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Children’s Participation in the Arts

Volume 572: debated on Thursday 12 December 2013

8. What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Education on children’s participation in the arts. (901610)

I frequently meet the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), because the DCMS and the Department for Education now have a joint music and cultural education board. We now have a national music plan and a national cultural education plan, and we work very closely together on this.

In 2011 the Secretary of State for Education abandoned the creative partnerships programme for schools. PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated that that programme generated £15.30 in economic and social benefits for every £1 of investment. Since then nearly a third of museums have seen a decrease in visits by schools and over 2,000 schools and hundreds of thousands of pupils no longer benefit from this culturally enriching programme. Does the Minister think his colleague at the DFE got that decision right?

The latest figures show that 99% of 11 to 15-year-olds visited and experienced culture in the last year, and I am delighted that the Secretary of State for Education extended the In Harmony programme; ring-fenced money for music; helped us to create heritage schools; set up the first ever national youth dance company; and put in place the first ever national music and cultural education plans.

I recently had the fantastic opportunity to go to see a mini-opera at Chester cathedral put on by Cheshire fire and rescue service, Manchester Camerata and three local primary schools. The idea of the opera was to teach children about fire safety. Does my hon. Friend agree that the arts and culture have got a huge role to play in encouraging young people to get involved in education?

I have frequent engagement with Manchester Camerata and I commend its imaginative approach in engaging other parts of local services, particularly the fire and rescue service and the health service. The arts can not only engage young people and children in education, they can also help to engage adults in a whole range of other local services.

This is a very convoluted question, so I hope the Minister will bear with me. I just wonder whether he has had an opportunity to see the National Youth Theatre production of “Tory Boyz”, which I am told is about a lot of homosexual Conservatives. They, among many others, might want to ask the Government why they are taking such a long time to allow the upgrade of civil partnerships to full same-sex marriages. He is having plenty of time to ask the Secretary of State now. Will he bring it forward a bit faster?

That question suffers from the disadvantage of having nothing to do with children’s participation in the arts.

Well, I thought it was not orderly, but the Minister can offer a very brief reply, which I feel sure he will do with skill and alacrity.

I, for one, have stood by in complete admiration of the Secretary of State’s magnificent work in bringing forward same-sex marriage, and I think she stands to be commended and not criticised for her brilliant work on this issue.

I am sure the Minister couples that with admiration for the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant).

In fact, the creative industries is one of the few areas of the British economy that is currently growing, but despite what the Minister said, Ofsted has criticised the effectiveness of music hubs and one school in six is cutting arts subjects. If DCMS Ministers cannot persuade their colleagues at the Department for Education to take a broader view, our young people will be permanently disadvantaged. Is the problem that the Minister is not sufficiently persuasive or that the Secretary of State for Education is too narrow-minded?

I would never accuse the Secretary of State for Education of being narrow-minded. I take on board the hon. Lady’s praise for my Secretary of State who is leading the growth in the creative industries. We in DCMS are led by a Secretary of State who is leading a Department for growth. That is very good news indeed, and I repeat what I said: there is a huge input from the Secretary of State for Education.

I really would not take too much from an Ofsted report that looks at music hubs four months after they have been created and condemns them. The hon. Lady should speak to her friends in the Musicians Union, who are furious about that report.