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Schools: Arts Teaching

Volume 804: debated on Wednesday 22 July 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what support is planned for the teaching of arts and other creative subjects in schools (1) online, and (2) in classrooms, as the restrictions in place to address the COVID-19 pandemic are lifted.

My Lords, the department is committed to high-quality education for all pupils during this difficult time, including in the arts and other creative subjects. We have introduced several initiatives for schools and parents, including signposting to a range of online resources, including BBC Education, the Oak National Academy and other professional organisations, such as Music Mark and the National Society for Education in Art and Design. On 2 July, the department published detailed guidance to support the return to full-time education in September.

My Lords, there is considerable concern that so-called core subjects will be prioritised in the autumn and arts subjects sidelined, with particular worries about subjects studied in year 10—a worry further fuelled by the comments of the CEO of the Harris Federation. Will the Government ensure that, come September, a broad and balanced curriculum will mean precisely that from the off, and that students will have a wide GCSE choice, including arts and design subjects? Does the Minister agree that arts in schools are currently urgently needed to play a central role in the country’s mental recovery from Covid?

My Lords, I concur with the noble Earl that arts, PE et cetera, are vital to the well-being and recovery not just of children but of adults. Yes, the guidance makes clear that schools should return to a broad and balanced curriculum, with some flexibility, though, for teachers in relation to how pupils recover in the core subjects. Key stage 4 students should be expected to continue to study all their examination subjects. However, there may be exceptional circumstances where it is best that a pupil is not entered for the full range that they were intending to study next year, but we leave that matter with school teachers. As I say, it is exceptional: the noble Earl will be aware that Ofsted will begin visiting schools again in September, and the breadth of the curriculum is one of the matters it will be discussing collaboratively with schools.

I declare my chairmanship of the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, which sustains and supports 48 university technical colleges. I am afraid that I do not share the Minister’s optimism. There is a real danger that in GCSEs next year the arts and cultural subjects are likely to be dropped or made second rate—indeed, the advice from Ofqual and examining boards is to focus on just eight academic subjects. This is extremely disadvantageous, because these subjects are popular with disadvantaged and less gifted children and should be available. The Government should make sure that they are preserved. Since 2010, these subjects have dropped by 25% to 30%. What has happened to the broad-based curriculum I introduced in the 1980s?

The broad base is now the broad and balanced curriculum, which was introduced as the new Ofsted framework last September. My noble friend is correct that we want to see the broad curriculum taught from September. We are also aware that extra-curricular use of arts and music is important for arts subjects, for which we fund a number of initiatives, including the essential life skills course for opportunity areas, which focuses on extra-curricular activities for disadvantaged children in those areas.

I am afraid the noble Lord, Lord Baker, is absolutely right. Will the national plan, which expires in 2020, be continued and funded? Does the Minister agree that the acquiring of creative knowledge—the technique to play an instrument or sing—requires constant practice, which has of course been unavoidably broken? We need to replenish the minds and muscles of the young.

I assure the noble Lord that the national plan introduced in 2011 will be refreshed. Unfortunately, due to Covid, that and the development of the model curriculum for key stages 1 to 3 had to be put on hold. As someone who has recently taken up a musical instrument, I can only agree that practice is important. In our guidance issued at the beginning of the month, we have given flexibility to the curriculum that will enable not just core content in maths but core skills in music teaching.

In a reply to my Written Question on arts subjects in schools, the Minister said that all

“maintained schools are required to teach the full National Curriculum, including art and design, and music”

and creative subjects, while, as she knows, academies do not have to do this. Why is this? If she is keen to have a broad and balanced curriculum that provides opportunities for creative subjects for all pupils, surely this needs to be changed.

My Lords, the noble Lord is correct that teaching the national curriculum is not compulsory in the academies sector. However, Ofsted inspects all maintained and academy schools to the same standard of the broad and balanced curriculum; its inspection framework now includes whether children’s cultural capital is being improved. Ofsted judges all schools to the same standard.

My Lords, studies have shown that the arts can improve young people’s cognitive abilities and contribute to raising the—[Inaudible.]—particularly for children from lower-income backgrounds. The Secretary of State for Education seems to agree; two weeks ago he said that

“it is important that the curriculum is full, broad and balanced and includes the arts and humanities, sports and so much else”.—[Official Report, Commons, 2/7/20; col. 541.]

The guidance which the Minister just referred to contains similar aspirations. Can she explain how the Secretary of State believes this can be achieved while the Government maintain their policy of driving up the number of pupils sitting EBacc subjects, which narrow the curriculum?

My Lords, I hope I have got the tenor of the question—it was a bit difficult to hear. Although there have been fluctuations in the take-up of arts subjects at GCSE and A-level, over the last 10 years they have remained broadly stable. Any decrease in numbers was present before 2010, so it is not correct to link those fluctuations to the introduction of the EBacc. As I said, Ofsted inspects against a broad and balanced curriculum. It is important to remember that, although for students who want to specialise in arts subjects it is important to take the examinations, we fund specific initiatives to make sure that arts and music activities in particular are part of extra-curricular education for many more students than take examinations in those subjects.

Will my noble friend consider establishing an innovation fund for charities to support the adaptations the charity sector in education will need to make to provide specialist services to support the teaching of arts subjects, so that vulnerable children and young people can benefit from the extensive support which could now be unleashed by the charitable sector, focusing on digital innovations and access as we emerge from the crisis?

My Lords, in relation to music, one of the things in establishing the national plan and the hubs was that they would help in music practitioner training. An important thing we have seen in looking at the subjects undertaken is that art and design has become more popular over the last 10 years. However, we recognise—and fund—an enormous amount of initiatives, such as the National Youth Orchestra, to give young people opportunities to participate.

My Lords, dance is perhaps unique in the curriculum as it provides intellectual, emotional, social and physical education in a single subject. It is therefore particularly well placed to address the negative impacts of lockdown on children’s emotional and social skills, mental well-being and physical fitness. Can the Minister say why the published guidance makes no reference at all to dance? When can schools expect to receive guidance on specific safety measures related to the teaching of dance in or alongside the curriculum?

My Lords, dance is included in PE, which we have promoted particularly in primary education through the £320 million PE premium. However, the noble Baroness is correct that dance provides young people with emotional and physical exercise. She will be aware that for young people and adults we give dance and drama awards to those who are exceptionally talented, like the noble Baroness, so that they can go on to study at specialist institutions.

I remind noble Lords of my interests in the register. The initial focus for school leaders in September must be the well-being of children. Studying music is known to improve health and well-being as well as attainment. Given the restrictions currently in place on choirs and instrument lessons, as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, asked, when will the Government renew the national plan for music education and show how we can resume the music education to which all pupils are entitled?

My Lords, unfortunately I do not have a timeframe for when the national plan will be refreshed. Although the noble Lord is correct that there is mention in the guidance about not singing or playing wind or brass in larger groups, there is a hierarchy of controls to enable those activities to take place in smaller groups, such as doing it outside, making sure that shared instruments are disinfected, et cetera. When the £1.57 billion to support the arts sector was announced, scientific research was also commissioned from Imperial College London and other institutions so that we could understand more about the risks of these activities.