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Following the decision by the House of Common's Petitions Committee to debate two petitions signed regarding the EBacc and Performing arts GCSE and A level qualifications, Sharon, in her role as Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Art, Craft and Design in Education, spoke during the debate about the benefits of a well-rounded curriculum that includes high-quality, inclusive arts education.
Read Sharon's speech in Hansard here: Sharon Hodgson MP EBacc Expressive Arts Westminster Hall Debate
Text pasted here:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
It is a true delight to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. I welcome this important debate. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on art, craft and design in education, I wish to make a cross-party case for promoting the creative arts in our schools. I invite other Members present to join our all-party group, if they so desire. We regularly engage with teachers, academics and cultural providers, a number of whom are in the Public Gallery—I thank them for being here. We engage with people from across the country, and most importantly, we engage with young people who wish to see a strengthened art offer in our schools.
I also welcome that a number of my constituents supported the EBacc petition—many of them will be art teachers who are concerned for the future of their subject, about which they are so passionate—and a similar number signed the petition on performing arts subjects at GCSE and A-level.
As we have heard, creativity is vital to the wellbeing of our society, and all of these subjects provide a space for young people to push boundaries, widen their horizons and explore what it means to be human. Only last week I went to the Lyric theatre in Hammersmith to watch the performance of “Treasure Island” by the Federation of Westminster Special Schools. The show was directed by James Rigby, and I saw all the work put in by Paul Morrow, the federation’s lead practitioner of creative arts, and by all the schools’ teachers, staff and pupils in collaboration with the staff of the Lyric theatre—I especially mention John Glancy, the producer. They all came together to put on a wonderful production that showed exactly what allowing children to flourish in the arts can do for their lives and their self-esteem.
Experiencing and engaging in the arts not only helps to nurture quantifiable positives; we can also see tangible evidence of the positive contribution that art education can make to our country. Our creative industries contributed an estimated £84.1 billion to our economy last year, and it is important to remember that our creative industries can thrive even more if we promote high-quality and inclusive art education in our schools to help feed the skills supply for the market. Sadly, the Government’s curriculum reforms, such as the EBacc, have had unintended consequences for creativity in the curriculum. The Department for Education has made the case that its reforms will not stop pupils taking additional non-EBacc subjects, and it claims that uptake in arts subjects has risen because the proportion of pupils with at least one arts GCSE has increased since 2010.
Once again, I acknowledge and thank the Minister for attending a meeting of the all-party group a few months ago. He listened to an extensive presentation on the latest National Society for Education in Art and Design survey, which highlighted the effect of the unintended consequences, and he answered questions from the gathered representatives, artists and teachers for some two hours. I know that must have had an effect on him, and I urge him again to take a closer look at the figures. The EBacc’s narrow-minded approach and prescriptive nature is sadly leaving very little space for creative subjects to flourish.
Mims Davies (Eastleigh) (Con)
I am interested in the hon. Lady’s speech. Does she agree that part of the problem of providing our children with the opportunity to be creative is the pressure to remain inside the classroom? Pupils have to leave the safe space of the classroom to experience the creative realms in the community.
The hon. Lady makes a good point. Trips to theatres, cultural sites and museums are becoming increasingly difficult for various reasons, including safeguarding and cost—even though museums are free to visit, the children have to get there, which takes time and organisation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) said earlier, such trips will be lacking from some of the children’s daily lives, weekends and holidays, so it is important that that shortfall is made up for in school. For more privileged children, no matter whether they go to state or independent schools, it is just a normal part of their existence. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her intervention.
In May 2014, the Cultural Learning Alliance found that the number of hours of art teaching and of art teachers had fallen in secondary schools since 2010. Design and technology faced the greatest decline, with 11% fewer teachers and less teaching time. The number of art and design teachers had fallen by 4% and the number of teaching hours by 6%, even though the number of pupils in secondary schools has fallen by about 2%. It is clear that provision of arts subjects is declining disproportionately.
As I mentioned earlier, the National Society for Education in Art and Design conducted a survey of teachers working across England in the academic year 2015-16 on the impact of Government policy on art, craft and design education over the past five years. The study found that 33% of art and design teachers at key stage 4, across all sectors, reported a reduction in time dedicated to their subject over the past five years. That figure rises to 44% in responses from academies. Of those teachers, 93% said that the EBacc was directly reducing opportunities to select art and design at GCSE level.
The reduction in provision for vocational creative qualifications is even more illuminating and concerning. Between 2011 and 2015, completions of art, craft and design level 2 vocational qualifications decreased by 43%. Although we are discussing the EBacc, which is only a performance measure at secondary school, it is having clear ramifications for other stages of young people’s education. Figures from the Cultural Learning Alliance show that between 2010 and 2015, dance AS-levels have declined by 24% and dance A-levels have declined by 17%.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on art, craft and design in education, I have heard anecdotally that primary schools are less free to dedicate time to creative education due to unprecedented pressure on the three R’s—reading, writing and arithmetic, which we all agree are extremely important. As the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) said, it should not be a case of either/or. Both are vital.
Secondary school teachers now report a fall in artistic skills and confidence when pupils arrive in year 7. Sadly, the ramifications of the curriculum changes are that secondary schools are putting less time and fewer resources into creative education in an understandable bid to climb the league tables. It is having a knock-on effect on other parts of the education pipeline. It means that pupils are being denied the opportunity to develop creative cognitive skills that are useful in other subjects, such as maths or science, and may become less confident and able to choose or pursue artistic GCSEs and A-levels.
A broad and rounded education is paramount to skilling our young people to enter the world of work in the 21st century. An art education can be vital to doing so, but if the Government insist on keeping the EBacc as a performance measure, in order not to weaken arts provision in our schools even further, the only way to maintain quality creative education is to include the creative arts in the EBacc. Excluding the arts subjects from the EBacc—
Which particular creative arts subject does the hon. Lady want to make compulsory to 16?
It could be left to the young person to choose, as with most subjects. We do not tell young people which language they must study, or which humanity. Let the young person choose; just put a list of creative arts there.
By excluding arts subjects from the EBacc, the Government have told our students that those subjects are not important and are a waste of their time and talent. The situation is simply not good enough. We need to be serious about providing a creative education that ensures that young people from ordinary backgrounds, as others have said, have opportunities to develop their skills so that they can become the next world-famous artist filling art galleries around the world, the next global superstar or actor packing out arenas or theatres or—I must declare an interest again—the next big games artist creating the next global game. The UK has world-leading companies in the games industry.
We should not limit young people’s life chances in this way. We need a forward-looking curriculum that provides a truly rounded education, remembering that subjects do not stand alone. Withdrawing opportunities from young people’s lives to express themselves creatively will not only ruin their chance to broaden their horizons and their understanding of what drives us as humans—our creativity—but affect the fledgling sectors that rely heavily on our nurture of the skills needed to make them soar.
Our human creativity is boundless, and studying creative subjects can harness it. That is why it is important that we ensure that whether or not the EBacc remains, the creative subjects have a place in our curriculum and do not face further and continual diminution by Government reforms. The arts are what we all do in our spare time, in one form or another. Why? They make our hearts soar. We are creative and artistic beings. Since the first caveman drew a buffalo on the first cave wall and danced around the fire singing, the arts have been how we express ourselves. They are intrinsic to being human. I ask the Minister: please do not make our education system a cultural desert for our children, as I fear the unintended consequences.