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School Curriculum: Creative Subjects

Volume 774: debated on Thursday 14 July 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the recent findings of the Girls’ Day School Trust survey on the impact of creative subjects in the school curriculum on pupils’ stress levels.

The department has seen the preliminary findings of the survey. We believe that every child should experience a high-quality creative education at school. Participation in creative activities helps prepare children for adult life by building confidence, perseverance and the ability to co-operate with others.

I thank the Minister for that positive reply. Is she aware of research indicating that creative activities such as art and music benefit well-being, particularly after trauma and stress? Why are creative subjects in schools not therefore given more status, not only for their own sake but to increase pupil knowledge and self-confidence and to decrease stress, as the report suggests?

I am aware of the research. We certainly believe that every child should experience a high-quality creative education throughout their time at school. That is why we have invested over £460 million in a range of music and arts education programmes designed to improve access for all young people, no matter their background. Of course, schools themselves are leading the way. For instance, Archibald Primary School in Middlesbrough is a local hub for the Royal Shakespeare Company, and this partnership has enabled its children to visit and perform in Stratford.

My Lords, the Minister acknowledges the importance of creative subjects, but will she acknowledge the new statistics showing an 8% fall in the take-up of creative subjects at GCSE level in the past year alone? That clearly demonstrates the detrimental effect of the exclusion of these subjects from the EBacc.

Between 2011 and 2015, the number of entries in arts subjects did rise, and the percentage of pupils in state-funded schools with at least one GCSE entry in arts subjects rose as well. The noble Earl is right that creative subjects are extremely important. Indeed, our new Progress 8 measure will provide more scope for creative subjects, as it includes eight qualifications rather than five.

I declare my interest as a governor and a member of the board of the Royal Shakespeare Company, to which the noble Baroness has referred. She is clearly aware—I certainly hope she is—of the good work that the Royal Shakespeare Company education department does. She may also be aware that that department and others are very anxious about the decline in the take-up of arts and cultural subjects at GCSE, and the pressure that the emphasis on the EBacc is having on schools trying to push themselves up the league tables. Will she therefore acknowledge that there is more than just the research to which my noble friend referred that points to the value of arts subjects? Will she ensure that Ofsted gives proper attention and due credit to schools that properly invest in arts and cultural subjects?

I am certainly happy to acknowledge the importance of creative and arts subjects. As I said, we have been doing a lot of work in providing funding to encourage arts and music programmes for schools. Schools themselves are leading the way in valuing these subjects and making sure that their young people have access to a whole range of activities. The new Progress 8 measure will give more scope to include creative subjects within it, which we hope will also reinforce the importance of creative subjects.

My Lords, the creative subjects are hugely important to the British economy. We have seen the creative industries grow by 8.9%; I think that as a total package they are now worth £84 billion. Music alone has gained £2 billion in exports. Is it not absolutely crazy to see creative subjects in our schools declining because of this nonsense of not including them in the EBacc? The Minister talked about the Progress 8 measure, but what is happening is that the other subjects being chosen are the three sciences or another of history or geography.

The noble Lord is absolutely right that the creative sector is a great success story and is outperforming other sectors in our economy, with a growth of almost 9% in 2014, which was nearly double that of the economy as a whole. As he said, the core sector was worth £84 billion in 2014. We want to continue to see that great success, which is why we are also reforming the computing GCSE and the art and design GCSE to make them more relevant and ensure that young people have the skills for success in these great industries.

My Lords, my noble friend referred to the Royal Shakespeare Company. She will of course remember that Shakespeare said that the man who has no music in his soul,

“Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils”.

Does she ascribe certain recent events to a lack of knowledge of music and Shakespeare?

I would not like to comment particularly on that, but I am delighted to tell the noble Lord that we take music extremely seriously. In fact, we have set up 123 music education hubs, which started work in 2012. The core role of those hubs is to ensure that every child aged from five to 18 has the opportunity to learn a musical instrument through whole-class ensemble teaching.

My Lords, regarding the coming to the UK of people from overseas schools, as we have in the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod, what is to happen if we have new barriers with Europe and the rest of the world? Will her department be able to make sure that any overseas schools and so on, which wish to come and compete in the UK, will not be impeded in any way?

Of course we want to ensure that there is cross-country collaboration, so that pupils in our schools get the opportunity to go abroad and that pupils from abroad can come over. That will remain important and the arts, music, PE and sport are obviously great ways in which young people from all different backgrounds can meet one another and come together.

My Lords, I rather think it was Macbeth that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, had in mind. The noble Baroness has made some stirring remarks about the importance of the creative arts and linked them to the economy. But she has not answered the question: if they are so important, why are the number of people taking GCSE subjects going down? She used selective figures—I think that they were for arts and design—to say that there had been an increase between 2011 and 2013-14. However, that increase comes from a lower base. Throughout the creative arts and design subjects the numbers are going down and, given the crucial nature of creativity to the economy, surely we need to reverse that.

I am sure the noble Lord will agree that what is absolutely key for all young people is to have a solid grounding in the basic academic subjects of English and maths. That is something that this Government have been focusing on, and we make no apology for that. But as I said, we believe that children should have a high-quality creative education. We have put a lot of funding into encouraging programmes and, as I have said, we believe the new Progress 8 measure will help to raise the status of creative arts subjects.

Would the noble Baroness acknowledge the research that shows that there is a key relationship between academic subjects and creative arts? The link between maths and music is well known, and many schools now use creative ways of teaching financial management that links into maths. All this will help with the academic subjects. Should good schools not be linking all these things together?

I agree with the noble Baroness. As I have said, schools need to offer a broad and balanced curriculum. She will be aware that music and art and design are compulsory subjects within the national curriculum for five to 14 year-olds.