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Education: Music and the Arts

Volume 815: debated on Monday 25 October 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to ensure music and the arts are prioritised in schools and other educational settings in England.

My Lords, it is an exciting and important subject. The Government have committed to high-quality music and arts education from an early age. All state-funded schools and early-years providers are required to teach a broad and balanced curriculum, including the arts and music, which promotes pupils’ cultural development. The department funds a range of related programmes, including music hubs. We recently published the Model Music Curriculum to support teachers and will publish a refreshed national plan for music education next year.

My Lords, let us try again. I thank the noble Baroness for her Answer. We have seen a 50% reduction in arts subjects at universities over recent years. With numbers of pupils studying drama and music falling by a fifth since 2010, our education system faces a creative crisis. Even more worryingly, we have seen a 31% decline in the number of young people taking music A-levels in England since 2014. Considering that the creative industries contribute over £11 billion a year to the UK economy, what plans do Her Majesty’s Government have to ensure that the number of pupils studying drama and music does not drop any further? Could I also briefly ask about the arts pupil premium in the spending review?

The noble Lord is right that the number of students doing A-level arts subjects has dropped, but there are some really encouraging signs in the data. The number of students doing art and design GCSE, which could be a precursor to a pick-up in A-levels, has increased by 18% over the past two years while the cohort has grown by 7%. The number doing vocational and technical qualifications in music has risen by 90% between 2017 and 2020.

Does my noble friend agree that it is vital for young musicians to be able to play in orchestras and ensembles? Does she regret, as I do, that only 12% of state schools now have orchestras, as opposed to 85% of independent schools? I remind the House of my registered interest as chairman of the English Schools’ Orchestra.

My noble friend is right to raise the important role of orchestras in schools, but the Government’s focus has been to ensure that there is a consistent cultural offer, a range of arts and musical subjects and opportunities for children to play a musical instrument at school whether it be in an orchestra or in some other form, maybe a band.

My Lords, we heard again this weekend that the Government are considering further limiting the study of creative arts degrees because of their lower salary outcomes. Does the Minister agree that salary data is not the only way to assess value, even economic value, as it ignores differences in local labour markets and degrees that lead to low earnings but deliver high social and cultural value? With almost half of creative businesses reporting workforce skills gaps, is it not reasonable to assume that creative graduates will provide tangible fiscal value through labour in this high-growth sector, not to mention their contribution of future skills and creativity to the broader innovation economy?

The noble Baroness is right that we need to look at qualifications more broadly than simply the financial and earnings potential of those careers. However, I am sure she will also agree with me that we need to meet a significant skills shortage in STEM and related subjects. I hope she will be pleased that the Government are bringing forward a T-level in craft and design which has been developed with employers.

My Lords, I remind the House of my interests in the register. There are many ways of learning, but over the past decade education policy has privileged one kind—the ability to acquire knowledge by rote and reproduce it under time pressure—over all others. Your Lordships’ House’s Select Committee on Youth Unemployment, of which I am a member, has had evidence from many employers that shows that this is not enough and that they are looking for people who can also think critically and independently, communicate clearly and work well with other people. Does the noble Baroness agree that these are precisely the attributes that arts-led education encourages?

The noble Baroness is right that arts-led education encourages those traits, but not only arts-led education encourages critical thinking. I think that she does the teaching profession a disservice; perhaps she would like to join me on a visit to a school to see how little is being done by rote.

My Lords, the Minister will know from her time at DCMS the importance of creative and arts subjects and their importance to the British economy. Is she concerned that there has been a 24% drop in all six creative subjects over the past five years? How does she view the EBacc’s responsibility for the demise of all our creative subjects?

The Government do not accept that the EBacc has contributed to a decline in the adoption of creative subjects. The percentage of children doing an arts subject to GCSE has remained broadly stable over the last 10 years. The EBacc mandatory curriculum is intentionally focused to give space for other subjects.

Does the Minister agree that the creative minds of the future will need a synthesis of the arts and the sciences because that is the way the world is going? This division between arts and science will disappear in 50 or 100 years. That is where we need to go. We need to take the example of, for instance, the Bauhaus 100 years ago or even Professor JD Bernal, who was talking about this in the 1930s.

The creative industries are a great example, as a number of noble Lords have recognised today, of that fusion of artistic and other technical and scientific disciplines. That is why the Government are committed to having a range of arts subjects as a core part of the curriculum from early years to GCSEs.

My Lords, I declare my interest as a trustee of the brilliant charity Music Masters and welcome my noble friend to her new portfolio, which I know she will attack with the vigour she showed when she was in the culture department. I was thrilled to hear that on the 10th anniversary of music education hubs next year there will be a refreshed national plan for music education. Can she assure us that the budget of £75 million a year will at least be maintained and that we will continue to support the In Harmony scheme as part of the national plan?

My noble friend will understand that I cannot announce the national plan before it has been published, but I hope that he will be delighted when he sees the plan in its detail, with its focus on disadvantaged children.

My Lords, arts help to transcend differences and divisions—they help to unite—but the increased focus on STEM subjects and the greater value put on the English baccalaureate have led to a narrowing of the curriculum and disproportionately affected arts education, particularly in disadvantaged areas. There was a manifesto commitment to a secondary school arts premium, which was confirmed in the 2020 Budget. When will the £90 million arts premium materialise?

The noble Baroness will understand that I cannot prejudge the announcements from the Chancellor on Wednesday. When my noble friend Lady Berridge was in this role, she was clear that choices had to be made as a result of the pandemic—hence the delay.

My Lords, the Minister needs to go back to her officials at the DfE if the figures she has been given suggest that the number of pupils sitting GCSEs and A-levels in arts subjects has not dropped in the last decade, because that is very definitely not the case; it is not what schools report. The English baccalaureate is definitely to blame, because it has narrowed the curriculum and does not include creative subjects.

The 2019 Tory manifesto said that

“we will offer an ‘arts premium’ to secondary schools”

to allow them to offer

“enriching activities for all pupils.”

It has not happened, and Covid cannot be blamed because last year the Chancellor said in his Budget that a £90 million arts premium would be introduced. That has not happened either. While I know the Minister cannot predict what will happen on Wednesday, if the spending review were to announce spending on an arts premium, should we believe it this time?

I apologise to the noble Lord if I was not clear. I hoped I had acknowledged that A-level numbers have dropped but that GCSE figures have been broadly stable with around 45% of children in state-funded schools, both academies and maintained schools, doing an arts subject.

I cannot add to my earlier answer on the arts premium, but I remind the noble Lord that we committed £79 million during 2021-22 for music education hubs and during the pandemic emphasised the importance of continuing with a culturally rich curriculum.