I beg to move,
That this House has considered e-petition 111731 relating to expressive arts subjects and the EBacc.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. As a member of the Petitions Committee and the Select Committee on Education, I am delighted to introduce the debate. The title of the petition, which was signed by more than 102,000 people, is “Include expressive arts subjects in the Ebacc”. It reads:
“The English Baccalaureate, or Ebacc, is a standard which maintains that English, maths, science, a language and a humanity define a good education. The exclusion of art, music, drama and other expressive subjects is limiting, short sighted and cruel. Creativity must be at the heart of our schools.
Sec of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, states that she wants 90% of sixteen year olds to have The Ebacc. Numeracy and literacy are certainly key to future success in life, but it is wrong to say that the arts are not worthy of inclusion in a measure used to grade a school’s success. Our children deserve a broad, creative education, but the Ebacc is giving rise to massive declines in numbers of students able to choose arts subjects, at a time when the CBI demands more creative people.”
The petition was created by Richard Wilson, a drama teacher from Essex, because, as he explained, the
“marginalisation and downgrading of the arts and other creative subjects in state education is a topic which demands a debate in the Houses of Parliament.”
So here we are. Indeed, he says:
“The EBacc will have a dreadful impact on the arts in our schools.”
Mr Wilson’s petition was able to achieve the level of support it has thanks to the work of the Bacc for the Future campaign, and I know a number of people are here today, paying close attention to the debate. There is support from more than 200 organisations from the UK’s cultural sector, including the Design Council, the Creative Industries Federation, the BRIT school, Aardman Animations, the north-east’s Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, trade unions, orchestras, museums, art galleries, theatres, performing arts colleges, festivals, creative industry businesses and many more—all united in the belief that the Government’s education policies and specifically the EBacc risk profoundly damaging Britain’s rich and vibrant history of creativity and cultural achievement.
Those concerns have been passionately reflected in the countless emails and briefing notes that I have received ahead of this afternoon’s debate, and the responses I received to last week’s EBacc Twitter debate, which was kindly facilitated by the Petitions Committee Clerks. I have no doubt that everyone here today shares that passion and recognises the intrinsic value of the arts and arts education for society and the enjoyment and fulfilment they bring to children and adults in all walks of life across the UK. Of course, the opportunity of a creative education must be available to all—a view that appeared to be shared by the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he wrote earlier this year:
“everyone—no matter who they are or where they come from—should have an equal opportunity to fulfil their creative potential.”
In a speech launching the Government’s life chances strategy in January, the Prime Minister pledged that
“culture should never be a privilege; it is a birthright that belongs to us all. But the truth is there are too many young people in Britain who are culturally disenfranchised. And if you believe in publicly funded arts and culture—as I passionately do—then you must also believe in equality of access, attracting all and welcoming all.”
The White Paper published in March by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport could not have been clearer, making a commitment that
“All state-funded schools must provide a broad and balanced curriculum that promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils. Experiencing and understanding culture is integral to education. Knowledge of great works of art, great music, great literature and great plays, and of their creators, is an important part of every child’s education. So too is being taught to play a musical instrument, to draw, paint and make things, to dance and to act. These can all lead to lifelong passions and can open doors to careers in the cultural and creative sectors and elsewhere. Without this knowledge and these skills, many children from disadvantaged backgrounds are excluded from meaningful engagement with their culture and heritage.”
Does the hon. Lady accept that those subjects are widely available at the moment, with the EBacc in place, and that the premise of the EBacc is to provide a core of academically rigorous subjects? Perhaps our attention should be on the evolution of the EBacc to include such subjects as design and technology, and on enhancing students’ career potential, rather than on including in it every subject currently offered in the curriculum.
It is helpful that the hon. Lady suggests a solution to the concerns I have outlined. The reality for the organisations, teachers and schools that have expressed concern to me in great numbers is that the take-up of the subjects she mentions is already starting to decline, which is of huge concern. I appreciate that she is trying to make constructive comments, but she cannot wipe out the fact that the concerns are real and must be addressed. I hope that the Minister is listening not only to me but to constructive solutions that may be offered.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is incredibly insulting to the country’s music and art teachers to give the impression that the subjects in question are not academically rigorous? Does she know how hard it is to pass music and art?
My right hon. Friend makes a key point, which a number of people have put to me in strong terms; he puts it very well. I do know how hard it is to pass those subjects, partly from personal experience and that of people close to me, but partly from the people, including teachers, I spoke to ahead the debate. Frankly, they feel insulted by the tone of the Government’s proposals.
We are all aware that the education sector is going through a period of significant and seemingly never-ending change and reform, of which the EBacc is a part. It was initially planned as a formal certificate, but that idea was dropped. It was first applied by the coalition Government in 2010 as a
“headline measure of secondary school performance”.
It judges all schools according to the number of pupils who have achieved grades A* to C across English language and literature, maths, double science, history or geography and a language—subjects that, when studied at A-level, are defined by the Russell Group of universities as “facilitating”. In other words, they are the A-levels most commonly required for entry to the UK’s leading universities, which are attended by 11% of young people.
Following a consultation in November 2015, the Government now want at least 90% of students in mainstream secondary schools to be entered for the EBacc by 2020, thereby taking up at least seven of those students’ GCSE options. The Bacc for the Future campaign has raised concerns that, given that the average number of full GCSEs taken by pupils is 8.1,
“a compulsory EBacc will leave little, if any, room for rigorous, challenging creative subjects which have been approved by the Government’s own Wolf Review of vocational education.”
Nobody doubts the importance of young people’s gaining a solid foundation in English, maths and science; that is why those subjects have always been compulsory. However, the petition objects to the exclusion from the EBacc all creative, artistic and technical subjects, which sends a clear message to young people, parents, teachers, school leaders and society at large about the value that the Government place on subjects that help to create expressive, communicative, self-confident and well rounded human beings. For many young people, those may be the only subjects at which they excel.
My hon. Friend is making a superb speech. Is it not ironic that what we need for the economy of the future and the digital revolution of the future is the breaking down of rather traditional arts and science silos? Creative subjects provide exactly the kind of skills and training that will let young people succeed. We would be mad to strip those subjects out of our education system, not least because we are rather good at them.
My hon. Friend makes a valid and important point.
The question that has been asked over and over again is: why? I hope the Minister will answer that question today. Why would the Government want to limit opportunities to study subjects such as design and technology? The Edge Foundation commented during last week’s EBacc Twitter debate:
“D&T teaches young people how things are designed, developed, made and improved”.
As the National Society for Education in Art and Design succinctly put it,
“In life ‘knowing how’ is just as important as ‘knowing that’.”
I am quite sure that the Minister will pledge in his response that the Government have no intention of restricting access to these subjects. Indeed, in the culture White Paper, the Education Secretary declared that
“Access to cultural education is a matter of social justice.”
However, warm words are simply not enough. What does the Minister really think will be the result of forcing all schools, which are already hard-pressed, to enter 90% of their pupils for the EBacc? A headteacher and member of the organisation SCHOOLS NorthEast has commented that the EBacc creates a “false hierarchy of subjects”. The National Association of Head Teachers has remarked:
“Given the pressures created by the Ebacc, there will be precious little time left for subjects outside the core.”
I did not intend to intervene, but I will do so on that point. The hon. Lady referred to a hierarchy of English, maths and science, so there is already a hierarchy. Does she want to remove that element of compulsion up to 16 in order to eradicate that hierarchy?
I thank the Minister for intervening simply because it shows that he is listening to the debate, which is good. However, those were not my words; they were the words of a SCHOOLS NorthEast member, who has said that the EBacc creates not a hierarchy but a false hierarchy. I said at the beginning of my comments that nobody questions the importance of maths, English and science as a foundation of learning, but the restrictive nature of the EBacc leaves no room for artistic subjects. I am pleased the Minister is listening so carefully.
Who could blame headteachers for wanting to focus all of their schools’ energies on delivering the EBacc’s results, whether or not the subjects studied are appropriate for their pupils? They hear repeated warnings, including in the Conservative party manifesto, that their school will not be able to receive the highest rating from Ofsted if they do not meet their EBacc targets. I know the Education Secretary believes that those expressing concerns about the EBacc are “adults writing off children”, but nothing could be further from the truth. They are seeing a Government restricting young people’s life chances by forcing them to focus on a narrow and restrictively defined group of subjects. They are concerned about a Government reducing the ability of schools such as Walbottle Campus in my constituency to deliver a balanced and creative curriculum tailored to each young person’s talents and needs and focusing on the overall experience and wellbeing of their students. Of course, this is a Government who are determined to impose a one-size-fits-all approach to GCSEs at a time when they claim to be introducing autonomy for all headteachers and local schools through academisation.
The Schools Minister has repeatedly claimed that there is no evidence the EBacc is having a negative impact on the arts, substantiating that with the argument that in the past five years there has been a 3% increase in the uptake of at least one arts subject. We may well hear that again in his response today, but the Bacc for the Future campaign has stated that those figures are flawed as they omit various BTEC qualifications, include early entry AS-levels and neglect design and technology, in which exam entries dropped by a staggering 19,000 last year. Indeed, new figures produced just last month show that entries for GCSEs in arts subjects have fallen by 46,000 this year compared with last year—a loss five times the one in 2015, when candidate numbers for arts subjects fell by 9,000. The ArtsProfessional website reported:
“The falling take-up of arts GCSEs has already started to spill over into A levels. There were 4,300 fewer candidates for A level arts subjects this year—a decline three times bigger than the 1,500 recorded in 2015.”
Of most concern is the claim by the Creative Industries Federation that schools with a high proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals have been more than twice as likely to withdraw arts subjects as those with a low proportion. So much for access to cultural education being a matter of social justice. Of course, that decline is taking place even before the EBacc has become compulsory in our schools. The chief executive of the Creative Industries Federation said that the decline is
“alarming and further confirms a longstanding trend that EBacc is clearly exacerbating.”
He went on to comment:
“For a sector already suffering skills shortages, undervaluing and excluding creative subjects has major ramifications. The impact will not only be felt by the creative economy but also by other sectors, such as engineering, that desperately need some of the same skills. Although it is possible to take up jobs in our sector without exam results in creative subjects, it is much harder and potentially more expensive to do so, which obviously further diminishes the chances for young people from more disadvantaged backgrounds. There are many people who are not academic in a traditional sense and who would struggle with the EBacc yet are thriving and excelling today in careers from fashion to video games. If creative subjects are increasingly painted as an ‘optional extra’ to a more traditional core curriculum, these are some of the people who could be lost in future.”
As the Chancellor highlighted in his 2015 autumn statement,
“Britain is not just brilliant at science; it is brilliant at culture too. One of the best investments we can make as a nation is in our extraordinary arts, museums, heritage, media and sport.”—[Official Report, 25 November 2015; Vol. 602, c. 1368.]
I agree. The Government’s own figures show that the creative industries are one of the fastest growing sectors in the UK economy, worth more than £84 billion a year or nearly £10 million an hour. According to the CBI, the creative industries employ some 2 million people, with around one in 11 jobs found in the creative economy. Critically, as the Creative Industries Federation highlights, those roles are broadly protected from automation.
This is an area in which Great Britain genuinely leads the world but one in which we have a significant skills shortage, so much so that a range of roles in the creative industries are included in the Home Office’s tier 2 visa shortage occupation list—for example, graphic designers, programmers, software developers, artists, producers, directors, dancers and skilled musicians. Nevertheless, this is the time when the Department for Education is determined to force schools down a path that will inevitably lead to even fewer British students taking up the subjects and developing the skills that the UK’s burgeoning creative industries desperately need. As has been made clear by Artists’ Union England—a relatively new trade union established by my constituent Theresa Easton—
“The new EBacc proposals will leave the creative sector without a future workforce.”
It is absolutely nonsensical.
Of particular concern is the evidence highlighted by the Creative Industries Federation’s higher and further education working group, which shows that many of the courses that need students to have studied art and design at school level also have high levels of students with special educational needs. The group cites remarks by the British Dyslexia Association that
“People with dyslexia are frequently successful in entrepreneurship, sales, art and design, entertainment, acting, engineering, architecture, I.T., computer animation, technical and practical trades and professions.”
