Skip to main content

Schools: Music, Art, Craft and Dance

Volume 833: debated on Monday 16 October 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have (1) to revitalise music, art, craft and dance, in state schools, and (2) to recruit teachers of these subjects.

My Lords, the Government remain committed to pupils receiving a high-quality cultural education, including in music, art and design and dance. We are investing around £115 million in music and arts up to 2025, in addition to core school budgets. There are over 468,000 full-time equivalent teachers in state-funded schools in England, the highest since the school workforce census began. We are offering £10,000 tax-free initial teacher training bursaries for art and design and music from 2024-25.

I thank the Minister for that very positive reply. However, one of the very many damaging offshoots of the EBacc and Progress 8 has been to degrade—indeed, in some cases to eliminate —music, dance, art and crafts from state school curricula, but every young person deserves the opportunity to experience and enjoy them. What is more, the arts are major contributors to the nation’s economy. The Minister has mentioned funding; how are the Government funding music hubs? How specifically do the Government intend to recruit teachers for these life-enhancing subjects?

To put the noble Baroness’s concerns in perspective, I point out that if one takes into account both GCSEs and technical awards, which I know she values, just over half of students—52%—take either a GCSE or technical award. We are funding the music hubs with £79 million per annum for delivery but there is an additional £25 million fund for the purchase of musical instruments. In my Answer I gave an indication of the bursaries we will be providing to encourage recruitment.

My Lords, as a former drama teacher and current chair of trustees of the Council for Dance, Drama and Musical Theatre, I know how important studying the arts is to children’s lives. When such access is limited in schools, it is the poorer students who are denied the benefits. Surely we all want young people to carry a love of learning that sets them up to achieve and thrive, and the arts are central to this. Can the Minister give an update on the progress of the cultural education panel? When can we expect its report?

The Government would not disagree with anything the noble Baroness said on the importance of arts and other wider curriculum subjects. She will be aware that we published our new music education plan in June 2022. We will be publishing the cultural education plan in the coming months.

My Lords, should we not note and commend the existence of nearly 1,700 partnership schemes through which state and independent schools are working together to develop the talents of their pupils in music and art subjects? Will the Government give vigorous support to the further increase and expansion of these valuable partnership schemes?

The Government have been very supportive of partnerships between the independent sector and state-funded schools. I absolutely recognise the important work done by the 1,700 schemes and I hope we see many more in future.

My Lords, I declare my interests in the register. We now have EBacc, Progress 8 and the new BritBacc—I presume that is what it is called—which all exclude creative subjects. Does the Minister agree that, until the Government stop their obsession with mandatory A-level maths and their focus on purely academic subjects, there is little chance of revitalising the teaching of creative arts in schools and therefore recruiting teachers to teach them?

To clarify, there is no mandatory maths A-level; there will be the provision of maths to 18, which will take us to the same position as every other G7 country. The noble Lord is a teacher and understands better than I do how children learn but, through the EBacc, we are delivering an important rich store of knowledge from which children can apply their creativity, critical thinking and imagination.

My Lords, many Anglican and Roman Catholic cathedrals regularly send professional musicians into schools to support them with singing, at minimal charge. For example, by 2026, Sheffield Cathedral plans to support 30 schools a year with high-quality, curriculum-based music teaching, mostly in our most deprived communities. Does the Minister think there might be scope here for partnership with government to maximise the potential of such schemes?

I very much welcome that initiative. That ecosystem between our different cultural institutions, including charities and, of course, religious organisations, is extremely important. However, in practical terms, local relationships between schools and local cultural organisations can work best, and our music hubs help to link those up.

My Lords, shall we hear from the Labour Benches? There will then be plenty of time to hear from the Lib Dem Benches.

My Lords, I am pleased that my noble friend on the Front Bench added drama to this list, because I am sure that the Minister knows that it has been lost from the curricula of very many schools. Although 52% is more than half, it is simply inadequate: very many children in our schools get no exposure to art, drama, music or dance. I ask the Minister to meet with the professional bodies, particularly the teachers’ unions, to look at how we might review and keep under review the 11-to-16 and the five-to-11 curricula, to ensure that all children, in every school, have access to these subjects.

As the noble Baroness knows, drama is obviously part of the national curriculum, so I do not quite recognise her description that many children receive no exposure to drama at all. There has also been a massive expansion of technical and vocational qualifications. Since 2016, the numbers of pupils taking music VTQs have gone from just over 8,000 to almost 18,000. There was a similar increase, from just under 9,000 to just over 18,000, for speech and drama. Perhaps unsurprisingly in some ways, the huge expansion has been in multimedia studies, which have gone from just over 4,000 students in 2016 to 54,000 last year.

My Lords, can the Minister give us an idea of what the Government are doing to encourage people to take up the subjects here part-time or as hobbies, due to the huge benefit you gain from being involved in things like community activity in dance and drama? Where is this being done, how are those hubs being created, and are we sure we have people who know enough to make these things fun for those other than the incredibly talented?

I meet many teachers who deliver these subjects, and I am struck by their commitment and skill. Close to 100% of teachers in art and design and in music have a relevant qualification post A-level.

I refer noble Lords to my entry in the register of interests. Earlier this year, I attended a performance of scenes from Shakespeare plays by year 5s from North Wootton Academy at St George’s Guildhall, the oldest working theatre in the UK. When I spoke to pupils afterwards, it was clear not only how much they absolutely loved the experience but just how much confidence they had gained from performing on stage and in front of an audience. Can my noble friend explain or outline what the department is doing in addition to the fantastic school-led initiatives, of which that is one, to try to ensure that children of all ages are able to perform in public?

My noble friend paints a wonderful picture; I think that the House can imagine the pleasure of those children involved. I was fortunate enough to go and see something similar with a number of school orchestras and choirs performing, and I absolutely agree with what she said. We continue to support such activities, and will do more in our cultural education plan. I remind the House that we have also included an hour of music a week as compulsory, as our expectation in the school curriculum.