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Children and the Arts

Volume 593: debated on Thursday 26 February 2015

5. What steps he plans to take to ensure that children learn about or experience the creative arts. (907744)

It is wonderful to have a question from the hon. Lady. For one terrible moment I thought she might not be here, but I am so pleased to see that she has arrived in time to hear me answer that we believe strongly that children should have every opportunity to learn about and experience the arts. At the beginning of this year, we announced another £109 million for music and cultural education. That takes the amount we have invested in music and cultural education to £400 million in this Parliament.

Perhaps the Minister would like to have a conversation with his friend the Mayor of London about the state of traffic in south London this morning.

Why has the number of children who experience the creative arts, except for film, declined every year that the hon. Gentleman has been responsible for this field? Why has the number of children studying art, drama and dance—creative subjects—at GCSE fallen so radically while he has been in charge?

At the very last Department for Culture, Media and Sport questions of this Parliament, every one of which I have attended, I think the hon. Lady makes a slightly snippy point, particularly as the Taking Part survey shows that participation by children has increased for those aged between five and 10 and stayed at the very high level of 99.4% for those aged 11 to 15. There has been an 8% increase in those taking arts GCSE subjects since 2010 and participation in music, dance, art and design continues.

Order. I always enjoy the mellifluous tones of the hon. Gentleman. I have known him 25 years and they never pall, but we do want to get through the business.

The new Progress 8 measure for secondary schools will provide more space for the arts in school accountability measures. What discussions has the Minister had with colleagues in the Department for Education to ensure that there is the greatest incentive for schools to provide high-quality arts education, including through prioritisation by Ofsted?

I co-chair the cultural education group with the Minister for Schools. We are having a meeting next week. I was pleased to see that Ofsted has made it clear that under its new inspections beginning later this year, an inspection must take account of whether a school offers a broad, balanced and relevant curriculum. Music will be a clear element of that.

Does the Minister accept that whatever spin he may put on it, when the Education Secretary told pupils not to study arts subjects because it would hold them back for the rest of their lives, she and his Government were systematically undermining artistic education for all children in this country? Is he not ashamed that on his watch the number of children taking part in music in schools has fallen from 55% to 36%? Does he not realise that a strong artistic and cultural education should be the universal entitlement of every single child in this country, because it is good for them, good for the economy and good for this nation?

This week we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Jennie Lee’s first White Paper on the arts, and I am pleased that 50 years later we continue to support the arts, particularly in education. The Education Secretary did not say what the hon. Gentleman claims that she said; she said that for too long people had thought that science had held back their careers. She has praised arts education and she is giving a very important speech on cultural education next week. The hon. Gentleman is invited.

Does the Minister agree that cultural education is vital for our children and that, under this Government, we have raised the status and standing of arts GCSEs and A-levels so that they are genuinely worthwhile qualifications?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why we have seen an increase in the number of students taking arts GCSEs, for example.