It also cites the fact that more than 4,000 students at the University of the Arts London are disabled and/or dyslexic—24%, compared with just 4.7% at Cambridge University.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent introductory speech, which I congratulate her on. I am very pleased that she mentioned special educational needs and dyslexia. As she knows, my son Joseph, who is now 22, is severely dyslexic. He will graduate in the next few weeks from Teesside University with a degree in games art and design; I am thrilled. He could not read until the age of 14 and he would never have passed the EBacc, but he is creative. His brain works in a different way, and he was able to go on through equivalencies to now get a degree.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, because I know that she not only cares passionately about how well her own son does and has done, but cares and campaigns passionately for all children with special educational needs. This is an issue that the Minister must sit up and take notice of because by insisting on the implementation of EBacc for all or almost all pupils, the Government seriously risk restricting the life chances and future career opportunities of those with special educational needs. Not only does that do those young people out of their potential creative futures, but it does our creative industries out of their special skills and contributions.
Finally, I want to touch on concerns that have been raised with me about the EBacc by Studio West—a studio school established in West Denton in my constituency in September 2014. As Studio West has highlighted, studio schools have been established to bridge the gap between the skills and knowledge that young people need for success and those that the current education system provides. By design, a studio school’s curriculum embraces enterprise initiatives, innovative project-based and work-related approaches to learning and an emphasis on employable skills. Studio West feels very strongly that the EBacc judgment made of all secondary schools is too restrictive if studio schools are to fully embrace their ethos.
The hon. Lady is making a very good speech, and I wanted to intervene in order to demonstrate that I am still listening to her wise words. The EBacc consultation makes the point that there is no proposal—certainly set out in the consultation—to include studio schools in the requirement for the EBacc.
I thank the Minister for that intervention because I have already written to him about this issue and have been awaiting a response. I hope that we will receive a fuller response in his reply to the debate, or indeed in writing.
In conclusion, I introduced my remarks this afternoon by talking about the intrinsic value of the arts and arts education for individuals and wider society. Those points are echoed by Studio West in my constituency:
“Expressive arts subjects allow for intensive focus on essential transferable skills such as problem solving, working collaboratively, interpretive analysis, empathy, self-confidence, discipline, dedication and mastery, to name but a few.”
I was contacted by a large number of individuals and organisations ahead of this debate and I am conscious that I have not been able to mention them all; however, there is one that I want to make particular reference to in conclusion this afternoon. Last week, I received an email from Emma, an experienced secondary school teacher in West Yorkshire. Emma got in touch to ask me to raise her concerns about the EBacc not because I am her MP, but because her voice in Parliament was brutally taken away by the shocking death of our late friend and colleague, Jo Cox—sorry; it’s hard to speak about this—whom she had previously asked to attend this debate.
At a time when we know that there has been a significant increase in mental health issues in young people and at a time when we need more, not less, empathy, tolerance and co-operation in society, I strongly urge the Government to look again and consider the impact that the EBacc is having on the subjects that can help us to achieve that.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) on her very powerful and meaningful speech. It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck, and to have the opportunity to speak on a subject that is very important to me.
I should start by declaring a bit of an interest. I am lucky enough to come from an arts background, having studied at the Royal College of Music for five years. As a former composer and musician, then a school teacher, and now vice-chair of the all-party group on music and chair of the all-party group for music education, I am extremely worried by the fivefold decline in the uptake of arts subjects at GCSE over the past year.
I share the belief often emphasised by the Minister for Schools, my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb), that academic rigour is essential for social justice—that academic learning and social justice are complementary—but it is important that this does not become a false debate with high academic achievement in core subjects on the one hand and championing of the arts on the other. Both are possible, and indeed both are necessary. Social justice and opportunity must be at the heart of our vision for education and the arts.
With the introduction of the EBacc, as we have heard, schools with a high proportion of free school meals have been more than twice as likely to withdraw arts subjects. That will only exacerbate an already yawning gap between the 50% of students at fee-paying schools who get music tuition and the 15% in state schools. Richard Morris of the Mayor’s Music Fund rightly described this as
“perhaps the greatest single distinction in any aspect of independent/state educational provision.”
I am sure that Members from both sides of the House would want to see such damaging distinctions come to an end.
Again, I am listening very carefully but could my hon. Friend cite the proportion of pupils in independent schools who take the EBacc subjects?
I am afraid I do not have that figure to hand, although I am sure that the Minister can regale us with it. I am sure that he has it front of him and can come out with it later, and I look forward to that with great interest.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very powerful point. Does he agree that for fee-paying schools that enjoy charitable status and do not pay business rates—receiving business rates relief based on it—sharing music facilities and music teachers might be one way to justify that charitable status?
I think that sharing music facilities and facilities generally is often a good way forward. That could certainly be considered, but schools need to work individually and to have the right facilities to look after their own pupils without having to look elsewhere—without having to run across the road and make sure that somebody else can help them out.
An EBacc that fails to make room for the arts can only entrench the inequality that I have described. Last week, I chaired a meeting of the all-party group for music education where we heard some very passionate views. We heard about a report from the charity Sound Connections, and Wired4Music, in which young people in London described the transformational impact of music education on their lives and careers. From the report, it is important to highlight the unanimity, strength of feeling and uneasy sense of shrinking opportunities for those in this generation, and succeeding generations, who might otherwise go on to careers in the creative industries.
I have to say, however, that the Government have made significant advances in supporting the arts. We have seen the first culture White Paper for 50 years, the Cultural Citizens Programme and the new heritage action zones. Alongside those headline initiatives, we have seen £15 million-worth of tax breaks for theatres this year and the welcome orchestra tax break, but widening participation in the arts must begin with education.
The debate this afternoon pivots on what a core curriculum is and whether an EBacc without the arts can ever be seen to provide that. The chief executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians said in a recent speech that this
“Government certainly seems to understand the importance of culture and creativity”.
It is because I believe that to be true that I urge them either to include the arts within the EBacc or to define a more balanced curriculum.
I will not quote figures because we have all heard plenty of those, but in 2014 the creative industries grew at twice the rate of the UK economy as a whole. Governments should play their strongest hand. We lead the world in music and the creative industries, but it is not just the utilitarian argument that is important—the arts are also important in themselves. Of course, this is not easy to prove, or even to quantify, but the broadening effect of the arts is very real.
It is not easy to show that people benefit from exposure to the mechanics of the arts, whether that is an understanding of the beautiful mathematical imperatives in four-part harmony or the experience of seeing Brunelleschi’s dome for the first time, in ways that they can take forward into other aspects of their lives. However, research has been done and a highly comprehensive study by the German Socio-Economic Panel in 2013 said:
“Music improves cognitive and non-cognitive skills more than twice as much as sports”.
In addition, it found that children who take music lessons have
“better school grades and are more conscientious, open and ambitious.”
The study of music strengthens the motor cortex—although obviously not in every case. It improves working memory and long-term memory for visual stimuli. It helps people to manage anxiety and enhances self-confidence, self-esteem and social and personal skills. Studying music improves reading and verbal skills, and helps children to get good marks in exams. It raises IQ, encourages listening and helps children to learn languages more quickly. Some studies have even suggested that it slows the effects of ageing, just as being a Member of this House has precisely the opposite effect.
The moral effect of the arts is also critical. Only through art can we emerge from ourselves and know what another person sees. It is testimony to the unifying moral power of music that both the Taliban and ISIS, or Daesh, have banned it, just as one or two past Popes banned polyphony, then the interval of the tritone, and then excessive musical decoration.
I understand the pressure the Minister is under from all sides to add everything from Esperanto to den-building to the national curriculum. As an ex-teacher, I also understand that more of one subject must mean less of another. However, as the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North said, warm words butter no parsnips. The Department’s welcome focus on the ways in which education can form character makes it more important than ever that its place at the heart of the curriculum must be protected.
Does my hon. Friend accept that adding creative subjects, such as art and music, would open up the options—for religious education, and for sport—and that the EBacc would be diluted more and more until it was dissolved? Is my hon. Friend in favour of the EBacc? I cannot see a way of having the cake and eating it.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. We can have a larger EBacc, we can manage our subjects more carefully, we can have an EBacc plus, as has been suggested, or we can have a more pick-and-mix, flexible and balanced approach, which might be more sensible. An EBacc without the arts is unthinkable. A core curriculum without the arts will not raise standards, but will lower them. Plato, 2,500 years ago, thought that music stood with arithmetic and geometry as a cornerstone of education, so who are we to chuck that away?
Depriving schoolchildren of the right to learn the pure language of the arts and music—the nuts and bolts—will deprive them of the right to understand, and depriving them of the right to understand is the unkindest and cruellest deprivation. It will confine them to a shrunken view of the world. I will go further. In so doing, we will reduce ourselves and our collective potential. A civilisation that denies its history and stops nurturing its cultural heritage is a dying civilisation. Civilisations die from self-doubt and dwindling confidence, not from enemy assault. Let us keep ourselves alive, play to our history, culture and strengths, and give everyone the chance to take part in that.
Several hon. Members rose—
We should be able comfortably to accommodate everyone who wants to speak if they speak for a maximum of 10 minutes.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. I apologise to the Minister for not being able to stay to the end of the debate because I am committed to celebrating youth theatre at the National Theatre’s Connections festival this evening.
At the Barbican last week, I saw the first performance of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’s last opera, “The Hogboon”. Like many of Max’s works, it used the talents of professional and amateur artists, and involved children as performers. Seeing a chorus of London schoolkids perform the role of the monster, Nuckelavee, was an artistic triumph and for the children also a great personal achievement. What did they learn? Not just singing, but self-confidence, teamwork, timing, communication with an audience and the value of practising, rehearsal and listening to others. That is what performance can bring to anyone’s life.
I will never forget a prisoner who had just been in a performance of “Chicago” at Bronzefield prison. He grabbed my collar and said: “I’ve been a thief for years, but doing this is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I see how I can change now. Every prisoner should get a chance to do this.”
George Kirkham, who runs the Creative Academy in Slough, described to me a conversation he had had with a recruiter from one of the biggest national recruitment agencies who told him that they would rather employ a young person with a performing arts degree than with an economics degree because they know that performing arts students have transferable skills. Thirty-five years ago, Brigid Beattie, who took over failing secondary schools in Wandsworth that had just merged and that had a very poor reputation, told me: “Fiona, I will make this an excellent school and I will do it through the medium of drama.” At the time, I was sceptical, but within a very short time it had become a beacon school with outstanding results.
I started my remarks with these anecdotes to show what expressive arts education can instrumentally bring to a young person’s education. We are in an era when claiming that experiencing creative arts subjects is valuable for its own sake, as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton) rightly did, risks implying that absolute rigour and high standards of learning are not expected. Well, I do expect that. I was a teacher and I know that ensuring that young people experience creating and making things, as well as learning about what other people have made and developing skills such as numeracy, is vital to their emotional and intellectual development.
The problem at the heart of this debate is that we all know that what counts in public policy is what is measured and if what is measured is only EBacc subjects, only they will count. That is why, if we have a mandatory EBacc, we will betray the young people of Britain if it excludes all the expressive and creative arts.
Britain outperforms most countries in the number of Nobel prizes we have achieved. I am certain that is because our education system has traditionally included an emphasis on both science and creative subjects. If we abandon that combination, we will go backwards. It is disingenuous to claim, as the Secretary of State did in a recent speech, that the arts are
“the birthright of every child”
“a young person’s education cannot be complete unless it includes the arts.”
She assured the arts sector that there is nothing to fear from the English Baccalaureate. I am sure that was her hope, but the evidence shows that she is mistaken.
