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Secondary Schools: Arts Subjects

Volume 812: debated on Monday 7 June 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what support they intend to provide for education in arts subjects in secondary schools.

My Lords, the Government are committed to high-quality education for all pupils, including in the arts. Schools are required to teach a broad and balanced curriculum, which includes promoting pupils’ cultural development. We have spent over £620 million between 2016 and 2021 on a range of cultural education programmes, which we continue to fund this year. This includes the Model Music Curriculum, which supports teachers to deliver high-quality music education.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the £90 million arts pupil premium, promised last year and due to start this September, will go directly to schools? Secondly, does the Minister agree that proposed cuts to HE funding of arts subjects, based on perceived strategic priorities, are misguided? The innovation this Government wish to encourage will not come from STEM subjects alone, but as much from the creative subjects, and that starts in schools.

My Lords, the Government have had to make some difficult fiscal decisions on the arts premium. As noble Lords are aware, we have no money for free schools this year. That, along with the arts premium, will be in the spending review in the autumn. The Office for Students has just consulted on the request to reprioritise the strategic priorities grant and, as the noble Earl is aware, an extra £10 million will be made available for specialist providers, which includes drama and arts institutions.

My Lords, research shows that creative activity, at all levels of education, promotes original thinking across the sciences. Will the Minister take this research on board to press for further positive support for the arts, in this important link?

My Lords, the Government have made clear in all the guidance that we have issued to schools that they should be delivering that balanced curriculum, which includes the arts and cultural activities. We recognise not just the innovative thinking that comes from cultural activities, but the pupil well-being that is often related.

My Lords, to follow the noble Baroness, arts and creative activity are seen to be a direct enhancer of other subjects. Where is this taken into account when setting targets? If you are to get the best out of this, you will have to make sure that people actively get involved and have opportunities at school. If you do not, you will cut down grades.

My Lords, in relation to input, DCMS recently did a taking-part survey and well over 90% of students have taken part in some kind of cultural activity, ranging from carnivals to music. It is a specific criterion of many programmes, such as the National Youth Dance Company and the national youth music orchestras, to include children with special education needs.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, whereas 85% of independent schools have a school orchestra, only 12% of state schools do? Will the Government ensure that the £76 million provided annually to so-called music hubs is spent more effectively to allow more young people to play classical music together? I declare an interest as chairman of the English Schools’ Orchestra.

My Lords, as the noble Lord just heard me outline, we fund through many of these projects, such as the national youth music orchestras. The forthcoming national music plan, with its one-year extension to the music hubs, will take the matters that the noble Lord outlined into account.

My Lords, many secondary schools can provide performing arts education only with the support of specialist external arts teaching practitioners, particularly for dance and drama. Many of these are linked to awarding organisations, validated by the Council for Dance, Drama and Musical Theatre, which offer Ofqual-regulated graded examinations. What plans do the Government have to promote the use of such specialist performing arts teaching by schools, thereby broadening their access to these highly regarded qualifications? How will the education recovery plan ensure that all schools can offer the balanced curriculum that the Government require?

My Lords, it is correct, as the noble Lord outlines, to say that schools need those specialist teachers. Recruitment of trainee teachers is up by 23% and we have no information about a gap in the recruitment of those teachers. Schools are free to use the £650 million universal catch-up and recovery premium as they see fit. If they wish to spend it on the type of provision that the noble Lord outlines, we hope that they will do so.

My Lords, as well as lost learning, Covid-19 has had a major effect on the mental health of children. Arts subjects and activities have the potential to reduce stress and anxiety, and are proven to encourage language development in children, particularly the most disadvantaged. Recently, Sir Kevan Collins—I wonder what became of him—said that

“we need to think about the extra hours not only for learning, but for children to be together, to play, to engage in competitive sport, for music, for drama because these are critical areas which have been missed in their development.”

Does the Minister agree and can she explain why the National Tutoring Programme does not apply to creative and practical subjects?

My Lords, schools offer a number of co-curricular or extracurricular activities. As the Minister responsible for out-of-school settings, I know that much of that activity takes place in those areas. Indeed, the National Tutoring Programme does not deliver as the noble Lord outlined, at the moment. However, a proportion of the tutoring money from the latest and third tranche of recovery money will go directly to schools. As well as being able to spend the universal catch-up and recovery premiums in the manner that schools choose, the school-led aspect of the National Tutoring Programme will enable them to have small-group or one-on-one tutoring in the subjects that the noble Lord mentioned.

My Lords, the creative industries are facing a challenge in finding young talent to maintain their high profits, which provide over £100 billion to the Treasury. Apart from that, six out of the 10 top skills that secondary students will need for any industry in 2025 are well fostered through the arts subjects and will ensure that they are career-ready in our competitive world. I ask the Minister how the Government are planning to support students today to reach their potential in the world of work in years to come, if creative subjects are not being taught at sufficiently high numbers in schools. I declare an interest as per the register.

My Lords, since the introduction of the EBacc, the take-up of GCSEs in the arts has remained broadly stable. As I believe the noble Baroness is aware, we also developed a pilot project, funded by DCMS, for apprenticeships, which are important in this sector. We are developing this with ScreenSkills as a partner, because people do not tend to have one employer in this sector and move from project to project. We had to pause because of Covid, but we hope to extend the pilot and look again to make sure that there are apprenticeships in this area for young people to take advantage of.

My Lords, the Minister referred to the well-being benefits of the arts. She is probably aware of the “HEarts survey” published in the PLOS ONE journal in March, which showed that arts involvement is

“associated with higher levels of well-being and social connectedness”

and lower levels of loneliness. Surely, education in secondary schools is essential to set that up. Given the Government’s avowed attention to build back better, should the £90 million arts pupil premium referred to by the noble Earl not be certain and guaranteed, rather than up in the air? Schools are planning staffing now and staff are planning their future careers—they need to know what is happening.

My Lords, all I can say to the noble Baroness is that, unfortunately, we have had to make some difficult decisions in relation to current priorities. An arts premium will be considered in the spending review but, as I have outlined, about £84 million this year has gone into the music hub and various programmes to ensure that provision. I wish we had the ideal world that the noble Baroness outlines.

My Lords, I declare my interest as president of the Independent Schools Association, which is made up of over 550 smaller independent schools serving their local communities up and down the country. Following on from my noble friend Lord Lingfield’s question, have the Government noted that, before the pandemic, state and independent schools were working together in over 1,200 partnership schemes involving either music or drama? With so many pupils having missed out over the last year, is this not the moment for the Government to encourage more state schools to work with their local independent colleagues so that the education system as a whole achieves the maximum benefit of collaboration between the two sectors?

My Lords, my noble friend is correct: there are many successful partnerships and I have the pleasure of regularly meeting the Independent Schools Council and other sector bodies, as he outlines. In the next couple of weeks I am holding a round table for precisely that purpose: to see how the existing partnerships could be strengthened and whether we could see an expansion of that activity.