My Lords, I asked for this debate because of the decision of the awarding body AQA to discontinue its offer of A-levels in history of art and archaeology, as well as a reduction in the offer and take-up of certain creative and arts subjects at A-level, which has sparked a fresh debate on what is offered in the current curriculum. Does the Minister agree that a good range of subjects being taught in schools and colleges is very important to broaden the learning horizons of all our young people? His own Government’s current mantra is “a Government that works for all” so we will assume that that means an education that works for all, too.
How important is it, therefore, that the offer includes creative subjects? Part of the UK’s problem has been a narrowing down of the curriculum post-16 because of the gold-star standard of A-levels compared with other international comparators, which in the past has resulted in far too many students choosing either arts or sciences. To some extent, AS-levels broadened that base for year 12 but, compared with the USA, France, the Netherlands and Scotland, with its Highers system, the English system remains narrow in its offer. David Laws, as Schools Minister, introduced Progress 8, an accountability measure, to ensure that schools are rewarded for offering a broad and balanced curriculum. But the reality is that the opposite is now happening.
It is worth looking at the specific problem of the history of art A-level. It is true that numbers for the take-up of history of art are low, especially from students in state schools. AQA says that in 2016 there were 719 entries at AS-level and 834 at A-level. These entries were from a total of 99 schools and 20 further education colleges. A mere 16 out of more than 3,000 state secondary schools, plus a further 15 sixth-form colleges, currently offer it. By contrast, more than 90 fee-paying schools offer the subject. Michael Gove was quick via Twitter to claim no responsibility for history of art’s demise.
The history of art A-level content was reformed and it exists if another awarding body decides to offer it. Other creative subjects have also been reformed and are ready for teaching. Their respective creative communities will be promoting them to schools, no doubt, but is this enough? Surprisingly—and perhaps ironically—it was Mr Gove who posed the very serious question in last week’s discussions on history of art. He said:
“Why were so few state schools offering the subject? Why aren’t more heads anxious to promote it? Who on earth thinks it’s ‘soft’—not me”.
Perhaps for Michael Gove nothing with history in its title can be soft—not sure about the art bit, though.
However, there is a larger and more strategic picture here. Frankly, I think it arises out of the EBacc culture, the Government’s focus on STEM and, perhaps most critically, the funding mechanisms. Since the introduction of the English baccalaureate—compulsory in state-funded secondary schools—the take-up of creative subjects has declined. Why? The culture of targets that has been set by EBacc means that far fewer students now take those creative subjects at GCSE. Music is a case in point. The Incorporated Society of Musicians carried out research earlier this year which found that just over a third of our secondary schools have no pupils taking GCSE music at all. As a pupil, you cannot do A-level music without a good A* to C grade in GCSE music; nor will a school attract excellent music teachers without a keen commitment to providing the academic qualifications for students with musical aptitude, not just some general music provision. The root of the problem is that music is not an option within the rigid EBacc. Other qualifications, such as the international baccalaureate, are as rigorous but more flexible in subject matter, allowing students and schools to choose topics and subjects within a framework. That is why the Bacc for the Future campaign championed by the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd-Webber, and many other professional musicians and teachers is so vital.
One in 11 of jobs in our society is creative but this year alone we have seen an 8% drop in the uptake of arts subjects from the previous year. When I was chair of the Cambridgeshire Learning and Skills Council just over 10 years ago, there was already considerable concern that school sixth forms might be too small to offer a broad enough A-level curriculum. The development of effective and larger sixth-form colleges seemed to be a good response. The economies of scale meant that students could mix and match A-levels and AS-levels across the arts and sciences. But recently the further education sector has been managing severe and continuing budget cuts. The Sixth Form Colleges Association reports that the sector’s funding is 20% lower than funding for 11 to 16 year-olds, and nearly 48% lower than for universities. A recent survey it carried out showed that the cuts in funding have resulted in the majority reducing or removing the extracurricular activities available to students, including music and drama; two-thirds believe that the funding will not be enough to support students who are educationally or economically disadvantaged; and colleges are struggling to provide 15 to 17 hours a week of tuition per student, whereas funding in Singapore provides for more than 30 hours a week. Inevitably, this reduces the range of courses in the UK.
There are many reasons for this decline and some of them are, as the Department for Education is keen to point out, cyclical. But we are in a perfect storm which is now severely impacting on arts and, more specifically, creative subjects post-16. Head teachers are thinking about their schools’ performance tables. EBacc subjects get priority because they know that is how their schools will be judged, reducing options for post-16 students whose options were limited at GCSE. Funding for teacher training on EBacc core subjects is also a priority, resulting in a supply crisis in certain arts subjects. Students and parents are told by schools that EBacc subjects are where they need to concentrate, without understanding the limitations on future options. Although Ofsted is open to the thinking that an outstanding school is one that also offers creative subjects, it has to follow the government framework. As the Creative Industries Federation’s report Social Mobility and the Skills Gap observed:
“In 2015, more than a quarter of students in academies (28 per cent) took seven GCSEs or fewer. If such students have to take the EBacc in future, there would be no space for other subjects, even if these subjects were offered”.
