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Colleges warn pressure over school exam results is narrowing GCSE curriculum

Corrienne Peasgood, City College Norwich principal. Picture: Nick Butcher

Corrienne Peasgood, City College Norwich principal. Picture: Nick Butcher

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Colleges say pressure on schools to perform in core subjects has seen others neglected, with the breadth of the GCSE curriculum narrowing.

Stuart Rimmer, principal of East Coast College. Picture: East Coast CollegeStuart Rimmer, principal of East Coast College. Picture: East Coast College

With exam performance measures based on traditional subjects, such as English and maths, schools are under more pressure to deliver strong results in those subjects.

GCSE measure the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) also judges the percentage of pupils achieving strongly in core areas – English, maths, science, history or geography, a language and one other topic.

Heads have admitted that it makes it difficult to spread the focus - and concerns have been raised that other subjects, such as art and design, are falling by the wayside.

City College Norwich (CCN) principal Corrienne Peasgood said eight or nine years ago, 30 secondary schools around Norfolk sent hundreds of 14 and 15-year-olds GCSE pupils to CCN one or two days a week for courses including hospitality, business and creative arts. Today, just six do.

“It has been driven by the curriculum and accountability measures,” she said. “Schools focus on the subjects that count. We understand why, but those GCSE students who came to colleges picked up practical skills before they made decisions about what they were going to do post-16 – now they don’t have that.”

With courses including hairdressing, catering and design and technology affected, she said the college had readjusted its curriculum.

And she warned that focusing only on core subjects could limit young people’s career options and ambition, and set them back when it came to training for their post-16 routes.

It was echoed by Stuart Rimmer, principal at East Coast College, which has campuses in Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft. He said, as a college which specialises in professional and technical training, it was “disappointing” to see a reduction in the breadth of the GCSE curriculum.

“We acknowledge that a balance must be struck and that English, maths and sciences are critical to student success,” he said. “At East Coast College, we also strongly respect the importance of creative industries, design and sports which can provide wider opportunities and fulfilling careers whilst developing more rounded students in terms of character and wellbeing.”

Arts

With schools judged on traditional topics, there have long been fears that creative subjects are being put on the back burner.

The Education Policy Institute last year found that the number of students taking arts subjects dropped to the lowest level in 10 years, with its report pointing to the introduction of the EBacc.

While more than 200,000 students took arts and design courses in 2000, just 175,792 did last year.

Professor John Last, vice-chancellor at Norwich University of the Arts (NUA) said while they were not yet seeing the impact of the decline, they were concerned for the future.

“We are recruiting strongly again across our range of creative arts courses this year,” he said. ‘‘But, like all universities, we are concerned about how curriculum changes will feed through the system in future, particularly for the creative arts.

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