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Cultural Education Plan

Volume 833: debated on Tuesday 17 October 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what progress has been made on the development of their cultural education plan.

In begging leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I declare my interests as the chair of the national plan for music education.

My Lords, progress is continuing with the cultural education plan. Since May, the Department for Education and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have conducted extensive engagement with external stakeholders across the education and cultural sectors—a comprehensive series of nearly 50 events. We also appointed an expert advisory panel in July 2023, chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Bull. Both the panel and the stakeholder engagement are helping to inform the development of the plan and its emerging proposals.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that Answer. Cultural education, like music education, is delivered not just in schools but by partnerships with cultural, voluntary and faith organisations and the third sector. Can my noble friend say how the plan will address the current lack of infrastructure to signpost opportunities and broker these connections? Music education has dedicated music hubs to do this; what resources will the Government put in place to fulfil this same function, in terms of education, for other art forms and disciplines?

I thank my noble friend for her question. Obviously, she will understand that I cannot pre-empt the decisions and recommendations on the cultural education plan, but I absolutely agree with her about the importance of partnerships. I understand that the expert panel is looking at examples of good practice, of exactly the type that my noble friend set out, but also the barriers to implementing them, including in relation to infrastructure.

My Lords, let me explain to the noble Lord. Again, could the noble Lords in question come to a gentlemen’s agreement on who speaks first?

Do the Government agree with me that one of the best ways of emptying our prisons is by investing in our youngsters who go wrong and using art and culture to bring about social transformation in their lives? I am a living embodiment of that: if it was not for culture in my early years, I would not be here.

The noble Lord speaks with great authority on this. I absolutely agree with him that art and culture, as well as other extracurricular activities such as sport and other opportunities, are critical for young people at risk of offending or in prison.

My Lords, the number of creative studies teachers is on the decline in England: between 2011 and 2022, there was a 20% drop in drama teachers, 15% in music and 11% in art. The Government are still missing targets for recruitment to combat this decline. The impact is that fewer students are studying creative subjects, limiting children’s creativity and risking future talent pipelines for our creative industries. Notwithstanding the answer the noble Baroness gave to my question yesterday, what are the Government doing now to improve the picture for creative education in schools?

Well, unfortunately, my recognition of the noble Baroness’s figures has not changed since yesterday. My understanding is that, since 2014-15, the number of qualified music teachers has risen from around 89% to an average of about 95% in the last couple of years. Similarly, for art and design, 96.5% of lessons are taught by teachers with post-A-level qualifications. However, since yesterday I can share with the House that there will be a new survey on extracurricular music uptake, which will be published later this year, which shows much higher levels of participation in June 2023 in relation to singing and instrument lessons, access to live music performances and participation by children in live music performances. So the Government are not talking about it—the Government are delivering.

We welcome this cultural education plan, and we have every confidence in the noble Baroness, Lady Bull. Of course, cultural education is not just about learning—it has to be about seeing, doing and having the opportunity to visit art galleries and museums, listening to concerts, going to theatres and seeing heritage. But, of course, children and young people from poor families really struggle to make that happen. How do we go about that?

I am grateful to the noble Lord for his question, because the focus of the cultural education plan is to tackle those disparities in opportunity and to promote more access for children in areas of significant deprivation, making sure that children have good cultural experiences in school but also outside school.

My Lords, the plan has highly laudable aims, but does the Minister not appreciate that the national curriculum and accountability measures being out of scope, as the terms of reference clearly state, is supremely unhelpful, if a major goal is universal access to the arts in schools, since this in effect limits the solution before the inquiry even gets under way?

I simply do not accept the noble Earl’s assertion. I will make two points. First, the knowledge-rich curriculum, which this Government have delivered, gives a foundation for children to exercise their creativity. Secondly, in all my visits to schools, of which I make many around the country, I see them doing extraordinary things, offering children all sorts of cultural opportunities across drama, the arts and music.

My Lords, there is no gentlemen’s agreement on this side, so I am going to keep standing. This is another plan with which I am not very familiar. Will the Minister ensure that the plan embeds this country’s rich heritage, which enriches our children’s understanding, knowledge and respect for history, which has been talked about? It created the anti-slavery movement and the movements against colonisation and apartheid, which has resulted in this country becoming a beacon of multiculturalism.

The plan is quite clear that cultural education has an important social value, helping children recognise the value and richness of the different communities that make up our great nation.

My Lords, I refer to my interests in the register, particularly as chairman of Historic England. Following on from the noble Baroness, we know that heritage education as a part of cultural education has an enormous impact on young lives, particularly in building community and a sense of civic pride, providing an avenue for skills and jobs. I am concerned that the cultural education plan may not include its fair share of emphasis on heritage. Can my noble friend the Minister provide some reassurance that heritage will be taken very seriously, as the cultural education plan develops?

I take this opportunity to congratulate my noble friend on his appointment as chair of Historic England, and also to reassure him that we absolutely agree about the importance of heritage. On the panel, we have one of the teachers from the heritage schools programme, Ashley Bartlett, a history teacher from Leicester; Robert Peal from the West London Free School also brings expertise in this area.

My Lords, has any progress been made in discussions or negotiations with our European neighbours to enable youth orchestras once again to tour throughout Europe? It is a tragedy that this has been brought to an end. Can the Minister give some hope that it might be reversed and reintroduced?

I understand the noble Viscount’s concerns about our youth orchestras. I will need to co-ordinate with and talk to my colleagues in DCMS, but I am happy to write to him with an answer.