Sharon Hodgson MP

Working hard for Washington and Sunderland West.

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Debate on supporting the creative economy 13.02.14

Sharon spoke in a Westminster Hall debate on the findings and Government response to a report by the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee on Supporting the Creative Economy.


Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale). This is an excellent report. I welcome the Select Committee’s investigation of how we should best support our creative economy. The hon. Gentleman made the case very well in his opening speech.

The UK’s creative industries are known worldwide for their cultural capacity to shape, influence and inspire. As the hon. Gentleman covered in detail, the success of the British film industry and the choice of this country as a location is a great example of that, as is the British fashion industry. Our fashion designers dominate the catwalks of London, Paris, New York and Milan; British musicians, songwriters and composers top the charts and dominate the international airwaves; and British architects and designers shape skylines and create beauty all around the world. That is important for not just our international cultural presence but the benefits to our economy.

As we have heard, Britain’s creative industries account for more than 1.5 million jobs and contribute more than £70 billion to the economy. That should be all the reason we need to know why it is imperative that we do everything possible within our power to support such an increasingly crucial sector, and it is why the report is right to address issues that affect it, such as the protection of intellectual property, tax reliefs and education and skills.

I chair the all-party group on art, craft and design in education, which was set up to champion high-quality and inclusive arts education in our schools. I therefore particularly welcome the Select Committee’s recommendation, as well as the Secretary of State’s intervention during her speech at the British Museum last month, for STEM—the focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics—to be expanded to STEAM, as we just heard from the Chair of the Select Committee, to improve the status of arts education in our schools. That recommendation must be supported, especially when there are concerns that changes being implemented by the Department for Education—such as those to discounting codes and the exclusion of creative subjects in the gold-standard English baccalaureate performance benchmark—will turn off the talent tap for our creative industries, so undermining their long-term development.

If we are to support and expand our creative industries, that must be through not just reforms to public funding and protection of intellectual property, as the report calls for, but investment in the future work force by ensuring that children not only have access to high-quality, inclusive arts education, but are positively encouraged and supported to develop their skills.

Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): It is said that many students who attend private schools have the opportunity to develop greatly their artistic talent and flair through their longer school day and study periods. Does the hon. Lady agree with the Secretary of State for Education that we should consider extending the school day to give more young people the opportunity to study the arts and creativity as part of their everyday studies?

Mrs Hodgson: I will come on to the difference between the state and the independent sector later in my speech, but I agree that there is room to extend the school day from, say, 8 am until 6 pm, especially with regard to child care. During that extra time, children can obviously be doing all the extra-curricular stuff that is available in the independent sector. That would be ideal, but the issue is how that is funded and who pays. We know that some schools currently offer extra-curricular lessons in music and other things, but they must be paid for. The divide is between who can and who cannot pay. Nevertheless, we should definitely debate and explore that idea further.

Although the traditional subjects of English, maths and the sciences are and will always be important, so that young people are numerically and scientifically literate in the 21st century, it is also important that young people are creatively and culturally literate. As we have heard, the gaming industry is a perfect example of where both the traditional and the creative can be merged to create competitively skilled employees.

At this point, I should declare an indirect interest as the mother of a young man currently at Teesside university studying computer games art, having done precursor courses at Gateshead college. According to figures cited in the Select Committee’s report, the boxed and digital UK video game retail market was worth almost £3 billion in 2011, so I hope that he is going into a thriving industry and will get a job after all his studies.

Web-based games such as “Moshi Monsters” and “RuneScape” have more than 100 million registered users between them. With two out of every three households playing video games—a number that I am sure will keep rising as they become an ever more pervasive feature of smartphones—it is an industry booming like never before, and it is crucial that our education system is geared towards creating the pioneers of tomorrow, including my son, I hope.

It is right that future games developers should be competent in maths and the sciences, and I welcome the introduction of computing to the English baccalaureate, to allow young people to become literate in coding from an earlier age, but we must remember the important creative aspects of the gaming industry such as drawing and design skills. Hence the title of my son’s course: games art. Those skills have created such British successes as “LittleBigPlanet”, “Tomb Raider” and “Grand Theft Audio”, as we heard from the Chairman of the Select Committee. The most recent edition of “Grand Theft Auto” has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide.

The value of creative subjects lies not only directly in supporting the creative industries, but in imparting the soft skills that benefit young people for employment in other sectors. That is precisely what we mean by a rounded education. As Josie Barnard, senior lecturer in creative writing at Middlesex university, said in evidence to the Select Committee:

“Students who are taught creative writing are taught creative thinking.”

That could be said of all creative subjects, from drama and art to music, all of which involve problem solving and the importance of practice, providing young people with the ability and confidence to overcome situations in the workplace creatively.

Despite all that, reforms implemented by the Department for Education over the past three years have made access to creative subjects harder for young people. According to the Cultural Learning Alliance, the impact of those changes is already being felt, with art GCSE take-up declining by 14% between 2010 and 2013, while geography take-up has risen by 15%. We cannot fail to be cognisant of the effects that the reforms are having.

One of those reforms involves changes to discounting codes, so that subjects such as fine art and photography will be credited as just one GCSE rather than two in the school league tables, even though they have different teaching pathways and practices and distinct teacher specialisms. How is that fair, when pupils are encouraged to take multiple sciences, humanities or languages, with good reason? We would find it absurd to restrict a child by discounting French and German or chemistry and physics, so why do we accept discrimination against creative subjects?