A year ago, the DfE published its consultation on EBacc implementation and laid down a target of 90% of students taking the EBacc. The education and creative industries communities responded to explain the negative impact that that target could lead to. We still await the Government’s response to this consultation.
The targets and focus within the EBacc are beginning to distort priorities, and the unintended consequence of its narrow focus is now having a direct impact on what post-16 institutions offer. Within a short few years, the capacity of our workforce emerging from apprenticeships and degrees will be evident in the labour market. So I ask the Minister: do the Government still believe that students studying A-level need the breadth of subjects offered, particularly in arts and creative subjects, given the current focus on STEM subjects? Will the Government drop the target of 90% of children doing the EBacc, as long as schools can demonstrate that pupils are achieving good attainment targets and progression? What are the Government doing to remedy the funding crisis in the post-16 sector, most particularly in sixth-form and further education colleges, which have been unfairly targeted compared to the rest of the education sector? Will the Government continue to press for Progress 8 in full, ensuring that schools are held accountable for a truly broad curriculum? Will the Government publish a progress report on the Henley review of cultural education?
In recent months, I have watched the dedication and skills of clinicians, healthcare and associated professionals who are caring for my granddaughter at the wonderful Evelina children’s hospital. Almost everyone I have seen, from consultants through to play workers, from speech and language therapists to teachers, visiting writers, musicians and artists all use creative skills and techniques in what they use to heal our children. It is not just medicine. The toys designed to stimulate children at some of the worst times in their lives, even if they are digital and engineering-based, have all been designed by people who understand arts and creativity. It is not just engineering. Creativity is everywhere about us and as important as the vital skills of science, technology, engineering and mathematics which we need in UK plc. There is one important letter missing from STEM; it is “A” for arts. Without a core place for arts and creative subjects, our country cannot steam ahead into the future. It must also be at the heart of our education system.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for initiating this important debate about ensuring that there is a wide range of creative subjects at A-level. As she put it so well, this is not only vital to the pipeline that feeds our creative industries but essential to the life of our nation and makes us who we are. I make no apologies for fearing that the Minister is going to hear the same song sung many times in this debate, although he may have got used to that in the previous debate.
I, too, received an email from AQA explaining its decision. I accept that it was a decision not taken lightly but the fact remains that, even though the take-up of the history of art A-level was small, it was an important educational opportunity to get into a creative world that many students may never have considered. Given the long campaign of the Association of Art Historians to increase awareness of the importance of art history and to expand its uptake in schools and at university, this is a worrying loss. I hope that the Minister will be able to update us today on whether an alternative awarding body has been found.
The Government need to ask themselves why there was such an uproar from the creative community about the loss of a single, albeit hugely symbolic, A-level. It has been put to me that it was seen as part of the creeping dismantling of creative and cultural education. The Government are seemingly blind to the unintended consequences of their aim to get a 90% take-up of the EBacc by 2020 and the Progress 8 measures, which sideline creative subjects, because the subjects taken at GCSE will of course affect the choices at A-level and what happens afterwards. Numeracy, literacy and academic rigour are of course essential to our future success but creating a false hierarchy between subjects taught in our schools is not the way forward. It is a common phenomenon that what is not measured is not valued. This has meant that secondary schools are faced with putting less time and fewer resources into creative education, in a bid to climb up the league tables. One way in which the Government could prevent this is by making it impossible to get an excellent rating from Ofsted if there is no significant cultural offer. I hope that the Minister will say something about why the Government are against that.
Surveys by the National Society for Education in Art and Design and the Cultural Learning Alliance show that there has been a marked reduction in curriculum time, that courses have been lost and that there are significant shortages of teaching staff. This has resulted in a significant decline in the number of students taking GCSE, AS and A-levels in creative subjects, as shown in this year’s figures where the lowest percentage of students sitting art and design A-levels in 10 years has just been recorded. Counter to the culture White Paper’s claim that:
“Access to cultural education is a matter of social justice”,
the Creative Industries Foundation has found that schools with a high proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals have been twice as likely to withdraw arts subjects. This is an out-of-date and old-fashioned curriculum, almost identical to what was in place in 1904—although that curriculum included drawing.
The new Digital and Culture Minister said recently that in post-Brexit Britain:
“This nexus of art and technology is how Britain will pay her way in the 21st Century”.
However, it has been said that:
“This narrow academic curriculum will severely limit access to technical and creative subjects of the very kind needed in our new digital age”.
Those are not my words but the words of the architect of the national curriculum, the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking. In a recent report for the Edge Foundation he called, among other things, for the Government to introduce a broader EBacc which would include creative and technical subjects as well.
At a recent meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Art, Craft and Design in Education, of which I declare that I am vice-chair along with the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, we had a presentation from the Derby High School, which was the very first science and arts college. The students conveyed to us their thoughts on their education. These are some of their words:
“We are on an incredible journey to who knows where … Fast forward to 2025 … We will be applying for jobs that don’t even exist back in 2015 … In fact experts believe that almost 50 per cent of occupations today will be redundant … So how can we be educated for those unknown jobs?”.
