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Creative Sector: Educational Provision

Volume 764: debated on Wednesday 22 July 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they plan to ensure that the United Kingdom retains its global position in the creative sector in the light of plans announced in June to require all state secondary school pupils to study five English Baccalaureate core subject areas, which exclude any music, arts or culture element.

My Lords, all pupils should study a foundation of core subjects, including opportunities to study the arts and creative subjects. The best schools know how to deliver this combination. The creative industries continue to play a major role in our global economy, with the value of services exported totalling £18 billion in 2013 and 1.8 million people employed, which is up by 16% since 2011. EBacc qualifications support the growing creative sector, helping schools to develop well-rounded young people.

My Lords, the creative sector is indeed a UK strength and a key driver for improving productivity, as evidenced by the growing business demand for creative skills. But the Government’s focus on EBacc subjects is already causing some schools to reduce their provision of creative and cultural subjects, and making the EBacc compulsory is likely to lead to more doing so. Moreover, the take-up of these subjects is often significantly lower among the most deprived students. Why do the Government appear to have moved away from the broader and more balanced Progress 8 approach, which measures schools in eight subject areas, including up to three outside the EBacc subjects? Further, what steps will the Minister take to ensure that students, especially disadvantaged students, do not miss out on studying creative and cultural subjects which are so vital for social mobility and UK productivity?

We will continue to use Progress 8 as the main accountability measure. GCSE entries in arts subjects in 2014 are actually up 5% on 2012, while the performing arts have nearly doubled. Of course we want all pupils to study a broad curriculum, and in particular the focus should be on enabling disadvantaged children to have access to a wide range of studies. Ofsted will inspect on this.

My Lords, will the Minister take this opportunity to applaud the work of many arts organisations? I should declare an interest as a member of the boards of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Roundhouse in Camden. The education work delivered not only by the large organisations but also by many smaller ones across the country is of outstanding quality. Does he agree that they find it dispiriting and difficult when they discover that actually there is a diminution of interest in the creative subjects in a number of schools, and that they do not get quite the response they once did to the programmes they offer? Does he think that that is really a good idea?

I do applaud the work of the organisations referred to by the noble Baroness, but the statistics are quite clear. Uptake of GCSE subjects is expanding. All pupils take on average nine GCSEs, and with Progress 8 we hope to encourage pupils to study a broad curriculum with arts subjects.

Is my noble friend aware that schools up and down the country are reducing their curriculum very significantly in order to concentrate on the academic subjects included in the EBacc? That is the case not only in the arts and culture; virtually all technical studies below the age of 16 have now disappeared in our schools. In design and technology, an important subject introduced into the curriculum in 1988, the numbers have fallen in each of the last five years both for GCSE and at A-level. What our students need in most of our schools is a much wider range of studies.

One has to look back to where we have come from. Under the Labour Government, the number of pupils studying a core suite of academic subjects collapsed from 50% to 22% as the Labour Government perpetuated the scandal of equivalents. I make no apologies for the EBacc. We are now back to 39% of pupils taking these core subjects which are acknowledged to give pupils, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, the cultural capital that they need.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that education is about not just national productivity but the whole of human flourishing? The arts, music and cultural subjects in general are essential to that.

I agree entirely with the right reverend Prelate. Core cultural studies must include the arts and creative subjects, and from September 2015 Ofsted will inspect pupils’ welfare and engagement in these kinds of studies and activities.

My Lords, will the Minister give us an answer which refers to the emphasis that should be placed on encouraging voluntary activity? It has been encouraged by all Governments, and so much is done in the voluntary sector. What are we doing to encourage people to get a good grounding so that this thing which lightens up our lives is encouraged?

All good schools will encourage their pupils to engage in these activities. It is all part of a well-rounded education. We are seeing this across the board. We are also seeing the creation of new free schools that focus specifically on arts and music. We have the East London Arts and Music Academy, the Plymouth School of Creative Arts, and my noble friend Lord Baker will be pleased to hear that we have a number of UTCs specialising in creative and digital media.

My Lords, does not the Minister agree that the point about a truly rounded school education is not only that it is a good in itself, but that it is the very thing that employers demand?

My Lords, will the Minister reflect further on the intervention of his noble friend Lord Baker? I remember the noble Lord as Secretary of State when I chaired an education authority. Will the Minister please go away and consider the importance in the Government’s strategy of looking carefully at those subjects—design and technology—in detail to see what has happened to them? I did not always agree with the noble Lord, Lord Baker, but I agree with him that too many able pupils do not exercise the right basic education to go forward in the way the Government want with design and technology and all those subjects.

My Lords, I endorse very strongly what my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking said. Will the Minister agree that in the 21st century no country can really claim to call itself civilised unless every pupil leaves school with a knowledge of music, the arts, and the history of the country?

My Lords, if the Minister walks through the Members’ Cloakroom he will see a bag—I think it is on the peg of the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn—emblazoned with the words, “Music makes the world a better place”. The Secretary of State for Education seems to agree because in a recent speech she revealed that she used to sing with the City of London Choir. In the same speech she said that every young person should,

“have the opportunity to discover how the arts can enrich their lives”.

Given this enthusiasm for culture, why are the Government deliberately excluding study of the arts from the English baccalaureate?

All the evidence from around the world is that pupils need a core suite of academic subjects to engage their intellect and curiosity, so that they will then want to study a broader and more cultural range of subjects. We are investing heavily in music hubs, and I go back to my point that the take-up in EBacc is driving a much richer and more cultural curriculum in schools.