Sharon Hodgson MP

Working hard for Washington and Sunderland West.

NSEAD Conference 17.03.12

Sharon was asked to speak at the National Society for Education in Art and Design Conference at the Baltic Art Gallery in Gateshead.


Thank you Susan (Coles, then-President of the NSEAD), it’s great to be speaking here in the Baltic.

It is a jewel in the North East’s crown, and a very fitting venue for an artistic conference.

The last time I saw Susan was in the lovely surroundings of the Washington Arts Centre in my constituency, where she helped me judge my Christmas card competition, and pick the winner from a very strong field.

In the end we settled on a disco-dancing snowman (winner Phyliss Atheesa, Y6, Usworth Grange Primary in Washington).

Before I start, I must take this opportunity to say how pleased I am to have, as a constituent and friend, such a great advocate for creative education in Susan. 

You’re a star, and I’m thrilled to be able to congratulate you on your election as President. Great news!

I’ve loved seeing the campaigns that you have instigated over the last year or so, especially the Rainbow for Mr Gove campaign.

I actually feel quite strongly that the rainbow that was lost from the Education department’s logo after the election is highly symbolic of the difference between Michael Gove and Ed Balls as Secretary of State.

I am under no illusions that Ed was universally popular among the teaching profession – to be honest, I can’t think of any Secretary of State who has been – but I strongly believe that the Department under him was moving in the right direction.

It was about education and qualifications, as it must be, but it was also much more focussed on the whole needs of children themselves, and their families – hence the name, and the rainbow.

Under Michael Gove, the department is all about him and his pet interests.

It’s about free schools.

It’s about cutting local authorities out of education.

It’s about dead languages rather than helpful skills for the modern world.

Michael Gove wants pupils to have a rigorous education, as we all do. But equally important is to have a rounded education.

Facts and figures are fine and well for those young people whose brains are set up to work in those terms, but for many that isn’t the case.

And besides – how many of us really need to know who the King of England at the turn of the 14th Century was?

In case you’re wondering, it was Edward Longshanks, and we know how his reign turned out from Braveheart, although I think there was probably a fair bit of artistic licence applied there.

What’s more important is that children and young people are given a broad base of education right up to key stage 3, and the choice to pursue their interests at key stage 4 and beyond.

The government have, to their credit, commissioned Darren Henley to report and make recommendations on cultural education, including art, design and crafts, and have ostensibly accepted the bulk of his recommendations.

To give credit where it is due, it was particularly encouraging to see that the Art and Design Saturday Clubs initiative has been given funding to expand its reach over the next few years.

I hope that the University of Sunderland will consider hosting one so that young people in my constituency can benefit from it - perhaps that’s something Susan and I should talk about teaming up to lobby for. 

However, there are serious questions as to how committed Ministers really are to ensuring that all pupils receive a rounded education.

I think that ambiguity in their thinking is perhaps best demonstrated by the financial backing they have given to Henley’s plans.

£15m over three years is not going to go far, if we’re honest – schools aren’t going to be able to do much with less than 50p per pupil per year.

The Government says it is pump-priming money, but I fear they may find that the well on which they seek to draw is running dry.

Despite promises to the contrary, most schools are finding that their budgets are being cut, and that the things they used to get from the local authority for free is now coming at a charge.

Given those constraints, it is unlikely that they will be able to find any extra money for art and design courses and resources – especially now, for secondary schools at least, creative courses will not count towards the government’s favoured measure of school performance, the E-Bacc.

They’ve also undermined the value 14-19 diplomas have in school league tables, making it far less likely that schools and colleges will support them. 

One of the diploma subject areas was, as you will know, creative and media – reflecting the fact that the sector is so important to the UK’s economy. 

Compounding this, the Arts Council received a funding cut of around 30%, which of course it has had to pass on to the groups and initiatives which it funds. 

The same goes for the British Film Council, which lost 15%.

Those are just the cuts that make the papers – what is happening to the development of art and design education you will no doubt be able to tell me better than I can tell you.

Like in so many other areas, continuous professional development is being scaled back, and I believe that the number of future art teachers starting courses in September will be 275 – down from 600 in 2010.

These are the kind of cuts that go on way below the radar – the kind that the government, and the agencies which are struggling due to cuts from the government, can scale back without ever being reported.

It’s the same in the early years, which is one of the major strands of the brief that I cover for Labour nationally – CPD is disappearing as local authorities have to struggle to keep children’s centres and libraries open, if they’re lucky enough to even be able to do that.

But the impact of those cuts will be felt in years to come, as the workforce dwindles, probably just at the point where the school population swells, and it will be to our detriment.

We need an education system which looks forward to provide the skills that our future workforce will need in the future – not like Michael Gove’s ‘Back to the Future’ vision.

If there is one thing this country is excelling at in the 21st century, it is the creative industries – it is one of our best exports, for which we are known around the world.

Already, around one and a half million people are employed in the creative industries, or in creative roles within other industries. 

The creative industries accounted for 10.6% of the UK’s exports, and sustains more than 100,000 businesses, roughly one in twenty companies.

Creativity is therefore vital to our economy, and will only become more vital over the next century.

Our schools therefore need to be breeding places for the next Jonathan Ive’s or Norman Foster’s, whose iconic creations will respectively sit in many of our pockets in this room, and of course greet us when we leave. How amazing is The Sage?