The introduction of the EBacc coincided with a relative fall in the number of qualified teachers employed in schools to teach such subjects and the number of teaching hours devoted to them. According to a survey by the National Society for Education in Art and Design, 44% of secondary teachers said less time was allocated to art in key stage 3 and 34% of those working with post-16s said that courses had been cut. We have heard from my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) about the decline in the number of students taking GCSE subjects in art and design, media, music and so on. That fall coincides with a rise in the number of young people studying EBacc subjects. It is not an overall fall in GCSEs. The total number of GCSE entries in all subjects has increased this year by 0.3%, but over the same period the number of exam entries for arts subjects has fallen by 8%. The falling take-up of arts GCSEs is already spilling over into A-levels. There were 4,300 fewer candidates for A-level arts subjects this year—a decline three times bigger than the 1,500 recorded in 2015.
If the Government are determined to continue with an EBacc measure, it would be easy to fix the problem without in any way watering down the emphasis on the other subjects by simply requiring one creative arts subject within the EBacc portfolio. The qualities that almost all these creative subjects nurture are the qualities that companies know they need. The Government’s emphasis on so-called hard subjects, on factual learning, is old-fashioned and fails to recognise or nurture one of the traditional strengths of British education—that creativity has always been at its core. That is a reason why we are a world leader in creative industries, yet the Government’s approach to school education is putting that at risk.
John Kampfner, who leads the Creative Industries Federation, called the decline in students taking GCSEs in creative subjects “alarming” and said that it
“further confirms a longstanding trend that EBacc is clearly exacerbating...The impact will not only be felt by the creative economy but also by other sectors, such as engineering, that desperately need some of the same skills. Although it is possible to take up jobs in our sector without exam results in creative subjects, it is much harder and potentially more expensive…which obviously further diminishes the chances for young people from more disadvantaged backgrounds.”
He went further than that, but I want to deal with the point about disadvantaged backgrounds, because it is those young people who are losing out most. It is in their schools that there has been the fastest decline in qualified teacher numbers, while schools such as Eton, on the border of my constituency, still celebrate and develop excellent teaching in music, drama and art, as Tom Hiddleston, Harry Lloyd, Eddie Redmayne, Henry Faber, Harry Hadden-Paton, Dominic West, Damian Lewis and Hugh Laurie can all attest.
Can the right hon. Lady tell me what proportion of pupils at Eton study the EBacc combination of GCSEs?
My point is not that young people should study these creative subjects instead of the EBacc, but that they should be part of the mandatory experience of young people, which is the case at Eton. Eton has brilliant drama, music and art education. The facilities are extraordinarily wonderful.
Is it not likely that the sort of people who go to Eton and other public schools have the sort of cultural background whereby they get taken to the theatre, they have books at home and they are exposed to classical music? That is precisely the point; that is why it is so much more important to teach these subjects in the sort of schools that I have in my constituency, where people do not have that advantage.
Absolutely. Actually, the previous theatre teacher at Eton said:
“For me the importance the work has here in the boys’ lives is the reason they do such good work afterwards. That importance arises from many things. One is that we don’t do drama just for its educational value. We do a play as a work of art, to be explored at its fullest.”
It is rare for children to have that experience of creating, of making a work of art. They can do it if they learn these expressive subjects. The problem is that this Government view them as an optional add-on. When I asked the Prime Minister about this issue and referred to his experience at Eton, he said:
“It is essential that we get more children learning the basic subjects and getting the basic qualifications. It is then more possible to put in place the arts, the dance and the drama that I want my children to enjoy when they go to their schools.”—[Official Report, 4 November 2015; Vol. 601, c. 962.]
I do not see it as a question of the basics and then these frilly add-ons. In my judgment, these subjects are as basic as every other subject in the EBacc. That is why so many people have signed this petition. It is not saying, “Get rid of the EBacc.” It is saying, “Include expressive subjects in every child’s education, because if you fail to do that, you are letting them down.”
I am grateful to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I will start on a personal note. Thirty-three years ago, in the wake of Aled Jones, who had just got to No. 1 with “Walking in the Air” and who sang in the choir at Bangor cathedral, some primary school teachers at a small school with an unfortunate name, Downhills, in Tottenham decided that a young black boy could be one of the first black cathedral choristers in the country. I wanted to contribute to this debate, despite all that is going on in our country and in this House at the moment, because I am clear that I would not be here as a Member of Parliament were it not for that opportunity to go to one of the country’s best state—I emphasise “state”—cathedral schools, the King’s School in Peterborough, attached to Peterborough cathedral. There I was able to express myself in the context of a fantastic music education, but I also learned the rigours and discipline of music, which is why I take umbrage at the idea that the performing arts, music or drama—I will come on to that—can be sidelined as somehow less than, not as academic as and not as important as other subjects.
I challenge anyone who has got to grade 8 in any part of the musical repertoire to tell me that it is not fantastically hard and difficult to do. If we have a future king, Prince William, who can go to St Andrews and study art history, why are we suggesting that these disciplines should be denied to so many young people in our country? I am hugely concerned at the direction the Government have taken. It is very important to have had the petition and to be having this debate in the House at this time.
In the Government that I was part of as a Culture Minister, there were intense arguments about the place of the arts and the performing arts—music and drama—in the curriculum. The truth is that there were some serious turf wars between the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Education, but fortunately we achieved great partnerships. We had something called Creative Partnerships—a fantastic scheme that got musicians, architects and performers of all kinds into schools. It was pioneering and much was learned from that scheme. Of course we had to go into the evidence-based arena and try to explain, defend and demonstrate the benefit, but it was a partnership between the DCMS and the Department for Education.
When we look at what is happening in the DCMS under this Government—the White Paper, policies on heritage and support for museums—we get the impression that that Department gets it. The problem is that the DCMS is losing out in the Whitehall turf war; the Department for Education is riding roughshod over it and saying, “No, we are utilitarian in this Department.” It is interesting because it is almost as though, in order to compete with China and India, we have to ensure that the basics—maths, English and science—are there in the curriculum to the exclusion of other subjects, yet ironically, when we speak to leaders in those countries, there is something missing, and that missing component is the British creativity that means that we have one of the most important creative economies in the world, and the intangible question of how we achieve it. We achieve it because of those fantastic—now I am going to get emotional, thinking of the music teachers who got me here—music, drama and performing arts teachers across our country who are really bringing that into the curriculum. For so many young people, particularly those from more deprived areas, that is sometimes their way through to other parts of the curriculum that feel remote.
I grew up in a home with only two sets of books. We had the “Encyclopedia Britannica”, which took a long time for my mother to buy, on loan, and Mills and Boon. It was my ability to excel at music that enabled me to access other parts of the curriculum. Time after time—we learned this through Creative Partnerships, the scheme we set up in those years of Tony Blair’s Government—the professionals say that that is how it works, so I look forward to hearing the Minister’s contribution.
There is quite a lot of evidence to suggest that 40% of the jobs that young people who are in primary school today will do when they grow up have not yet been invented, and those jobs will require a degree of creativity. Many of us have an iPhone. The iPhone is nothing as technology alone. Design is at its heart, but those disciplines are dropping out of the curriculum. Design and technology is really losing out in this new horizon.
I recommend the Diamond Fund for Choristers to the Minister, if he does not already know about it. Cathedrals are not struggling to recruit young people from all sorts of backgrounds—things have moved on a lot since I was one of the first working-class choristers, and there are now many across the country—but they do need support, so the Diamond Fund for Choristers has been launched. It is hugely important. Many cathedrals are concerned about what is happening with music.
The Ebacc decision is compounding cuts to local authority support for music across schools. With many schools becoming academies and the Department placing emphasis solely on the more utilitarian subjects, there is not only a collapse because of the EBacc; local authorities are moving away from funding music, local museums and local arts as well.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about music collapsing. In 2011-12, there were 40,761 entries for GCSE music. That went up to 41,000 and something the following year, then to 42,400, and then, in 2014-15, to 43,654 entries.
I know the figures game, as I have sat where the Minister is. When he replies to the debate, will he break those figures down into state schools, academies and private schools? If he does, I think we will find that the pattern is very different indeed.
Will the Minister also inform us what has happened to the provision of individual music lessons for pupils in Sefton?
My hon. Friend is right. I hope that the Minister comes to that in his round-up, and perhaps he will also talk about Tottenham.
The right hon. Gentleman is making an impassioned speech on behalf of the creative arts, but I want to challenge him. Given the small percentage of children in private schooling, if the number of GCSE music entries has gone up, it rather belies his central point.
Maths, the sciences and English are not utilitarian subjects. They are fundamental, and too many children from poor communities were not getting access to them when the Labour Government left power. There has been a significant improvement in access to those very courses that help people to get on in life. As much as I sympathise with many of the points that the right hon. Gentleman makes, there is a balance to be struck.
I do not want to get into the “either/or” debate as it is not helpful. We could also have a discussion in this House—I would certainly be back for this—on the importance of religious studies education. I know some colleagues who would come to that debate as well.
It is depressing that we are having this argument in the country of Shakespeare, the Beatles, so many wonderful actors who pick up awards internationally and domestically every single year, the west-end theatres, and some of the world’s best musicals. I was Minister for Higher Education and I remember that successive Governments made some very poor decisions which resulted in a huge diminution in language learning. There has just been a big national debate on the importance of Europe; the potential for exchanges like those that people of a certain age in this room may have had with young people in Germany and France has been diminished. This debate is so important because there is a sense, in the petition and in the House, that in this fundamental area of our lives, we are taking the wrong course.
The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned a lot of fantastic contributions. One name that should be mentioned is Professor Brian Cox, a physicist who is also a musician. More and more, we see that the creative arts actually help to fuel creativity in other areas such as science.
The hon. Lady is right. Famous scientists say the same thing. When I was an Arts Minister, I gave a speech at the Science Museum on the importance of arts and the relationship between arts and science.
Our debate today is being had in the field of performing arts and is live in universities. I was recently at the London College of Fashion, which with Goldsmiths and all the other art colleges is asking, “Where are the working-class students?” They have disappeared from the system. Of course, they are concerned about fees and the way in which we are forcing young people to make decisions based solely on how much they will earn when they leave education. Excluding expressive arts subjects from the EBacc will compound the problem.
If we want to see the multi-layered complexity of our country played out on our screens, in our music halls and in the charts in the years ahead, it is important that the Minister recognises what hon. Members are saying. Rather than use statistics selectively to defend his corner, he must recognise that people have taken the time to sign the petition and to come here this afternoon because there is a profound problem with the direction that the Government are taking.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. I thank the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), who is my colleague on the Education Committee. I hope that the Minister takes on board all the wonderful comments and expressions that have been made this afternoon, and recognises the number of people who are listening to the debate—even listening to a Scotswoman, who has no business, some people would say, speaking on English education matters. However, I am a Member of this House.
As a member of the Education Committee, I am privileged to have contact with many people in the field of education. Although many, including Government Ministers, want only what they believe is best for school pupils, I inherently believe that the restricted EBacc system in England does not serve all pupils well. Were I English—and I am not—I could not support the Government’s proposal to make the EBacc, without the inclusion of expressive arts, a compulsory measure for all schools.
The root of the word “education” shows that it means “to be drawn forth.” I believe that that is what education is about. It is at its best when it draws forth from pupils what is inherently there, and enables them to progress and shine in areas that interest and attract them so that we produce well-rounded individuals who are able to take their place and contribute to society as a whole. Of course pupils should have a knowledge of science, technology, engineering and maths, and no one will benefit if they cannot read fluently or do not have a knowledge of the world around them. Tim Peake’s successful space mission has awakened an interest in science subjects across the UK, and many pupils are now enthused and attracted to science matters as never before. A knowledge of the history or geography of our countries in the UK is equally important, but such knowledge is sadly undermined if we do not understand the culture, music and drama that enrich all our histories.
Like others who have spoken in this debate, I have received a briefing from the Royal Shakespeare Company highlighting its good work in bringing Shakespeare to schools across England at all levels. The RSC makes Shakespeare come alive for students, which can lead to an enriching and positive life experience. Art and music can benefit education by helping young people to understand and express themselves in a variety of ways that improve their self-worth and learning. By focusing on English, mathematics, history or geography, sciences and a language—all worthy subjects—many pupils face not achieving an understanding of where they come from or the ability to express themselves in a different way.