The impact of that discrimination is that schools are pressured to deter or even prevent students from doing similar creative subjects, not to impact their league table status. Alongside that has been the introduction of the English baccalaureate as the gold standard performance measure for schools, which has further compounded the focus on the traditional subjects of maths, science and geography, rather than on the creative subjects, to maintain or increase ranking in the school league tables.

In a recent letter to Rachel Payne, senior lecturer in education and media at Oxford Brookes university, the Department for Education stated that it

“recognises that the arts form an integral part of children’s development and believes that every child should experience a high-quality arts education throughout their time at school”.

That prompts the question: why is the Department knowingly and deliberately undermining creativity in our schools? That is not an unsubstantiated criticism. Recent research by Ipsos MORI found that 27% of schools withdrew non-EBacc subjects from their curriculum this academic year, and that art was one of the most commonly withdrawn subjects, at 17%.

Even the Government’s own figures have shown that the take-up of creative subjects decreased in 2012, with design and technology down by 5.1% and art and design down by 2.4% from the previous academic year, while others in the EBacc standard have increased. That decline has rightly drawn criticism from the great and the good of the cultural world. Martin Roth, director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, was recently quoted as saying that

“if subjects such as art, design, music, drama and dance are pushed out of the curriculum, Britain’s creative economy will be destroyed within a generation.”

That is quite a strong statement. Vikki Heywood, chair of the Royal Society of Arts, described the reforms as “half-baked” and warned that they will be detrimental to the potential of our creative industries.

Last November, the inaugural art party conference in Scarborough, organised by Bob and Roberta Smith, was held purely as a reaction to the DFE’s changes. It aimed to promote and celebrate art by providing a forum for discussing the future of art in the UK. That conference brought together organisations, such as the National Society for Art and Design in Education, the Art Fund and the Cultural Learning Alliance.

Not only will including art within STEM allow children and young people to gain creative skills, to be dynamic players in the labour market, but it will allow young people from poorer backgrounds to experience the vast array of culture that this country has to offer, and even to have the opportunity to shape our national culture.

I raised this matter in correspondence with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport late last year, citing concerns that the National Youth Orchestra has been criticised for recruiting extensively from the independent school sector. This brings me to the point made by the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) some moments ago. This is not a criticism of the National Youth Orchestra, as all it is doing is recruiting the most talented kids, but this is a shocking indictment of the lack of opportunity and encouragement in our education system for involvement and progression in the arts. The independent sector, rightly, values such involvement highly and, of course, funds it.

Of course, this lack of involvement severely reduces diversity in our cultural sector. That was raised recently by Stephen McGann, who spoke about how young people from working class backgrounds struggle to enter the acting profession, owing to a preference for those in the independent sector who have had access to high-quality drama teaching throughout their school lives.

If the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is not successful in her campaign to change STEM to STEAM in the eyes of the Secretary of State for Education, the trend in downgrading arts education will continue and a two-tier system will be created, where arts and design subjects are seen as inferior to the traditional subjects, particularly in the state sector.

Damian Collins: Perhaps the hon. Lady is using too broad a brush. There are many excellent schools in the state sector. I highlight Brockhill Park school for the performing arts, in particular, which is a comprehensive school in my constituency with an outstanding record in the arts and in getting young people passionate and excited about them. There are many great successes across the state sector, still.

Mrs Hodgson: I agree. We can all highlight the exceptional state school that is really good at music, drama or dance, but regarding the majority, the figures speak for themselves. These subjects are being dropped, and in the teaching profession numbers are dropping in initial teacher training for arts and drama teachers. We have to look at this long term. In the short term, we will not see any damage, but if this trend continued in the long term, I definitely believe that we would.

If we are to have high-quality, inclusive arts education, we must have highly qualified teachers. However, there are concerns about the numbers of qualified art and design teachers entering the state system, with just 350 initial teacher education places allocated for art and design teachers in this academic year, compared with just short of 600 in 2009, which is much fewer than the vast majority of other subjects. To respond to the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, those figures show the decline. This is further proof that the Government and the Secretary of State for Education are marginalising creativity, because they regard creative subjects as soft and do not value the opportunities that studying these subjects can bring, and that is why I hope that the Minister can assure current and future parents that their child will be taught to a high standard by a professional teacher who knows how to do it, especially in subjects that not only fill their minds but feed their souls.

If we are to maintain our cultural importance around the world and the creative power of UK plc and, in addition, create a diverse cultural sector made up of people from all walks of life—not just as contributors, but as consumers as well—we must invest in high-quality, inclusive arts education and allow children to find and develop their talents or simply express themselves through the various artistic mediums available. If not, where will we find the next Julie Walters or Idris Elba—not from our state sector?

If we do not give children the opportunities to creatively express themselves, we will end up jeopardising recent growth and the substantial economic input from our creative industries, owing to a weakened and depleted creative labour market and, indeed, lessened patronage of creative works from a generation who have never been inspired.

The creative subjects feed our soul, so reminding us of the creative capacity of humanity. Why do we all love to listen to music, visit art galleries and see a play or a musical, a ballet or an opera? Because they move us in ways that nothing else can and connect us to our deepest emotions. I hope, therefore, that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and this excellent Select Committee report prevail over her Cabinet colleagues on the issue and that the Government take seriously the Committee’s many other recommendations.

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