Whispers from Westminster

15th July 2016 at 00:00
Brexit might boost the profile of arts subjects

At the beginning of July, a large group of creative organisations came together to petition Parliament to reform the English Baccalaureate. Their argument is that the creative sector is suffering from a significant drop in GCSE entries in creative subjects such as art and design and technology because these qualifications aren’t recognised in one of the governments main headline accountability measures.

They’re right that the creative industries are incredibly important to Britain. Figures from the campaign show that the creative industries were worth £84.1 billion in 2014, and they employ close to 2 million people.

They’re also right that the 2015 figures show a small drop-off in the number of 16-year-olds taking “creative” GCSEs. It is, however, important to watch out for the bait-and-switch of using raw numbers that don’t account for a declining cohort.

In 2007, there were almost 800,000 16-year-olds taking GCSEs. By 2015, that were only 680,000. In that context, it’s obvious that the raw numbers of those taking creative GCSEs will fall, as will the staff numbers teaching those subjects.

A truer reflection of the situation is presented by the Joint Council for Qualifications figures, which show exam uptake by proportion of the cohort.

These show that, before the drop in 2015, art GCSE had remained broadly stable since 2007, as had both art and D&T A levels. (D&T GCSE numbers have fallen pretty consistently since 2007).

The government has been, to put it bluntly, wholly unsympathetic to the creative lobby so far. But, much like the NUT in the past, the campaign may be about to get what it wants for reasons that are absolutely nothing to do with its sustained lobbying.

Enter – or rather, exit – nationals from the European Economic Area and European Union, stage right.

It’s well known that there is already a shortage of language teachers. Education Datalab has calculated that the move to compulsory languages in key stage 4 will mean an extra 2,000 MFL teachers a year will be needed.

Given that, as a country, we’re only recruiting 80 per cent of the numbers needed into initial teacher training every year, and there are only 30,000 languages graduates to draw from, that’s a big ask from a small group of people.

However, EEA nationals are also able to teach in English schools. And they have been doing so in increasing numbers. In 2014-2015, over 6,000 registered to move here and teach; a figure equivalent to one in six of the total number of new teachers in England that year, and over five times as big as Teach First.

Almost a third of them – 1,800 – came from Spain. The data doesn’t show which subject they teach, but the Spanish Embassy, for example, believes that teaching their home language is a popular choice.

If freedom of movement is curtailed post-Brexit, and if any sort of visa scheme for foreign teachers doesn’t keep the same inflows coming, then it will become impossible for the UK system to produce the number of language teachers we need to allow everyone to sit an unreformed EBacc.

In future, la plume de me tante may no longer be sur la table.

Jonathan Simons is a former head of education in the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit under Gordon Brown and David Cameron @PXEducation

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