geography or history - this parent remained incredulous.

"It doesn't reflect our children's experience of life. You're creating an artificial hierarchy," he said. "Why don't you do what you said you were going to do and trust headteachers and parents?"

Across the country, teachers of non-EBac subjects were no doubt cheering this parent who had Mr Gove scrambling for a comeback. It was a small moment of celebration, however, for these teachers, who are now increasingly concerned that the EBac will not only devalue their subject, but also significantly reduce their future job prospects.

Associations representing teachers of music, art and design amp; technology - the subjects that have provisionally been left out of the new qualification - are concerned that schools are already making dramatic changes to ensure that more pupils reach the EBac benchmark, meaning less time and resources allocated to non-EBac subjects.

Even though RE is a statutory subject, the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE) has warned that some headteachers are allocating less, or no, time to RE. A poll of nearly 800 schools in January found that 30 per cent have cut time for RE.

With less time devoted to their subject, and potentially fewer pupils and funding, there are fears about job losses in non-EBac subjects. A third of calls to the 24-hour helpline in March run by heads' union the ASCL were related to redundancies in general, with some headteachers planning to make a fifth of their staff redundant. The ASCL has warned that EBac staff could be first in the firing line. "If there is going to be a shift in the curriculum because of the English Baccalaureate, it will quite likely cause restructuring and inevitably create redundancies," says Richard Bird, the ASCL's legal consultant.

At Jane Kirby's* school, a large specialist technology college, the Damp;T teachers are worried about their jobs. Because their specialist funding has been dropped, the headteacher has completely revamped the curriculum, with EBac subjects prioritised.

"For the first time, Damp;T has come out of the core subjects and all our students have to follow an EBac curriculum," says Ms Kirby, head of Damp;T faculty. "We're staffed to deliver Damp;T as a core subject, and if we're downsizing that will impact on our staffing levels. There are so many uncertainties, but I think it's only a matter of time before people get made redundant - if not in the short term, then certainly in the medium term."

The headteacher is consulting with staff about his proposed changes, but Ms Kirby and her colleagues are not hopeful. "He sent an email round to all staff asking what other subjects we can teach," she says. "We are feeling vulnerable at the moment."

The number of Year 10 pupils taking Damp;T next year has already dropped from 100 per cent, when the subject was compulsory, to 60 per cent for next year. But Ms Kirby is also worried about the effect it will have further down the school, with 40 per cent of key stage 3 time now set aside for English, maths and science, almost mirroring the GCSE curriculum.

"It's a high-achieving school and the headteacher wants to maintain this reputation by wholeheartedly pursuing the EBac in its proposed format. I understand that, but I'm concerned about the impact," she says.

Ms Kirby may have reason to be concerned. Although it was only introduced in November, the EBac has already contributed to a fall in recruitment for non-EBac subjects. There was a 48 per cent drop in adverts for Damp;T teachers between February 2010 and 2011, and a 54 per cent fall in adverts for ICT teachers. For music, drama and religion, there was a 36 per cent drop, and the number of adverts for art teachers fell by 33 per cent. During the same period, adverts for modern foreign languages teachers, one of the five core EBac subjects, fell by only one per cent.

The idea of the EBac is to encourage schools to focus on more traditionally academic subjects. Those subjects left out of the EBac are often by their nature more creative and practical. And rating schools according to the results of the EBac subjects will automatically create a hierarchy with non-EBac subjects at the bottom of the heap, says James Garnett, vice-chair of the National Association of Music Educators (Name). This will be particularly bad for music at a time when its inclusion in the national curriculum is under review.

"One of the dangers of music not being in the EBac is that in some ways it anticipates downgrading its status before the (results of the) national curriculum review," says Mr Garnett.

Despite the largely positive findings of February's Henley review of music education, being marginalised from the EBac has left music teachers anxious about their subject. "I've had some teachers telling me that if they don't get sufficient numbers, their heads have said they're not going to run music GCSE," says Mr Garnett.

This will have an indirect effect on the overall musical life of schools, says Mr Garnett: "People all the way through the school take part in music without studying it. With fewer music teachers, there is less capacity to offer these classes."

As head of music at a Surrey secondary school, Ted Foster* has already started to see the effects in his department as music is squeezed by EBac subjects. "Of the group I could have potentially had, 20 to 25 per cent haven't been able to choose music," he says, "and there are many who ended up not doing an arts subject at all."

As in Ms Kirby's school, the GCSE timetable at Mr Foster's school has been arranged according to the EBac subject blocks, leaving the other subjects vying for the last available places on the timetable. "Our curriculum is timetabled beautifully for Year 10s who want to study the EBac subjects," he says. "But if you don't, you have to choose between all the things you want to do."

The scenario at Mr Foster's school is far from unusual, according to Name. The organisation carried out a survey in January which found that 60 per cent of respondents had already seen their school reduce the opportunities to study music from this September.

Mr Foster is also a Year 9 tutor and was involved in discussions with parents about their children's GCSE options. The majority, he says, are very aware of the EBac results and which subjects their children will have to study to be able to go to university.

"It's had a psychological effect, in the way that parents and children perceive things; it is unsettling for them," says Mr Foster. "We can't give definitive answers because people don't really know what's happening. They have to make decisions based on not that much information."

Aside from the immediate impact on GCSE classes, Mr Foster is concerned about the long-term effects on his department and on his job. Of last year's 23 music students, nine went on to do AS level music or music technology - around 30 per cent of the group.

"But 30 per cent of a reduced GCSE intake will be even less," he says. "We get fewer teaching hours for fewer students. And obviously sixth-form funding in general is being reduced. People within the wider arts faculty have been looking for jobs but there aren't any out there."