Since I was elected to this place and became a member of the Education Committee, I have been struck by the Government’s attitude towards education. As an international observer on the Committee, I worry about what I perceive as a drive to turn education into a tool to turn masses of children into the workers of tomorrow. Although a school education should lead to a meaningful destination, into either further or higher education or a job, the state should not simply see schools as places that benefit businesses by churning out the workers of the future. As Sir Michael Wilshaw, the present chief inspector of schools and head of Ofsted, has said:
“the proposed changes may cause a problem for some students and I can think of youngsters who would have been better suited to English, Maths and Science alongside a range of vocational subjects.”
I would include expressive arts in that list. There is a danger that we will exclude huge numbers of children from an education in the expressive arts by focusing on what is seen by some as more “useful” or “academic” subjects.
The creative industries now account for one in 11 jobs, and the sector is growing. By restricting pupils’ access to the expressive arts by excluding these subjects from the EBacc, we deprive young people of an enriching experience for them and for society as a whole. Arts Council England wholly supports the creative arts being part of the EBacc, as does the CBI, which is looking for creative people. As has been often stated in this debate, the creative industries are a growing sector of business across the United Kingdom.
In Scotland we have always had a wide-ranging education system that is much more tailored to children’s interests and abilities. The introduction of the curriculum for excellence has continued that approach. The Scottish Government’s creative learning plan states:
“We know that creativity is vital in the world of work, with greater opportunities for those who bring a creative approach. The country as a whole stands to benefit significantly from the great wealth of creative talent that our people can bring to bear.”
Expressive arts courses in the curriculum for excellence include art and design, dance, drama and music. The expressive arts can help learners to develop their knowledge, understanding and appreciation of contemporary and historical arts within their own communities in Scotland and beyond. Given Scotland’s vast cultural centre, it is hugely important for children to have an opportunity to learn the expressive arts, which have a huge impact on our economy. Why should children in the rest of the United Kingdom not also have such opportunities?
It is a true delight to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. I welcome this important debate. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on art, craft and design in education, I wish to make a cross-party case for promoting the creative arts in our schools. I invite other Members present to join our all-party group, if they so desire. We regularly engage with teachers, academics and cultural providers, a number of whom are in the Public Gallery—I thank them for being here. We engage with people from across the country, and most importantly, we engage with young people who wish to see a strengthened art offer in our schools.
I also welcome that a number of my constituents supported the EBacc petition—many of them will be art teachers who are concerned for the future of their subject, about which they are so passionate—and a similar number signed the petition on performing arts subjects at GCSE and A-level.
As we have heard, creativity is vital to the wellbeing of our society, and all of these subjects provide a space for young people to push boundaries, widen their horizons and explore what it means to be human. Only last week I went to the Lyric theatre in Hammersmith to watch the performance of “Treasure Island” by the Federation of Westminster Special Schools. The show was directed by James Rigby, and I saw all the work put in by Paul Morrow, the federation’s lead practitioner of creative arts, and by all the schools’ teachers, staff and pupils in collaboration with the staff of the Lyric theatre—I especially mention John Glancy, the producer. They all came together to put on a wonderful production that showed exactly what allowing children to flourish in the arts can do for their lives and their self-esteem.
Experiencing and engaging in the arts not only helps to nurture quantifiable positives; we can also see tangible evidence of the positive contribution that art education can make to our country. Our creative industries contributed an estimated £84.1 billion to our economy last year, and it is important to remember that our creative industries can thrive even more if we promote high-quality and inclusive art education in our schools to help feed the skills supply for the market. Sadly, the Government’s curriculum reforms, such as the EBacc, have had unintended consequences for creativity in the curriculum. The Department for Education has made the case that its reforms will not stop pupils taking additional non-EBacc subjects, and it claims that uptake in arts subjects has risen because the proportion of pupils with at least one arts GCSE has increased since 2010.
Once again, I acknowledge and thank the Minister for attending a meeting of the all-party group a few months ago. He listened to an extensive presentation on the latest National Society for Education in Art and Design survey, which highlighted the effect of the unintended consequences, and he answered questions from the gathered representatives, artists and teachers for some two hours. I know that must have had an effect on him, and I urge him again to take a closer look at the figures. The EBacc’s narrow-minded approach and prescriptive nature is sadly leaving very little space for creative subjects to flourish.
I am interested in the hon. Lady’s speech. Does she agree that part of the problem of providing our children with the opportunity to be creative is the pressure to remain inside the classroom? Pupils have to leave the safe space of the classroom to experience the creative realms in the community.
The hon. Lady makes a good point. Trips to theatres, cultural sites and museums are becoming increasingly difficult for various reasons, including safeguarding and cost—even though museums are free to visit, the children have to get there, which takes time and organisation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) said earlier, such trips will be lacking from some of the children’s daily lives, weekends and holidays, so it is important that that shortfall is made up for in school. For more privileged children, no matter whether they go to state or independent schools, it is just a normal part of their existence. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her intervention.
In May 2014, the Cultural Learning Alliance found that the number of hours of art teaching and of art teachers had fallen in secondary schools since 2010. Design and technology faced the greatest decline, with 11% fewer teachers and less teaching time. The number of art and design teachers had fallen by 4% and the number of teaching hours by 6%, even though the number of pupils in secondary schools has fallen by about 2%. It is clear that provision of arts subjects is declining disproportionately.
As I mentioned earlier, the National Society for Education in Art and Design conducted a survey of teachers working across England in the academic year 2015-16 on the impact of Government policy on art, craft and design education over the past five years. The study found that 33% of art and design teachers at key stage 4, across all sectors, reported a reduction in time dedicated to their subject over the past five years. That figure rises to 44% in responses from academies. Of those teachers, 93% said that the EBacc was directly reducing opportunities to select art and design at GCSE level.
The reduction in provision for vocational creative qualifications is even more illuminating and concerning. Between 2011 and 2015, completions of art, craft and design level 2 vocational qualifications decreased by 43%. Although we are discussing the EBacc, which is only a performance measure at secondary school, it is having clear ramifications for other stages of young people’s education. Figures from the Cultural Learning Alliance show that between 2010 and 2015, dance AS-levels have declined by 24% and dance A-levels have declined by 17%.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on art, craft and design in education, I have heard anecdotally that primary schools are less free to dedicate time to creative education due to unprecedented pressure on the three R’s—reading, writing and arithmetic, which we all agree are extremely important. As the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) said, it should not be a case of either/or. Both are vital.
Secondary school teachers now report a fall in artistic skills and confidence when pupils arrive in year 7. Sadly, the ramifications of the curriculum changes are that secondary schools are putting less time and fewer resources into creative education in an understandable bid to climb the league tables. It is having a knock-on effect on other parts of the education pipeline. It means that pupils are being denied the opportunity to develop creative cognitive skills that are useful in other subjects, such as maths or science, and may become less confident and able to choose or pursue artistic GCSEs and A-levels.
A broad and rounded education is paramount to skilling our young people to enter the world of work in the 21st century. An art education can be vital to doing so, but if the Government insist on keeping the EBacc as a performance measure, in order not to weaken arts provision in our schools even further, the only way to maintain quality creative education is to include the creative arts in the EBacc. Excluding the arts subjects from the EBacc—
Which particular creative arts subject does the hon. Lady want to make compulsory to 16?
It could be left to the young person to choose, as with most subjects. We do not tell young people which language they must study, or which humanity. Let the young person choose; just put a list of creative arts there.
By excluding arts subjects from the EBacc, the Government have told our students that those subjects are not important and are a waste of their time and talent. The situation is simply not good enough. We need to be serious about providing a creative education that ensures that young people from ordinary backgrounds, as others have said, have opportunities to develop their skills so that they can become the next world-famous artist filling art galleries around the world, the next global superstar or actor packing out arenas or theatres or—I must declare an interest again—the next big games artist creating the next global game. The UK has world-leading companies in the games industry.
We should not limit young people’s life chances in this way. We need a forward-looking curriculum that provides a truly rounded education, remembering that subjects do not stand alone. Withdrawing opportunities from young people’s lives to express themselves creatively will not only ruin their chance to broaden their horizons and their understanding of what drives us as humans—our creativity—but affect the fledgling sectors that rely heavily on our nurture of the skills needed to make them soar.
Our human creativity is boundless, and studying creative subjects can harness it. That is why it is important that we ensure that whether or not the EBacc remains, the creative subjects have a place in our curriculum and do not face further and continual diminution by Government reforms. The arts are what we all do in our spare time, in one form or another. Why? They make our hearts soar. We are creative and artistic beings. Since the first caveman drew a buffalo on the first cave wall and danced around the fire singing, the arts have been how we express ourselves. They are intrinsic to being human. I ask the Minister: please do not make our education system a cultural desert for our children, as I fear the unintended consequences.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) for securing this important debate.
Educational improvement is an issue close to my heart, as my constituency is among the worst performing educationally in the UK. When I speak about educational attainment, I cite two simple facts, without fail, that speak more than any other about what an uphill struggle my constituents face in remaining competitive in this increasingly fast-moving globalised world. First, in the league table measuring percentage of individuals with level 4 qualifications or higher, out of 650 constituencies in the UK, my constituency appears 609th. Secondly, when measuring those without any qualifications whatever, Bradford South comes in at 74th.
The task is stark. In simple terms, too few of my constituents boast the higher-level qualifications that they need to access professional and technical careers in the modern economy. To compound the problem, too many are making their way with no qualifications at all, destined for a working life in low-skilled roles typically marked by insecurity, low pay, and little to no opportunity for career progression. To face a fighting chance of accessing and forging successful careers in today’s economy, my constituents have to be better skilled with more qualifications under their belts and, just as importantly, their skills and qualifications must be aligned with today’s new industries.
These new industries, which increasingly drive economic growth, demand a highly skilled and creative workforce. Often they occur in the virtual world, facilitated through computers and sophisticated software—the knowledge economy in its rawest form. Front and centre among such new industries are those falling under the creative industries banner. To our credit, the UK’s creative industries are undeniably world-leading and, astonishingly, contribute more than £76 billion to the UK economy. The sector creates more than one in 11 UK jobs. Yet these industries are afforded little recognition, either by design or as an unintended consequence, in the Government’s policy on the introduction of the EBacc. That is what I wish to address in my remarks. Will the EBacc help or hinder my constituents’ ability to attain both a broad and balanced education and the specific skills that are key to careers in the new creative industries?
On the previous coalition Government’s watch, the uptake of creative subjects in our schools fell by 14%, and our creative industries face a skills shortage. Now, with the EBacc, the current Government are finishing the job of all but destroying the arts, culture and creative learning in our schools. Chief among my reasons for saying so is that the Government’s stated policy on the EBacc is unswervingly prescriptive on subjects and will become all but compulsory for our schools.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for allowing me to make an intervention. I just wanted to correct her hyperbole, because art and design entries in 2010-11 were 162,000 but by 2014-15 they had risen to 176,000; in music, as I have said before, the number of entries rose from 43,157 to 43,654 over the same period; and in the performing arts, the number of entries rose from 2,648 to 5,997 over the same period.
I thank the Minister for that intervention; obviously, he has his whole Department’s data at his fingertips. However, I will say that vocational arts qualifications and subjects have dropped.
Ministers’ ambition that 90% of 16-year-olds should take the full EBacc, alongside the Department for Education’s plan to make the EBacc a headline measure for accountability and to increase its prominence in Ofsted inspections, will effectively make the EBacc compulsory for secondary school pupils in England. The EBacc stipulates which subjects must be studied: maths; English literature; English language; double science; a language, ancient and/or modern; and history and/or geography. Where is the room for the new-found self-determination that apparently the brave new world of academisation is designed to offer localities? It is cast aside.
As a result of this prescriptiveness in the EBacc, there will be little or no scope for our children and young people to study creative subjects. Creative subjects are consigned by this new regime, wrongly, to a lesser category of subjects in which arts and creative learning are—by association—considered less worthy than other subjects.