They need to be breeding places for the next Matthew William’s and Vivienne Westwood’s, whose fashion creations I’m afraid MPs aren’t paid well enough for me to be able to wear – whatever you might hear to the contrary!

They need to be breeding places for the next Toby Gard and Paul Douglas, who are jointly responsible for one of the most successful franchises in video games history in the Tomb Raider series.

This is of particular interest to me as my son is currently at Gateshead College studying for a BTEC Extended Diploma in Interactive Media.

He has a conditional offer to do a degree in Games Art Design at Teeside University, which I’m absolutely thrilled about, and I’m encouraging him all the way.  (add anecdote re SEN/Statement/Dyslexia)

Lots of people go to University as a means to an end, and sometimes that’s true in arts as well, but mostly the young people who pursue art, design or other creative courses at university do so because they have a real enthusiasm and drive to develop their talent, and that enthusiasm is great to see.

To get to that stage where schools are bringing out talent, above all else we need excellent educators.

We need people who can encourage and nurture expression, but also guide young people in how to harness their talent, and develop it into meaningful and rewarding careers, whether that’s in business, or in teaching the next generation themselves - or preferably both.

Unfortunately, in a Parliamentary answer to me last year, Nick Gibb said that he expects the number of art teachers in schools to decrease by between one and two hundred a year over the coming years – he says as a result of declining rolls.

But how many will actually be forced out of schools which no longer have to follow the curriculum, and choose to focus on the Ebacc subjects?

This may not just be a minority of schools we’re talking about in a few years time, as Michael Gove has made it clear that he would like all schools to become academies or free schools.

He’s even strong-arming the ones who don’t want to convert.

And how many specialists will be forced out if Ministers decide that art, design and the various strands of DT don’t deserve to even be compulsory parts of the curriculum for the remaining schools who have to follow it?

Even if a young person doesn’t see their future in a creative role, a rounded education will stay with them for the rest of their life – giving them an appreciation of the arts as a source of pleasure, in the same way that they enjoy video games and cartoons, encouraging them to patronise and support those who are artists and designers.

But this is not just an art and design issue – one of the areas in which I have campaigned most since being an MP, and which happily now comes under my shadow ministerial brief, is on food education and cookery.

The last government committed to ensuring that young people were given a minimum number of 13 hours of practical cookery lessons, teaching them how to make healthy and low cost meals for themselves.

As sensible as that sounds for a country sleepwalking towards an obesity crisis (myself included), this government scrapped it. 

Despite the real benefits it could bring to our country, I doubt that when  that when Ministers retrieve the curriculum review out of the long grass they kicked it into, they will have taken the view that cookery deserves a compulsory place on our school curriculum!

The Labour Party has been clear in Opposition that the Government must support the development of all the creative industries through the policies it pursues, including in education.

The Culture and Education teams worked closely together as part of the policy review process last year under Andy Burnham and Ivan Lewis.

We partnered with the Creative Coalition Campaign to launch our Creative Industries Network – reaching out to engage with the sector to ensure the policies that we develop over the next few years, and hopefully are able to implement after the next election, are ones which support and encourage the creatives in our society to contribute even more towards economic growth than they do already.

This includes investment in the arts, but more importantly education reform which recognises the importance of creativity to our future, and will contribute towards producing the next generation of art and design talent.

My fellow Shadow Education Minister, Kevin Brennan, is also currently undertaking a review of the curriculum.

With the government ducking the debate for a while, it is important that things like the importance of subjects like art and design in providing children with a well-rounded education is kept on the agenda, so I would encourage you to engage with him on that if you haven’t been doing so already – I will give Susan the details if she doesn’t already have them.

I think if I could get him and Susan into a room together he would be won over to your way of thinking within a couple of minutes – I’ve seen her take on Andy Burnham when he was my boss, and she was very effective!

Stephen Twigg, my new boss, has also asked Barry Sheerman, who was a long-serving member of the Education Select Committee – before it was actually called that - to lead the School to Work review, which will look at equipping children and young people for the workplace of the future. 

I know that Barry is very keen on looking at programmes which are used in New York, where creative education is used to help and encourage young people from deprived backgrounds to engage with the rest of the curriculum.

Karen Buck is also looking at youth services, which of course includes facilities being made available for young people to pursue their passions and interests outside school hours – facilities which are, unfortunately, becoming scarcer as the cuts I talked about a few minutes ago start to bite.

So there is a lot going on, and hopefully a lot more we will be able to say about the role of art and design in education over the coming months.

As I said a few moments ago, it is important that these issues are kept on the government’s agenda, and it is you here today, as both a trade union and a collective of experts, who have a responsibility to make as much noise as you possibly can.

Keep on using your creativity to make the points you have been making – I want to hear of more Rainbows and Christmas cards brightening up Michael Gove’s office in the Department.

I want you to prod and cajole us in the Shadow Education team too – tell us what you want the government of the future to do.

I can’t promise you’ll get your every wish – even I won’t get my every wish, and I’m part of the team.

But we will listen, and the louder you shout the more we, and the government, will have to listen.

Thank you for inviting me to be here today, and please feel free to commence that shouting in the time I’ve got left for questions.

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