On the face of it, it might seem surprising that the EBac is causing such upheaval. It is, after all, just a new means of assessing existing figures - another way to judge how many students achieve "good" results in certain subjects they would already be taking. But there is no doubt in the minds of teachers of the knock-on effect that the benchmark could have on their job and their subject overall.

"It is effectively an exclusion," says Lesley Butterworth, assistant general secretary of the National Society for Education in Art and Design (NSEAD). "Our fear is that the arts may be marginalised as an out-of- school-hours subject." It is already difficult for the arts to be taken seriously, says Ms Butterworth, and the creation of the EBac will make it more difficult for arts teachers to appeal to ambitious parents. "It doesn't help young people making the case for art to their parents or carers," she says. "With the best will in the world some parents will not see it as relevant."

Ms Butterworth has received numerous phone calls and emails from worried teachers in schools that are "embracing the EBac" and says there is a high level of concern. "We celebrated that English literature will be included after all, but our strongest concern is that if you exclude the arts, music and drama, it's going to exclude many young people from a career path and progression they would benefit from," she says.

Government ministers have defended the EBac by saying that schools still have 40 per cent of teaching time to devote to non-EBac subjects. Information on the Department for Education website states that "the core of subjects has deliberately been kept small to allow opportunity for additional study, whether that is in other GCSEs or vocational qualifications". The Department also states it will encourage pupils to study non-EBac subjects, "in order to benefit from a well-rounded education".

With RE, the DfE argues that because it is a statutory subject, it will be protected. In the past, Mr Gove has said that "high-quality religious education is a characteristic of the very best schools; faith schools and non-faith schools".

But the RE community is not convinced. Mike Castelli, who sits on the RE Council of England and Wales and is principal lecturer in education at Roehampton University, is under no illusions that the statutory nature of the subject will protect its importance in school. "What secured it was Ofsted inspections, but Ofsted now doesn't report on the curriculum in detail," he says. "Therefore there's no comeback to headteachers who decide they don't want to put RE on at GCSE level. The fact that RE is statutory is not doing what the Government thinks it is doing."

There are some headteachers who will have weighed up the pros and cons and decided not to chase the EBac target. It will be unrealistic for some pupils who excel in creative subjects. With RE, some heads may be happy to keep their current provision as it is and avoid upsetting the current timetable.

A survey by school leadership resource The Key found that opinion was divided: 41 per cent of respondents plan to advise pupils to take EBac subjects and 25 per cent will create an EBac pathway for 40 per cent of pupils. "Each school has its own ethos," says The Key's communications manager Catherine Allan. "It seems that if the EBac fits in with an existing academic ethos a school will embrace the new benchmark. If a school feels it best serves its pupils by offering other qualifications, the EBac is less well received."

However, other school leaders will want to throw all their weight behind efforts to achieve the EBac, given that it creates a new league table position to aim for. At one secondary school, whose RE teacher spoke to The TES anonymously, the full religious studies course has been compressed to one hour a week, while a modern foreign language has been made compulsory for all but the lowest-achieving pupils.

"They are going to expect after-hours lessons," says the school's RE teacher. "Also we have concerns about performance management as that will be based on results predicted when students had double the amount of time. This is just another way of undermining RE. Results will go down, then what? Get rid of us or it?"

Campaigning RE teachers, academics and faith leaders are particularly concerned that the exclusion of RE from the EBac will reduce the demand for RE teachers, leaving the subject to be taught by non-specialist teachers. There has already been a 45 per cent drop in the number of RE PGCE places this year, and Warwick University closed its course.

Despite having only three PGCE places, Bath Spa University has pledged to keep its course open, partly in the hope that the situation will change. "There is a huge uncertainty about everything connected to education - universities are still watching this space," says Denise Cush, professor of religion and education at the university.

But with fewer teachers being recruited, Professor Cush is worried there will be less interest in RE teaching as a career. "RE has been increasing in popularity for over a decade, and we're very worried that this trend will be put in reverse," she says.

Some of Professor Cush's students were keen to go into teaching after graduation. "Right up until March they thought they had a place for PGCE, but many found out that they didn't," she says. "Teaching is one of the most popular careers for theology and religious studies graduates."

For Mike Castelli, and many of the teachers campaigning against the EBac, it is not just their subject's exclusion that is of concern, but also the message it is sending out to society.

"The EBac is making the wrong statement about what education is about," he says. "Michael Gove and his department seem to think it's about amassing facts, rather than a broad synthesis and understanding, but there is little respect for the academic underpinning that goes on in all subjects. The proposal of the EBac doesn't respect what goes on in schools or the way that different pupils learn in different ways."

In addition, the EBac doesn't sit within a wider educational philosophy, says Mr Castelli. "One of the problems with the current DfE is that we don't know where they're coming from," he says. "We don't know their academic or philosophical underpinning for the decisions that they are making."

Many of the teachers campaigning against the EBac - and also those who are resigned to its existence and are calling for their subject's inclusion in the new benchmark - feel the battle is against more than a new assessment measure. It is a matter of fighting for recognition of their subject's worth and the value it gives to the children who study it. But it is also a declaration to schools, society and the Government that the jobs and expertise of those who teach non-EBac subjects are worth saving.

* Names have been changed

Decline in advertised teaching posts (non-EBac)*

Art -33%

Music -36%

Drama -36%

RE -36%

Business studies -38%

Citizenship -56%

Media studies -61%

Source: Education Data Surveys, part of TSL Education

*Jan-Feb 2010 to Jan-Feb 2011.

Original headline: When the music stops.. And the art, Damp;T, drama..

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