My Lords, the results of the consultation on implementing the English baccalaureate and the Government’s response will be published in due course—I hope soon.
My Lords, is this long delay because the overwhelming public response voices the concern that the EBacc excludes art and design subjects? I ask the Minister not to continue to justify the EBacc with the New Schools Network stats on the percentage of pupils taking one arts GCSE, which represented a shift away from other qualifications, but instead to look at the latest Ofqual figures revealing—two years in a row—a hugely alarming 8% decline in the take-up of arts GCSEs. The EBacc must be scrapped.
I can tell the noble Earl that it is not a result of the points he has made. We have been considering carefully a great many responses, and there have been a few political issues in the meantime. I am certainly encouraged to see that we have been improving the quality of these subjects with help from the Royal Academy of Engineering and the James Dyson Foundation. The decline in the subjects to which the noble Earl refers has been more than made up for in the substantial increase in the number of pupils taking IT and the now almost 70,000 pupils taking computing.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that the GCSEs which are just now finishing this term have seen a drop in every technical subject and every creative and artistic subject? If this trend continues, there will be no technical education or creative education in schools for those aged under 16. This is a disgrace and really is unacceptable. Changes must be made to the EBacc, otherwise the Government will not meet their objective to improve technical education.
I refer to my previous remarks about the take-up of computer science and the dramatic increase in the number of pupils taking IT. Of course, we must always remember the very low base that we had in 2010 when only one in five pupils was taking a core suite of academic subjects, which we know are so essential particularly for those from a disadvantaged background. I think that we should all be extremely pleased that we have actually doubled the percentage, which is rendering our education provision much more fit for pupils, particularly for pupils from a disadvantaged background.
My Lords, can the Minister please explain the remarks he made in answer to the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty? I believe he said that the loss of entries into the creative subjects is more than made up for by an increased number of entries for IT and computer science. Can he explain in what way those things compensate for one another?
Numerically. I think we all know that the quality of some of these subjects was not what it might be, and that quite a few people were taking some of them not because they suited them but because they were easier. Of course all schools teach many of these subjects, although it may not necessarily lead to exams, and of course all schools have to provide a broad and balanced curriculum—something which the new chief inspector seems to be particularly focused on, which I am very pleased to see.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that a GCSE is a good basis for starting study? As there has been a drop of 50,000 in the number of those taking design and technology GCSE, how do we get a good basis for those going on to study creative and technical subjects if we cut a subject such as that?
I agree that a GCSE is an extremely good basis. In fact, the drop in take-up of design and technology over the last six years has been less than the drop over the previous four years to 2010. We are keen to improve the quality of those subjects and to give our pupils a wider choice of subjects.
My Lords, given that the Government frequently salute the creative industries for what they bring into the Exchequer and the tourists they bring to this country, is the Minister not concerned about the next generation of creative artists, who are not getting the necessary inspiration they need while at school?
Again, this assumes quite a lot. As I said, it is clear to us that a number of pupils taking these subjects in the past were not the next generation of creative artists; they were people that suited, for instance, the Labour Government’s equivalence structure, whereby they were helping the statistics. Heads will respond only to the incentives set for them. We have set them an incentive to have many more pupils doing a core academic suite of subjects. That seems to be working and we should celebrate that. But we are investing considerably in the creative subjects, and we have a number of free schools and technical colleges focused specifically on that.
I very much note the concerns expressed by noble Lords on the teaching of creative and technical subjects, but, perhaps offering the Minister some welcome respite, I will look at another aspect of this Question: the rather worrying trend developing in the Department for Education and its Ministers of the inordinate amount of time it takes them to respond to consultations. In January this year, I asked in a Written Question how many DfE consultations that had a closing date between January 2015 and September 2016 had still not been responded to, including the one in the Question asked by the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty. The Minister replied, saying that there were seven—one of which, incidentally, was the revision of fire safety for buildings in schools. That cavalier approach may have been something the Government felt they could get away with when they enjoyed a majority. Now that the Tories are merely the largest of the minority parties down the Corridor, will the Minister commit to noble Lords that he will ensure his department replies to consultations in a much timelier manner?
I do not think that this slow pace of response is in and of itself necessarily cavalier, but I have said I very much hope that our response on EBacc will be available shortly, and I shall do all I can to try to make sure that we respond quickly in future.
My Lords, is my noble friend truly satisfied that we are exposing our young people to the beauties of art and music, and giving them a proper opportunity to participate, in what is becoming an increasingly depersonalised age where young people spend more time with their machines and hand-held devices than they do with their fellows?
I certainly agree with my noble friend’s comment about the amount of time our young people spend gazing at screens of one sort or another and the balance that subjects such as music, dance and drama can provide. Of course, all good schools do this, not necessarily aiming at exams—music and dance are compulsory in key stages 2 and 3, as is drama up to key stage 4. As I said, the chief inspector is very focused on this. I am sure that noble Lords will see the fruits of that work in due course.