I say to the Minister that that is wrong. Studying creative subjects is not only wholly meaningful and valuable to a broad and balanced education, but equally importantly creative subjects help to position our children and young people for future careers. The very subjects that are key to nurturing the skills critical to knowledge-intensive, highly skilled, well-paid creative industry careers are excluded from the EBacc. Jobs that are destined to become a cornerstone of our future economy are undervalued by the EBacc. That is shameful and short-sighted—negligent, even.
I urge this Government to reconsider their position, as they did with the forced academisation policy, and to do what is right for our future generations. There is no shame in rethinking; it is the mark of a mature democracy. The real shame would be for this Government to plough ahead with a widely discredited policy that is ill-considered to its core and rooted in an outdated educational view that promises to undermine our blossoming creative industries, which promise so much for my constituents and promise to deliver economic prosperity for this country in the coming years and decades.
Thank you very much, Ms Buck, for calling me to speak, and I also thank the more than 100,000 teachers, parents, arts enthusiasts and many of my own constituents who signed this petition calling for the English Baccalaureate to include an expressive arts option.
There is an old adage used by the business community: “What gets measured, gets done”. Having served as a school governor myself, I remember all too well that key performance indicators, inspection frameworks and exam results inevitably influenced our resources and our priorities. So I agree with the central point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) in opening this debate that excluding creative subjects from the EBacc will devalue and erode their place in our education system, and subsequently in our society.
The impact of that would be significant and detrimental. It would be detrimental in three main ways—to our economy, our wellbeing and our society. First, let us consider the economic case. As a resident of Greater Manchester, I vividly recall the excitement that all we felt as a city-region when it was announced that the BBC would be relocating to us, with its production facilities moving to MediaCity. I knew what a boost it would be to our growth, our productivity and our young people’s life chances. The BBC pledged to create a
“world-class talent pool in the North”
and in the decade that has followed it genuinely has.
As a result of that move, our schools now place real value on creative learning. Take my own local authority, Tameside, which recently partnered with the Lowry theatre and the National Theatre to introduce pupils to the acclaimed production of “War Horse”. The pupils were encouraged to create their own large-scale puppets, to write their own theatre scripts and ultimately to perform in their own productions. It was inspiring; no child involved in such a project will ever forget it.
The Greater Manchester skills strategy now rightly emphasises the skills required by our creative industries, and Manchester is not alone in doing that. Last week, as a member of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, I went on a trip to Soho. I stress that it was not for any personal pleasure; it was to visit some of our creative industries. The companies I saw included the BBH creative agency; Ridley Scott Associates, which is a production company; Smoke & Mirrors, which is a visual effects company, although it does so much more than visual effects; and well-known names such as Google and YouTube, which continue to revolutionise media and creativity. These are exciting, visionary companies at the forefront of the creative industries, which are growth industries. It is clear to me that for the sake of the UK’s economic advantage, our young people need more—not fewer—opportunities to achieve high-quality qualifications in these areas, as well as having a desire to work in them when they start their careers.
Secondly, let us consider the health benefits. Investment in the arts is known to improve wellbeing. Studying creative subjects boosts self-esteem, improves emotional intelligence, and reduces depression and anxiety. Many of these benefits were examined in the Government’s own paper, “Arts for health and wellbeing”, which was published earlier this year. I know from first-hand experience that my son Jack, who has autism, finds literacy and numeracy lessons emotionally exhausting, but he finds music classes exhilarating. So, the arts not only keep our NHS bills down, but they offer employers a labour market of happier, more confident and more emotionally resilient individuals.
Finally, we must consider the societal case for retaining an educational focus on the arts, because the arts enhance our regional identities as well as our economy. So much of what makes Greater Manchester great comes from our culture: from the Bridgewater Hall to the Stone Roses; from L.S. Lowry to Jeanette Winterson; from “Coronation Street” to last week’s wonderful street theatre commemorating the Somme; and our tremendous brass band festivals. Frankly, I could go on, Ms Buck, and fill the whole three hours, such is Manchester’s status as a cultural superpower.
Nationally, too, our arts and culture provide so much of what we celebrate about Britain and Britishness. I think I speak for everyone in Westminster Hall today when I say that none of us wish to keep the debate on the EU referendum going, but for me a particularly resonant case for remaining in the European Union was made not by an economist or a politician but by Axel Scheffler, the children’s illustrator, who said that without the freedoms provided by the EU he and Julia Donaldson would never have created “The Gruffalo”. What a loss that would have been to everyone in the European Union and beyond. Art breaks down demographic and socioeconomic divides: chip away at it and we chip away at so much of what I believe makes our society great.
In conclusion, I fear that the exclusion of arts subjects from the English Baccalaureate represents the latest misguided attack on our education system. It is an attempt to hark back to a bygone era of schooling, in which one size was expected to fit all and only one form of ability was valued, because employment options then were far narrower than—thankfully—they are today. For the sake of our economy, our wellbeing and our enriched society, we must not go down this road, and I move that we include expressive arts in the English Baccalaureate.
I think this is the first time that I have spoken under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. It is a pleasure to do so.
There have been some excellent speeches so far, and I agree with everyone who has made the case for the importance of arts education and for the need for us to continue to value that education. The narrowing of focus about what constitutes a valid qualification concerns me across the board. Obviously, we are here today to discuss arts education, but we have also seen, for example, life and environmental sciences being scrapped at GCSE and A-level. That seems nonsensical to me, because the best way of getting children interested in science is to link it to their natural environment, to issues such as climate change, and to what they see all around them.
As we have heard, participation in creative subjects and gaining a qualification in them are immensely rewarding for pupils, particularly those pupils who struggle to excel academically. I was talking to a number of senior educationalists at the weekend; we are fortunate in Bristol that several of our new councillors have a background in education in cities such as Bristol and Leicester, which have high levels of deprivation and much ethnic diversity. They could not stress enough how important arts subjects are for some pupils who will never be very good at English, maths or other traditional subjects; the arts get those pupils through the doors of schools. Headteachers have said that to me as well.
[Mr Christopher Chope in the Chair]
The fact is that all the secondary schools in my constituency were rebuilt under the last Labour Government, through the Building Schools for the Future programme, so they have music studios, art rooms and sprung dancefloors that the children can use not only during school hours but after school as well. The arts get children through the door of the school, and if that means they then enjoy the school experience, feel more confident and make friends with other pupils, they are much more likely to thrive in the academic subjects as well.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. It reminds me of when I attended a local school’s opening of its sport centre to the community. Alan Shearer, who was a former pupil, spoke passionately about the difference that having sport—football in particular—available at school made to him, and how that was the only reason he went to school. He got his maths, and he got his English, but it was a sport that brought him through the door. The arts too can be a driver for young people to come to school and enjoy the experience.
Absolutely, and that is certainly the case with sports in Bristol’s schools as well. Some Conservative Members for neighbouring constituencies are keen on the idea that we take education more seriously, that we should all learn Latin and history—a few years ago one of them wrote about “joke GCSEs”. In a city like Bristol, where 40% of the jobs are in the creative sector, it is a running joke that if you do a Mickey Mouse degree you end up with a job at Aardman and win an Oscar. That is certainly not something we should sneer at.
We also have the BBC’s natural history unit, which combines learning about natural history and the life and environmental sciences with learning the sort of skills that could lead to someone being one of the amazing cameramen who manage to film things that no one has ever caught on film before. Studying these subjects is not something that people do just for their self-fulfilment, although it is important on that front; it is very much part of getting a job and thriving when they leave school.
MPs have been sent a useful briefing by an organisation called MillionPlus for Thursday’s Backbench Business debate on creative industries and the economy—we seem to have several debates about the creative sector this week. The briefing focuses on the role of universities in supporting the creative sector, pointing out, as has been said, that the sector is worth £84.1 billion to the UK economy and is one of its fastest growing areas, providing 2.8 million jobs. MillionPlus says that 70% of people in creative occupations are university educated, but that numbers
“studying many creative subjects at school and university are falling and the talent pool will inevitably decrease”.
It points to the potential sidelining of creative subjects in schools and expresses concern about the narrative that has built up that STEM subjects are somehow far more worthwhile than creative ones. Of course STEM subjects are important, of course our future economic growth depends on people wanting to go into those sectors as well, but one set of subjects should not exclude the other.
MillionPlus’s concern is that with the Department for Education promoting certain “facilitating” subjects that focus on STEM and not on creative courses at GCSE and A-level, as well as the introduction in 2016-17 of the new performance measures based on the eight key subjects, there is a risk that more and more schools will design their curriculums in a way that marginalises creative subjects, as many speakers have already mentioned. We cannot really blame schools if they feel compelled to go down that path. If they are going to be judged on key areas, they do not want to risk being left behind when compared with other schools.
I asked people earlier today on social media if they had any comments on the matter, and one of my constituents got in touch to say that her son was forced to drop all but one arts subject for year 10 because of the league tables for EBacc. She felt that that had very much held him back.
I want to mention two specific areas—I do not want to go over the ground that has already been covered. On music in schools, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that suggests that in some areas fewer than 20% of schools offer music beyond key stage 3 and fewer than 5% offer it at sixth form. There was a meeting of all-party parliamentary groups last week, which I think the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton), a relatively near neighbour of mine, attended. I could not attend, but my researcher went along. The case was cited at that meeting of a west London borough where out of 15 state-funded schools with secondary age pupils all but one was rated good or outstanding but only six offered music post-key stage 3 and only two offered it post-key stage 4. Just last week, the music hub there learned that two of the secondary schools, both of which are academies, will offer no music at all from year 7, which is a sad state of affairs.
A representative from the music hub said that the impact of the EBacc changes is that music teachers are being used as flexible cover or are leaving and not being replaced, and that the result will be that music drops out of schools completely. That is also something that people involved in music education in Bristol have said to me—that with that casualisation of the profession we will end up losing the skills pool, because people simply cannot make a living from being brought in for the occasional lesson. The music hub representative at the meeting said that that means
“no music for prize day, school fairs, community events; no school musicals/Christmas concerts. What a joyless experience for our pupils, particularly when we remember that for many music is the only thing that will engage them and develop positive attitudes towards learning.”
Is it not rather disingenuous of the Government to say that music is a compulsory subject for five to 14-year-olds when academies do not have to follow the curriculum? How can the Minister provide real reassurance that music will not drop out of some schools entirely? I look forward to hearing from him on that point.
My last point is about social diversity in the arts, which we have already touched on. The actor Ralf Little, of “The Royle Family” fame, was reported in the papers today as saying that Caroline Aherne, who died at the weekend, showed
“that working-class people can be on TV, being ourselves”,
but that her death
“is a reminder how much she and her writing were, and still are, the exception.”
Julie Walters has said previously that she would not have a chance of making it as a working-class actor if she was starting out today, and there is an ongoing debate about why so many of the up-and-coming names on our stage and screen seem to have been educated at public schools. Last year, 92.1% of jobs in the creative industries were being done by people in the more advantaged socioeconomic groups, a figure that is up 20% since 2011. The well known actor James McAvoy has warned:
“I do care about a government that doesn’t prioritise arts in education. It is one of the first things that if you take it away, it’s a signal that the government doesn’t care about upward mobility any more. Art is one the first things you take away from society if you want to keep them down.”
Given how difficult it is for anyone from a normal background to break into acting these days, is the Minister concerned about the impact the changes might have on social mobility? Factors to consider are the enormous fees for drama and art schools, the need for financial support during the phase when someone is not sure whether they will break through and become a professional, the prevalence of unpaid internship, the effects of arts cuts on outreach programmes, and the increasing prevalence of low pay and no pay in the entertainment industries. I know that the previous Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport was very concerned about the need to increase diversity in the arts—I went with a delegation from Equity to meet him when I was chair of the all-party Performers’ Alliance group. It seems, however, that all the work he was looking to do on increasing diversity, which I hope his successor is now taking up, could be jeopardised if we do not get it right at school level.
