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Creative Subjects

Volume 554: debated on Monday 3 December 2012

11. What assessment he has made of the likely contribution to the UK’s international achievements of studying creative subjects in school; and if he will make a statement. (130880)

The arts are mankind’s greatest achievement. Every child should be able to enjoy and appreciate great literature, music, drama and visual art.

But is the Secretary of State aware that Britain’s record in Nobel prizes—we have won 19 prizes for every 10 million of our population, whereas the USA has won 11 prizes per 10 million, and the EU has won 9 per 10 million—is achieved partly as a result of the combination of excellent science education and a strong creative tradition throughout our education system? At the same time, the Secretary of State’s EBacc proposals will result, according to research he has commissioned from Ipsos MORI, in something like a quarter of our schools dropping subjects such as art and design, design technology, music and so on. Will that mean that our international achievements, including in Nobel prizes, will slide down?

If I thought the EBacc proposals would lead to that, I would not be able to sleep at night, knowing that the ghosts of Rutherford and Churchill were hanging over my bed and chiding me for my failures. I had the opportunity to speak to representatives of a variety of arts organisations today. They applauded the work we have done, not least the report that Darren Henley authored on cultural education. Many of the initiatives that we have launched since that time are initiatives that the previous Government were capable of neither initiating nor funding.

One key factor when considering the subjects to be studied at secondary schools must be how well they prepare young people for further training or study at college or university. Professor Ebdon from the Office for Fair Access has said that it is “dreadful snobbery” to put pressure on schools to achieve places for their students at the best universities. As a former schools Minister, I share the uncertainty of another former schools Minister, Lord Adonis, about whether Professor Ebdon is the right person to lead an organisation committed to encouraging wider access to higher education. Does my right hon. Friend share that uncertainty?

When my hon. Friend and Lord Adonis agree, it is a brave and usually wrong man who disagrees.

The creative industries are critical to jobs and growth, and some estimates are that as many as half of all new jobs will be created in those industries in the coming years. Will the Secretary of State take on board the massive concerns put forward by the CBI among others about how the EBacc is pushing academic study at the expense of vocational, not least creative, subjects?

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Schools pointed out earlier that there has been a misreading of the CBI’s argument by those on the Opposition Benches. The CBI is not always right—it was not right about appeasement and it was not right about the euro. Historically, it has not been right about many things. However, on this occasion the CBI is applauding our policies. I do not know whether I should be delighted or worried, but I take comfort where I can that there are many people who are committed to improving our state education system who think our reform programme is right.

Learning to let creativity flourish will be enormously beneficial for the next generation and needs to be embraced right across the curriculum. The Secretary of State has been offered input by heads from the leading edge programme of the best-performing schools, among them Martin Williams from the Corsham school, to help to ensure that teaching is engaging and innovative for pupils learning in key stage 4. How will he respond to that offer from these outstanding schools?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I will respond with enthusiasm. I want to make sure that the very best, which succeed not just in the quality of academic and technical education, but in instilling a love of creative education in young people, have an opportunity to help schools that may not have those strengths. I have never visited a school that is strong academically that is not also strong creatively. The more we can learn from great schools, the better for all our children.