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Cultural Institutions: Curriculum Fund

Volume 783: debated on Thursday 6 July 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they intend to bring forward proposals to establish a curriculum fund for Britain’s leading cultural and scientific institutions, as outlined in their 2017 manifesto.

I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and in doing so refer to my interests in the register, including membership of the board of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

My Lords, we want all children, whatever their background or needs, to benefit from a high-quality education that equips them with the knowledge they need to succeed in modern Britain. We want to ensure that all teachers have appropriate support to help them deliver this knowledge-rich curriculum. We will provide further detail in due course.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, but it suggests to me that the proposal in the manifesto is as yet a little underresearched. The Minister will be aware that many cultural institutions already provide a vast amount of teaching and learning material, and work very hard to make it available. Would he accept that what is really necessary is for schools to have the funds to access this material and to feel supported in using those funds to get material which enriches the curriculum, rather than feeling undermined, particularly in respect of arts-based subjects, by a persistent mixed message from the Government about the value of creative education, which is mostly evidenced in the continuing refusal to add arts subjects to the EBacc?

We will have to see what comes out of this initiative from the Queen’s Speech, but the noble Baroness is right that a lot of organisations help schools in terms of the information they have—the British Museum is a very good example. This initiative came out of last year’s Educational Excellence Everywhere White Paper, in which we said that the Government would increase support for teachers to deliver a more ambitious curriculum successfully, including better access to high-quality, evidence-based teaching materials. There is work to be done, but this is the beginning.

My Lords, given that we are seeing arts subjects being cut in schools, that there has been a 31% reduction in the funding by local authorities to museums and that 64 museums have already closed, would it not be better, rather than giving money to already wealthy establishments, to give the money to deprived areas to turn the corner so that young people have access and are able to go to visit local museums and art galleries?

First, we are focusing on so-called opportunity areas. So we are focusing on those areas we believe are deprived, to be sure that there is better social mobility. In terms of the arts, which I think was the gist of the noble Lord’s question, we fund a number of programmes to enhance children’s arts education. As the noble Lord will know, these are extensive and include 120 music education hubs, and we have provided £300 million between 2016 and 2020. These ensure, for example, that every child between five and 18 has the opportunity to learn a musical instrument through whole-class ensemble teaching.

My Lords, it is clearly an excellent idea to use our institutions more effectively as educational resources. However, is the Minister aware that educational visits to the national museums, for instance, have been declining? Does he agree that there is nothing quite like face-to-face interaction with those objects, which may well then feature significantly within this new input into the curriculum?

The noble Earl is correct. We want to optimise what we have in this country. The British Museum is an obvious example, but we need to look beyond London at, for example, Portsmouth or Southampton, where there is an awful lot of history and museums. Schools would do well to be given further support from government to encourage them to provide this knowledge-rich information.

My Lords, will the noble Viscount join me in congratulating the Hepworth Wakefield Museum on its marvellous win in the Art Fund competition yesterday? One reason that it was awarded it was because of its outreach programme for children in schools, which has been enormously successful.

Yes, of course I pass on my congratulations. That may allow me to bring a little academic input, which is that the whole idea behind bringing knowledge-rich into the curriculum—we will have to hear what comes out of it—is that cognitive science analysed and shared by thinkers such as Dan Willingham and Daisy Christodoulou reinforces the fact that a knowledge-based academic curriculum can stimulate critical thinking and creativity. So quite a lot of science goes into this.

My Lords, the need for a curriculum fund for Britain’s leading cultural and scientific institutions is urgent because, as my noble friend Lady McIntosh said, of the need greatly to reinforce the teaching of art and creative subjects in schools. The figures from Ofqual show a 9% continuation of the drop in take-up of studies in those subjects. I am encouraged by what the noble Viscount said about the curriculum fund, but in many cases, the reason that schools are unable to continue with art and creative subjects is that they cannot afford to do so because of cuts to their budgets. The curriculum fund may address some of that, but when the noble Viscount and the Government report on that, can they ensure that this money will be additional to what has been provided through the national funding formula?

I cannot confirm that at the moment. I say again that we are waiting to hear the details of the curriculum fund, which will come out in due course, as I said to the noble Baroness. The House will appreciate that I should say that the arts are very important to this country, and the creative industries provide a very important sector for exports.

“Why should we, in the compass of a pale,

Keep law and form and due proportion,

Showing, as in a model, our firm estate,

When our sea-walléd garden, the whole land,

Is full of weeds, her fairest flowers choked up,

Her fruit-trees all unpruned”?