I want to say first that my sister is learning associate at the Unicorn theatre for children, which works with schoolchildren on drama projects.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) on introducing this important debate, which goes to the heart of the question of what education is for. The English baccalaureate is a performance measure for schools, awarded when students secure a grade C or above at GCSE across a core of five academic subjects—English language, mathematics, history or geography, the sciences and a language—and English literature at any grade. That sets up a hierarchy of value and suggests that English literature is less important than the other core subjects—something that I as a former English teacher would hotly dispute—and that the expressive arts subjects of art, music, drama and dance are of secondary importance. I believe that nothing could be further from the truth.
Through the arts, pupils can explore ideas in the most imaginative of ways. They can develop their powers of verbal and non-verbal expression through physical theatre, painting, music and dance, and can gain an understanding of and a love for our rich cultural heritage. To deny the arts is to deny what it is to be human. Undermine the arts in the curriculum—for that is what the current EBacc does—and we see a spiral of decline in provision, with the expressive arts becoming something accessible only to those privileged children whose parents can afford to pay for after-school activities, with others being left behind.
The hierarchy of value has implications for school planning and resourcing. Entries for GCSEs in arts subjects have fallen by 46,000 this year according to new figures recording England’s exam entries for 2016. It is not difficult to understand that if fewer pupils are taking a subject, demand dwindles and music, drama and art departments will shed staff, damaging the morale of the staff who remain. The uptake of creative subjects fell by 14% from 2010 to 2015, and our creative industries are facing a skills shortage. The Government’s figures show that the creative industries represent more than 5% of the UK economy—more than £84 billion in 2014—and grew by almost 10% between 2013 and 2014. The sector employs almost 2 million people.
The issue is not only about what arts education can deliver to our economy. We are facing a mental health crisis among our young people. We should be providing them with an education that makes them feel integrated and whole and uses all parts of their creativity, and does not just focus on high academic achievement. We know that developing the arts and creativity is important for mental wellbeing. The stories of actors who have been saved by drama at a young age are legion. One such actor told me that theatre had saved him from getting involved in drugs as a teenager. He grew up on an estate riddled with crime, but there was something about theatrical expression that just clicked for him and gave him a way out. I recently met a senior police officer on Merseyside. He felt our education was too obsessed with high academic achievement and that our neglect of educational activities that develop the whole person is leading to real problems in our society, with young people who do not want to or are unable to follow an academic route not being given the opportunity to acquire a broad education that will help them develop as people. That is quite an indictment.
The Government seem to suggest that the English baccalaureate would not be to the detriment of the arts. In response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) in 2013, they gave the reassuring words:
“The English Baccalaureate measure…leaves space for pupils to study creative subjects alongside a strong academic core. We believe good school leaders will continue to make time for artistic and cultural education.”—[Official Report, 25 April 2013; Vol. 561, c. 1174W.]
In fact, it has not worked out that way. Taking the example of art and design, we find a worrying picture. A recent survey by the National Society for Education in Art and Design found that exclusion from the EBacc is leading arts and creative subjects in state schools to be less valued and accorded less time in the school curriculum, accentuating an existing trend.
At least a third and up to 44% of teacher responses to the survey indicated that the time allocated for art and design over all key stages had decreased in the last five years. For state schools, where respondents identified that there had been a reduction of time allocated for art and design, 93% of those teachers agreed or strongly agreed that the EBacc had reduced opportunities for students to select their subjects. Those changes are in turn affecting the morale of the teachers of those subjects. Some 56% of respondents reported that the reduced profile and value given to their subject by the Government and by school management had contributed to teachers leaving or wanting to leave the profession. We cannot afford to let that happen.
There is a famous quote from Winston Churchill who, when asked to cut funding for the arts in favour of the war effort, said if not that,
“then what are we fighting for?”
That is a key point, because the arts are vital to our culture. We must guard and nourish them. If we do not have artistic expression, we cannot know ourselves and as people we are diminished. I urge the Minister to pause and take time out to reconsider the value of arts education.
Pupils from Overchurch Junior School in my constituency will be performing a production based on the works of William Shakespeare in conjunction with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 10 Downing Street this Wednesday. I urge the Minister to come along, take a fresh look and see at first hand just what drama and the expressive arts can give to our young people. The idea that there is no rigour comparable to that of the core EBacc subjects in mastering the major roles in the works of Shaw, Beckett or Shakespeare is demonstrably untrue.
Finally, the English baccalaureate has been developed as a performance measure for schools, not as the best possible curriculum offer we can provide for our young people. As such, it is distorting the balance of educational provision, and I urge the Minister to think again about the detrimental impact it is having on arts education in our country.
I call Carol Monaghan.
Thank you, Mr Chope. You have confused me by not being Ms Buck, but I will carry on. As always in education debates, it is interesting to compare the picture in Scotland with that in England. As a former physics teacher, I never considered physics to be any more or less worthy than any other subject. It seems as though a hierarchy of subjects is developing.
At first glance, the principles behind the EBacc seem laudable enough—a solid grounding in core academic subjects makes sense—but the argument is about the key subjects. We are all individuals—not everyone can excel at maths and science. Likewise, arts subjects do not come easily to others, including me. Scotland had a similar system to the one we are discussing today, but forcing pupils to study subjects in which they have no interest is counterproductive and has implications for pupil behaviour, engagement and attainment.
Does that mean that if a pupil is not interested in maths, they should be able to drop it at any point?
A pupil will need a certain grounding in maths, but how many pupils need to know how to do complex algebra or calculus? Basic numeracy and literacy are different from studying subjects in great detail.
I think the software-games industry would have a different view.
In Scotland, we are looking at how we can prepare our students for the workplace. Calculus features in only a few, specific jobs, and we need to consider that.
In Scotland, the emphasis is no longer on a suite of specific subjects, but on personalisation and choice. That has led some students to specialise in science and technical subjects, while others enjoy success in music and the arts. Despite concerns that student numbers may drop in some subjects, the overall presentation numbers have not suffered, because students can take multiple subjects in a curricular area, such as three science subjects or three arts subjects. More importantly, pupil behaviour, engagement and attainment have all improved. Because students have opted into particular subjects, they are in charge of their own decisions and are full stakeholders. The current EBacc in England, rather than allowing students to flourish, is setting some up for failure. Surely a free choice of subjects gives students, especially those from a disadvantaged background, a far better chance of success.
The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) opened the debate by talking about the wide range of organisations supporting the debate, how society is enriched by the arts, and the job opportunities available in the creative industry. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton) talked about his experience as a musician and how music improved cognitive skills. I know something about that. In a very tough council estate in Raploch, Stirling, a music programme where primary school students were taught the fiddle saw attainment, attendance and general participation all increase as a result.
The right hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) talked about her experience as a teacher, the importance of science and the arts and how creativity is at the core of British education. I concur; as a science teacher, I know that science is not always considered to be a creative subject, but our top scientists all have creativity in common. The right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), who has left, gave us a wonderful vision of his angelic choirboy past. It was quite hard to imagine. He talked about academic rigour and the benefits of studying the arts for creativity. As a physicist, I know that of the courses that are now developing at universities, including the University of Edinburgh, physics and music is now a joint degree. It is good to see those two subjects coming together as well as the juxtaposition of the two.
My hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) talked about the importance of developing well-rounded individuals who can contribute and enrich society. The hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) talked about the unintended consequences of the current EBacc and how it could prevent creativity from flourishing. The hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) talked about the need to align skills to industry’s requirements. The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) talked about the benefits of the arts to health and wellbeing. The hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) talked about how we get students through the door and how different school activities can be the hook that draws them in, but she also raised concerns about pupils being forced to drop arts subjects because of the EBacc.
The hon. Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) talked about her experience as a former teacher and how theatrical experience allows some troubled students to express themselves in a different way. The Minister should consider seriously her point that the reduced value of arts subjects can contribute to low staff morale.
Scotland’s curriculum for excellence has eight curricular areas, all with equal status. The expressive arts is one of those areas. The Minister should consider the possibility of different flavours of EBacc, so that some students could have a science specialism while others had a language specialism or an expressive arts specialism, and others could do a general EBacc across a range of subjects. That would allow students both to flourish and to specialise in their chosen area.
It is a great pleasure and privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. We have had a fantastic debate here this afternoon so far. The contributions from all parties have been, without exception, inspired, passionate and admirable.
I want to start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) for the passion and comprehensiveness with which she put forward the case so well represented by all the people in the audience today. She was absolutely right to do the roll call of organisations that support the petition; she has saved me that job. She was absolutely right to cite the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is not often cited in these matters. The Minister and his colleagues might wish to take that issue on board if they are revising this particular issue in any shape or form, were it to have financial consequences. She also drew attention to the DCMS report and the culture of disfranchisement, restricting young people’s life chances, one-size-fits-all GCSEs, the Creative Industries Federation’s concerns, and the 46,000 fall in GCSE entries in arts subjects last year. Of significant importance—this point was taken up by other speakers across the divide—is the impact on the disadvantaged and the socially immobile.
In a spirit of cross-partisanship I also want to praise the absolutely excellent and admirable speech made by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton) with his focus on music facilities, widening participation and the creative industries. It was a paean to the study of music. As someone who came to my interest in history in a significant fashion via music, I entirely agreed with him. My right hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) reminded us, as have others, that what counts is what matters in government, and she talked about the law of unintended consequences and the impact. I was delighted that she quoted Maxwell Davies’s new opera because, again, when I was a teenager, one of the first things that got me passionately interested in medieval history was the setting by Maxwell Davies of “The Fader of Heven”, which comes from one of the English mystery plays. It is appropriate at this time when the Orkney festival is in full swing and when of course we have sadly lost Maxwell Davies that she should have done that.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) not only drew on his own history as a distinguished member of the Government, but spoke movingly of his own experience as a black chorister at Peterborough cathedral and about the rigours and the discipline of the music. I can personally endorse what he said about the great partnership between the Department for Education and DCMS during what he described as the Blair years, because I was a Parliamentary Private Secretary in that Department at the time that that programme was being taken forward. It was a model of co-operation, with some financial tensions as always, but it was a model of co-operation across those two Departments, and it is a model of co-operation in getting out of silos that the Government would do well to emulate.
I want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson). She has been a fantastic chair of the all-party group. She and I have had various conversations about the issue of unintended consequences. She was absolutely right to point to the need to get young people out and to get them experiencing things, as did the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies), who has now left us. We can all probably remember school trips to theatres or music events that made an impact on us. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) rightly brought us back not only to the aesthetic aspects, but the bread and butter aspects. If I might say so, one of Bradford’s most famous citizens, J. B. Priestley, would have been proud of her. She said that too many of her constituents did not have access to technical qualifications and she linked that to the need to develop new industries. I feel particularly strongly about this matter because it is second-level towns, if I can put it that way, in England and Britain today—the Bradfords, the Prestons, the Blackpools—that need a creative boost in their economies in the same way that our big cities got a creative boost in the early 2000s.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) talked about the impact of BBC MediaCity on schools and creative learning. Again, when I was first a shadow Minister with responsibility for further education and skills, I went there with my hon. friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) and saw some of the exciting work that was going on. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) rightly pointed out that it was investment from the Labour Government in her school arts facilities that had potentiated them academically, and she made the point about how many people in Bristol earn their living in the creative industries.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) talked about the healing qualities of the arts and also the impact on the morale of the profession. Finally, the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan), as well as making the very sensible point that strict hierarchies of subjects are not a good idea, also gave evidence of how a mix of subjects could have an impact on overall behaviour and commitment. So there was a string of experiences and arguments that the Minister would do well to ponder.
I want to talk about what some other organisations have said about their concerns in this area. I want to quote the response by the Edge education charity to the EBacc consultation, which some Members here may have had. It made the point that
“there has already been a significant shift away from creative and technical subjects in KS4. Entries for GCSE Design and Technology have fallen by 29% in five years…These trends would be severely exacerbated by imposing the full EBacc on 90% of KS4 students, because they would have to drop non-EBacc subjects to make room for foreign languages, history and/or geography.”
The statistics it cites are alarming:
“To get to 90%, 225,000 students will have to drop one of their current options and take a foreign language GCSE instead. The result will be a sharp fall in the number of students taking technical and creative subjects.”
I have already quoted what Edge said about GCSE design and technology. In the note it sent to colleagues today, it said:
“The 90% EBacc target will limit choices. Harm large numbers of students. Reduce the uptake of technical and creative subjects. Add to the country’s growing skills gap.”
It is that growing skills gap that the Minister needs to focus on in his response.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that one of the key skills gaps in this country is a lack of language ability? Some 77% of employers say that they need more employees with foreign languages.
I agree entirely with what the Minister says about languages but, as one of my colleagues said earlier, it is not our job to set up one choice against another. It is for the Minister to navigate that process accurately and correctly. Simply quoting individual statistics is not going to make much of a point for him.
I was about to say that there is a curious disconnect in this debate. When we finally see the much delayed skills plan, I hope we will be able to welcome it. We are told that it will be incorporated into the Minister’s portfolio in the Department for Education, or certainly into the Department generally. The work of the taskforce, which was chaired by Lord Sainsbury and included Baroness Wolf and the head of my own further education college in Blackpool, is crucial to the debate about getting all these things right. It is a question not of having either technical skills or expressive skills but of where we take them. Given that the Government have spoken about the importance of higher-level skills, it seems passing strange that their forthcoming Bill will not be associated with what comes out from the Department. The truth is that it is not a question of developing either technical and professional skills or expressive arts skills.
Catherine Sezen of the Association of Colleges wrote recently in the Times Educational Supplement that
“it is important that in striving to boost technical skills, this is not at the expense of creative skills”.
Many colleagues have made the connection between those two areas today, and I hope the Minister will think very hard about that. Catherine Sezen’s article continues:
“Failure to protect these subjects could leave another skills gap, but one that could be more difficult to fill…This, combined with the introduction of the more rigorous GCSEs graded 9 to 1, means it is more than likely that schools will offer a more limited number of optional subjects. This will have an impact on take-up of creative subjects”.
It should not be forgotten—I am well aware of this, as Member of Parliament for a seaside and coastal town where tourism is really important—that many occupations, including catering, hairdressing and architecture, combine technical and creative skills. It is a question of seeing where the joins are.
In April, I had the privilege of visiting the University of the Arts London’s new campus at King’s Cross, where I met many people who had come to the college as students through a combination of technical expertise and creative interest. As the Minister may know, UAL is the leading educator of talent in the UK’s creative industries, but it is very concerned about not being able to attract sufficient numbers of young people to London, not just because of the high cost but because of the increasing lack of coverage in schools. The danger is that that will also hit the expanding creative industries.
The combination of technical and creative skills in the creative industries is crucial. I will not cite the figures for the amount our economy depends on them, because that has already been done very ably by colleagues. However, I will make the point, further to what my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West said about students with special needs, that those students are often very strongly represented, not just at UAL but at other places. That is another area that should concern the Minister.
Other Members have already talked about MillionPlus’s briefing, so I will not go into it in any great detail, except to mention that it says that the role of modern universities, as a group, in supporting the creative industries is crucial. At a time when we worry in separate areas about the impact on modern universities of some of the proposals in the Government’s new Higher Education and Research Bill, the Minister might want to take that on board as well. We know the figures for the declining take-up of arts subjects at GCSE, and I will not go over them again.
I have two or three questions for the Minister about his progress on the consultation. First, when do the Government intend to respond to it? Will it be under this Government or a future Government? I think most Members present want to see a response from the Government in fairly short order. Secondly, the point about working across silos has been made very strongly, so what internal discussions has he had about the consultation with other Departments—the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills or the Treasury? Thirdly, what assessment has he made of the equality impact of the EBacc’s implementation? If he has not made one, will he include one in his response to the consultations?
We need to get that spark of creativity that fires up young people. That is particularly true for my own town of Blackpool, where schools have always been strong in creative areas, even as they have aspired to better skills and academic excellence. I think of photography and design at Blackpool and the Fylde College, and of the performances I see month in, month out, of what we might expect in a seaside town. Schools are very good at putting on musicals and things of that nature. Wordpool, the annual festival funded by Blackpool Council, involves schools and helps children to write stories and poems, most recently about their own school giant. We have been able to do that in Blackpool because of the support that local government, which we have not had much chance to talk about today, often gives to these projects, despite the cuts.
All this is summed up by a letter I received literally this morning from the librarian of Thames Primary Academy in South Shore, which the Minister should understand is an area of high transience. She said:
“I am the school librarian at the Thames Primary Academy. I also run an Arts Appreciate Club…But I also know how hard it is for schools to find the time for these subjects…I believe many leaders of the creative community”
are worried about
“how much these subjects are losing students at high schools and in further education, to the detriment of our creative industries…I was struck by the date of this debate. It is my late father’s birthday, he loved and was very knowledgeable about art, classical music and films…He worked in a factory all his adult life but never felt that art was not for him. I wish we could get back to that feeling in this country.”
I echo those sentiments.
As I have said, I am an historian and a medievalist. I got my interest in medieval history not just from the battles and the dates but from listening to the music, from seeing the Wilton diptych and other fabulous things on a day trip to the British Museum, and—stretching the period a little—from seeing as a teenager the fantastic performance of Glenda Jackson as Elizabeth I. Glenda Jackson, as hon. Members who heard her on Radio 3 recently might remember, was working in Boots and got her big break by getting a council scholarship to go to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Those are some of the issues that I urge the Minister to consider.
C. P. Snow famously wrote a book in the 1950s about the two cultures and the division between arts and societies. Let us not allow the consequences of the EBacc to perpetuate that division, however unintentionally. Denis Healey famously said that all politicians should have a hinterland. I think that the hon. Members who have spoken today have amply demonstrated their commitment to that hinterland, and I invite the Minister to do the same.
It is a delight to be debating under your chairmanship today, Mr Chope. I congratulate the organisers of the petition and the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) on delivering this important debate. Hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber have made very good speeches.
I share the hon. Lady’s commitment to the arts, and I want to reassure her that the Government share it, too, as demonstrated by the quotation from the Chancellor that she cited. We want to ensure that every child has a high-quality arts education throughout their time at school. Like the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), I was a chorister, and equally angelic, although not in a cathedral but a large parish church— St Edmund’s church in Roundhay in Leeds. I regularly go to the theatre—the Donmar, the National and the Chichester Festival theatre—so I am as passionate as anybody here about the importance of arts education.
We are committed to ensuring that such an education is not the preserve of the elite, but the entitlement of every single child. That concern was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton) in his excellent and well informed speech. It is for that reason that, in maintained schools, music, art and design are compulsory in key stages 1, 2 and 3 of the national curriculum—between the ages of five and 14. This debate is not about all those years of education; it is about just two years after the end of key stage 3. Pupils must also be taught drama as part of the English curriculum and dance as part of the PE curriculum. Maintained schools also have a duty to offer key stage 4 pupils the chance to study an arts subject if they wish.
We have heard concerns today about the impact of the EBacc. It is important to set out why we are so committed to ensuring that the vast majority of pupils take the core academic curriculum subjects that the EBacc combination provides. Every child deserves to leave school fully literate and numerate, with an understanding of the history, geography and science of the world they inhabit, and a grasp of a language other than their own. Yet in 2010, many pupils—often those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds—were denied an education in that academic core. Only 31% of pupils took a GCSE in history and only 26% took a GCSE in geography. Only 43% took a foreign language GCSE—down from 76% in 2000. A flight away from a core academic curriculum was taking place, and the Government had to act.
In 2010, we announced the EBacc as a measure for the school performance tables. The EBacc measures the number of pupils entered for and achieving good GCSEs in a core of academic subjects: English, maths, science, geography or history, and a language. The success of the EBacc so far is clear. The proportion of pupils entering the EBacc combination has risen from just 22% in 2011 to 39% in 2015. Hon. Members talk about arts subjects as an add-on to that core academic curriculum, but only 22% took that core academic curriculum in 2011, and we reached only 39% in 2015.
Schools have made progress, but there is still further to go, not least because pupils who are eligible for free school meals are almost half as likely to be entered for the EBacc as those who are not. It cannot be right that where a child goes to school or the wealth of their parents determines whether they study the core subjects that will help them succeed in higher education and the job market. I wonder how many hon. Members in this debate have GCSEs or—more likely, given our ages— O-levels in all the EBacc subjects.
Last year, we set out our ambition for 90% of pupils in mainstream secondary schools to enter the EBacc. We are clear that the vast majority of pupils deserve to benefit from studying a core academic curriculum up to the age of 16. We will not apologise for having high aspirations for every child, but I would like to reassure hon. Members that that core academic curriculum can safely sit alongside a high-quality education in the arts. We have never said that pupils should study the EBacc subjects and nothing else. All schools will continue to offer a wide range of options outside the EBacc so pupils have the opportunity to study subjects that reflect their individual interests and strengths. The EBacc is limited in size so there is flexibility for pupils to take additional subjects of their choosing.
One of the key questions that people continue to ask is why the Government have differentiated between history and geography, and some of the arts subjects. Why are those subjects not simply included in the EBacc options? If they are run alongside the EBacc, as the Minister put it, students undertaking the EBacc who do not take subjects in addition to the eight will not get the opportunity to study those arts subjects.
Many subjects are not included in the EBacc, including religious studies, and a range of very important, high-quality vocational subjects such as economics, and music and art.
Will the Minister explain why?
Yes, I will come to that.
The issue is that English, maths and science are compulsory until the age of 16. Until 2004, a foreign language was compulsory until the age of 16. It would not be hugely controversial to reintroduce such a compulsion, although we are not doing that. What we are really talking about is one subject—a humanity—for two years in our schools at key stage 4. All this debate seems to be about is whether children should continue to study either history or geography—one subject out of the whole school curriculum—for another two years at school. This debate boils down to that and whether we think it is important for students to study a language.
Our view is that it is important that young people at secondary school study history and geography at key stage 3, take both subjects seriously, and take one or other of them through to GCSE. We took that policy decision because we believe it is important that young people learn the skills of writing essays and that they engage in understanding that part of our history. It is a tiny part of the curriculum. We were also determined to keep the EBacc small to enable pupils to study the arts, a second foreign language or vocational subjects in the one, two or three extra slots that the EBacc allows.
I think we all agree that the aspiration behind the EBacc is honourable—the Minister cited figures for children in some of our poorer schools who were taking it, as opposed to those who are achieving it now—but why are we seeing the unintended consequences that are highlighted by the NSEAD report, which I cited earlier? Is he prepared to do anything about them?
The evidence does not suggest that there have been any unintended consequences. We have had long debates with the religious studies lobby, which argued that the religious studies GCSE would fall through the floor. We have not seen that.
What about major industry and the arts?
The entries for art and design were 162,000 in 2010-11 and 176,000 in 2014-15—the latest figures that I have. In drama, in 2010-11, there were 74,000 entries; they dropped in 2011 to 70,000 and then 69,000, but they went up to 70,000 and are now 70,800. In media, film and TV, there were 51,000 entries in 2010; they went down to 49,000 and then 48,700, but they went up to 51,000 and are now 51,570. So there is no evidence that the subjects are declining at GCSE.
Is it fair to point out that all the figures just given by the Minister are from before the announcement of the new EBacc and the consultation of November 2015, which is what has seen the drop in entries that we are all talking about?
No. Those figures are a consequence of the EBacc measure, which was taken seriously by schools—we have seen an increase in the EBacc performance measure. That is what we have seen—no fall in the figures. My assertion is that there will be no significant fall in the arts subjects as a consequence of the EBacc figure of 90%. The schools cited during the debate—the ones that have the strongest arts subjects, the choirs and the music GCSEs—are all doing the EBacc subjects right through to GCSE. They are not neglecting the arts. In fact, I assert that the schools that have the strongest arts education are also the ones that get the highest level in the EBacc performance measure.
Will the Minister acknowledge some disagreement about the statistics, the widespread concern that there is already a significant drop in the take-up of subjects and huge concern about a further drop in future take-up? The Government cannot simply reverse this easily, because we will have lost the teachers and the experts in the profession as a result of the drop in numbers. They would be difficult to recover. Will the Minister take on board those concerns and come back with a proper response about what the Government will do to take them into account?
I will of course listen carefully to this debate and all the representations made to the consultation, but there is a problem in this country. All the participants in the debate have talked about the arts being in addition. No one said—I listened carefully—that a foreign language is unnecessary for the majority of young people. No one said that taking two or three sciences is unnecessary for most young people. No one said that maths is not important, apart from the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan)—
I do not think I said—in fact, I know I did not say—that maths was not important, although I said that basic numeracy was a requirement. What I did say was that advanced algebra and calculus were not necessary for every student to make their way in life.
That is where we disagree: young people living in a modern, complex society need to have mathematical skills that go beyond simple numeracy. They need to be able to do maths to the level of GCSE, which is why we have insisted that a GCSE in maths and in English are part of further education studies for students without those GCSEs.
No one in the debate is saying that those subjects should be dropped—in so far as that is concerned, we all agree. Our contention is that there is ample room to study, in addition to the EBacc subjects, the arts, economics or a vocational subject, if that is what interests the young person.
I understand the point that the Minister is making, but does he understand the point being made by the Opposition and elsewhere—that what is measured is what is valued? Unless the Minister says that every Ofsted report will look in the same detail at other, non-EBacc subjects, or take them into account in the rankings, as the EBacc subjects will be looked at—or as future employers will do—his argument is on somewhat weak ground.
People will look carefully at a school’s EBacc performance measure. We want more young people—90% by 2020—to be taking GCSEs in those core academic subjects, which will provide the widest level of opportunities for them in future. That is what all the evidence suggests, and the policy in China, Finland, the state of Ontario in Canada, the state of Victoria in Australia, Germany and Poland is that all young people study those EBacc subjects. In fact, no one present has disagreed that all those subjects should be compulsory to the age of 14, or that English, maths and science should be compulsory to 16: all the debate is about is whether young people should study a foreign language, or history or geography, for two more years. The policy of the Government is that they should be, because that is what is needed to have a broad and balanced education.
We deliberately kept the EBacc small—we received representations from all quarters asking for a whole range of other subjects, in addition to the arts, to be included in the EBacc. It could well become 10, 11 or 12 subjects if we gave in to those requests, but we deliberately kept it small—to seven or eight subjects—to enable young people to take an eighth, ninth or 10th GCSE, or an equivalent, in addition to the series of core academic subjects. That is what everyone in the Chamber today, I thought, had agreed with—that this is about what is in addition to the core academic subjects, and not instead of them.
On average, pupils in state-funded schools enter nine GCSEs and equivalent qualifications, rising to 10 for more able pupils. For many pupils, the EBacc will mean taking seven GCSEs and, for those taking triple science, it will mean taking eight. That means there will continue to be room to study other subjects, including the arts, as I have just said. If we extended the EBacc by including an arts subject, as proposed by the e-petition, pupil choice would be restricted, not expanded. Such a measure would prevent pupils from taking additional non-arts subjects of their own choosing, be that design and technology, religious education or a second foreign language. They might wish to study both history and geography, or to take a high-quality vocational course.
Does the Minister not recognise and perhaps agree that that might squeeze out other subjects, but would show that the arts are important? Science, maths, English and a language are important, but including a creative subject would send a vital message.
Messaging is one thing—I have said this to those who have been arguing about religious studies—but actually the lobbying itself is the messaging. I have never said, and no one in the Government has said, that arts subjects are any less valuable than the subjects in the EBacc. We have never said that economics is less valuable than any of the EBacc subjects. We have never said that vocational subjects are less valuable. In fact, we have had a whole review of vocational education, so that the remaining vocational qualifications that feature in the performance tables—more than 100—are valuable, deliberately, for that reason. We have never differentiated in our messaging between what is in the EBacc and what is not in the EBacc.
The purpose of the EBacc is to ensure that all young people take the combination of GCSEs that are taken by young people in the most privileged schools in our country and in the best and most high-achieving schools in the state sector. That is what we want and it concerns us that young people from deprived backgrounds who are eligible for free school meals are half as likely to take that combination, compared with their more fortunate peers. Tackling that issue is the core reason why the Government introduced the EBacc measure.
It has been suggested today that arts are not valued in the school accountability system. That is not the case. The EBacc is one of several measures against which school performance is judged. Progress 8, which forms the basis for the school floor standard, measures performance across eight subjects: English, maths, three EBacc subjects and three other approved qualifications. Those other slots can be filled by arts qualifications, if a pupil wishes. In addition, the once sprawling selection of GCSEs that was allowed to develop over the years has been narrowed to ensure that the ones we have are of a high quality—in fact, 28 GCSEs have been discontinued—which will further strengthen the position of core arts qualifications in schools.
There is no reason why the EBacc should imperil the status of arts subjects. Both core academic and creative subjects can, and should, co-exist in any good school. We have seen a dip in provisional arts entries this year, but since the EBacc was first introduced the proportion of pupils in state-funded schools taking at least one GCSE in an arts subject has increased, rising from 46% in 2011 to 50% in 2015. At Whitmore High School in Harrow, where 88% of pupils entered the EBacc in 2015, pupils benefit from opportunities to take part in a wide range of art, music and drama clubs.
GCSEs and A-levels in arts subjects have been reformed to include more rigorous subject content. From September 2016, schools will be teaching new GCSEs in music, dance and drama, and new AS and A-levels in music and in drama and theatre. We are working with exam boards and Ofqual to make sure it is very clear that all students should see live drama in the theatre as part of their drama qualification, and we expect that to be in place from September 2017.
It is worth noting also that one of the distinctive virtues of arts subjects is that pupils can and are very willing to participate in them as a part of their extra-curricular school experience. Pupils can perform in a school orchestra, take part in a dance group or participate on stage or backstage in a school play without necessarily taking music, dance or drama GCSE. It is for that reason that, between 2012 and 2016, we invested over £460 million in a diverse portfolio of music and arts education programmes designed to improve access to the arts for all children, regardless of their background, and to develop talent across the country. That includes support for the network of music education hubs, national youth music organisations, the National Youth Dance Company, a museums and schools programme and support for the Shakespeare Schools Festival. Those programmes are having an impact on pupils across the country. The National Youth Dance Company is in the middle of a national tour, which started on 26 June in Nottingham and takes in Newcastle, Leeds, Ipswich and Falmouth among other locations.
Music education hubs are intended to ensure that every child in England has the opportunity to learn a musical instrument through weekly whole-class ensemble teaching programmes. They are also expected to ensure that clear progression routes are available and affordable, and many hubs subsidise the cost of lessons for pupils. Under that programme, any budding seeds of musical passion that young people have will not remain un-nurtured. We announced in December that funding for music education hubs would remain at £75 million in 2016-17.
Introducing primary school pupils to the arts early on is important and that is why I am so pleased that every primary school in the country now has free access to “Classical 100”, which is a new resource to introduce pupils to classical music. It comprises high quality Decca recordings of 100 pieces of classical music from the 11th century to the 21st century that I hope will stimulate children’s lifelong appreciation, understanding and enjoyment of music. Examples include Beethoven’s fifth symphony and Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on Greensleeves as well as children’s classics such as Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. That is something I was passionate about getting off the ground.
As well as programmes to ensure that all pupils receive a good arts education, we are continuing to invest in programmes ensuring the most talented can fulfil that talent. The music and dance, and the dance and drama awards schemes provide means-tested support to ensure that talented young people from all backgrounds receive the training they need to succeed in careers in music, dancing and acting. About 3,500 students a year benefit from that support, studying at world-class institutions such as the Royal Ballet School, Chetham’s School of Music and the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts.
We have heard today concerns that the EBacc will hurt our creative industries. We absolutely recognise how important the creative industries are to our economy and our identity, but we do not accept that academic subjects at GCSE should prevent pupils from taking arts subjects.
I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, who is—quite rightly—giving a heart-warming list of Government initiatives. I do not object to those in any shape or form, but can I bring him back to the specific questions I asked him? When do the Government intend to respond to the consultation, what internal discussions has he had and what assessment of the equality impact has been made?
The equalities impact will be published alongside the Government response to the consultation. Officials are working with officials from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The consultation response will be published—here is the date: in due course. I hope the hon. Gentleman is happy with that response.
Partly—that will do for now. We believe that for too long pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds have been dismissed, missing out on the core academic curriculum that is taken as a given by their more affluent peers. Our EBacc policy will ensure that that is no longer the case.
I have been listening carefully to the Minister. I appreciate the argument he is making and the Government’s aspiration, but does he recognise that some young people will struggle with maths and English and the EBacc’s core curriculum? As my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) set out, including a broader range of optional subjects as part of that could keep some of those young people on board by allowing them to take more artistic, expressive and creative subjects, which help them to stay interested and focused on the core subjects in which they also need to achieve. By closing down those opportunities, the Government could be undermining the ability of more students to achieve the EBacc standard.
I could not agree more; we do not disagree on this. That is why those creative arts subjects remain compulsory from five right through to 14 and as options that schools are required to offer between the ages of 14 and 16.
We have kept the EBacc deliberately small to enable pupils to have time to study creative subjects. The pupils to whom the hon. Lady refers can and should be encouraged to take those subjects, to ensure that they are engaged. However, we also believe it is important for all young people to study a foreign language and to take sciences, maths, English and at least one humanity from the ages of 14 to 16. We believe they should be able to do that as a core, basic part of their education, in addition to arts subjects that they might want to study between the ages of 14 and 16.
I hope hon. Members are assured that in providing all pupils with a core academic education that will help them to succeed we are in no way preventing pupils from studying the arts. The EBacc is a powerful reform that has already led to more than 91,000 more pupils studying a core academic curriculum at GCSE in 2015 than in 2011. This vital component of the Government’s move towards more rigour in the classroom should not be diluted due to the idea that the arts and a core academic curriculum cannot co-exist within schools. They should, they can and they do.
Thank you for your patience throughout this debate, Mr Chope. I recently enjoyed a show called “Big and Small” at the Northern Stage in Newcastle. It was produced as a collaboration between a local high school and feeder primary schools. The younger children were selected on the basis that they were a little bit shy. The high school students had an interest in drama and creative arts, and they worked with the children—from creating the ideas to the script, the production and the costumes—to produce their own show, all in a matter of seven weeks. It was clear from seeing the show and meeting the children what a difference that experience made to both the older students and the young children in terms of their confidence, team building, creativity and self-belief.
For me, that was a very practical but powerful example of the difference that the arts can bring to children and young people’s broader educational experience. While I have listened carefully to the Minister, I feel that the Government’s policy and approach at the moment fundamentally risk undermining the benefits that can come from that experience. Many Members have set out powerfully their arguments for including arts in the core curriculum. At the most fundamental level we need these skills for our economy. If we put off children and young people who can flourish in those areas even though they may struggle in some other ones, the evidence shows that that would be a worrying trend.
It is not just a question of pounds and pence, however. For some young people it can be the difference between coming to school and giving up, between thriving in academia, thriving in creativity, thriving in both—or thriving in neither, if the subjects that young people feel passionate about cannot be undertaken as part of the EBacc. It is not an either/or issue. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) and my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) put it, very powerfully, children and young people should be able to choose. The fundamental question of why history and geography are rated differently from some arts subjects and why there is a false hierarchy for those subjects has not been answered.
The Government proclaim a belief in social justice and social mobility, which is hugely important, but that policy and some of the evidence flies in the face of that stated ambition. As MPs we have been through a period of bitter divisiveness in this country; we have been debating the country’s future. Now is the time to come together to reinforce society’s values of diversity, to empower young people to think creatively and inclusively. The drastic reduction in the take-up of arts subjects seems to be a movement in completely the wrong direction. On behalf of everyone who cares about the issue I urge the Government to think again.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered e-petition 111731 relating to expressive arts subjects and the EBacc.