We were told by the Derby High School that it believes its pupils should be educated to see science and the arts as complementary, and that each discipline has something fresh to offer the other when taught holistically. In that way, those students are being educated for those unknown jobs. Those students are right: automation and artificial intelligence may make today’s jobs redundant but they will not replace creativity.
I hope that the Minister will listen to those students—I am sure that they would come to give him the presentation if he wants—and to his noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking. I hope that he will listen as well to the very many educationalists, practitioners and employers who are asking the Government to change their mind on the EBacc and ensure that the pipeline of creative talent is nurtured and not damaged irrevocably. I also hope that in his response today, he can go a little further than the “in due course” answer we keep getting as to when the Government are to publish the results of the consultation on the EBacc. I also hope that the Government will use the consultation process to change the situation where England is the only nation in the UK to have no national plan ensuring that all children and young people are offered a high-quality cultural and creative education. I very much look forward to his response this afternoon.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for her excellent introduction to this debate. Following the announcements of the discontinuation of history of art and archaeology A-levels on
“just at a time when we were looking to expand our support for the revised A-Level and its link with apprenticeships”.
“History of art is a rigorous interdisciplinary subject that gives students the critical skills to deal with a world that is increasingly saturated with images”.
Simon Schama tweeted,
“this government determined to impoverish the next generation”.
It is difficult, if not impossible, not to see such developments except within the wider context of the more general downgrading of the arts within the school educational system. Last year, for example, we also lost creative writing as an A-level. We also have a GCSE system, the EBacc, referred to by the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Nye, which excludes arts subjects from the core subjects. This year that has already led to a drop of 5% in take-up in art and design subjects, and it is having a detrimental influence on the teaching and perception of arts subjects at every key stage. On the subject of the EBacc, can the Government give further news of when they will respond to the consultation, since it will be one year this Wednesday since it opened?
One of the reasons given for the discontinuation of art history is the number of students studying it, yet teachers are repeatedly saying that the course is so popular that they have to cap the numbers. The BBC reports Godalming College, a state sixth form, as saying this, and Rose Aidin, who runs the A-level course at the Wallace Collection, says that there is a waiting list for this course which includes state school students. This again raises the issue of what subjects are encouraged to be studied in our state schools as a whole and whether the demands from students are being properly met.
A criticism of art history that has been made, notably by the art critic Jonathan Jones, is that it is a so-called posh subject. It is true that around 75% of students come from private schools, but this still leaves a quarter of students from state schools. If the course is cut, state school children will be barred for ever. Private schools will still run art history courses, and they will be right to do so to maintain the balance between arts, humanities and sciences which is increasingly denied within the state school system. Private schools will then own the subject, and their students will have the advantage in continuing on to degree level despite what AQA has said to the contrary. Again, this will be part of pushing the arts further into the hands of the better-off, which is already happening with music and drama.
Indeed there is nothing that says that art history or indeed any art subject is inherently posh. In 2013, in a talk on global citizenship Sir Nicholas Serota said:
“Art is a fundamental part of the public realm. In their work, artists express ideas, attitudes and beliefs. Often, these are central to politics, society and economics”.
This is true of all ages, and visual literacy should, in the 21st century, be a central aspect of our education.
One irony about the history of art A-level is that the new syllabus is intended to appeal to a wider range of students and to cover a wide range of cultures, as it is concerned with art on a global scale rather than concentrating on the history of western art. Learning about the arts is inherently about reaching out to other cultures, the importance of which, in our current more insular climate, we are at risk of dangerously underestimating.
The provision of creative subjects in primary schools and at key stages 3 to 4 lays the foundations of a rounded education which will give children the most informed basis for making a more specialised choice, a choice which should be as wide as possible if students’ needs and capabilities are to be fulfilled. Yet, in recent years, we have been cutting down on that choice. Justine Greening said last week that girls need to be encouraged into STEM subjects. A lot of them are studying arts subjects and would like to continue to do so. We could just as easily turn this question around and ask where are the boys in arts subjects. STEM needs to be expanded to STEAM.
AQA has also cited as a prime reason a lack of competence in marking art history and,
“the complex and specialist nature of the exams”.
I do not believe for one moment that there is not the expertise in this country to address this. Will the Government intercede on this matter in particular? In the end, it is not AQA which should be held responsible. The Government are responsible for our education, and they need to be held to account.
I do not know what the Minister is going to say about the future of the threatened A-levels. I hope he will not hide behind the reasons given by AQA and that he will supply us with good news about the continuation of these subjects that will at least make one or two of our arguments redundant.
My Lords, I applaud my noble friend Lady Brinton for initiating this important debate, and I make no apology for covering similar ground to noble Lords who have already spoken.
The dropping by AQA of the history of art A-level forms an important part of the worrying context of the debate today. AQA said in its briefing that, although it recognises the huge importance of the study of the history of art, in the process of developing and obtaining accreditation for its new A and AS-levels in history of art, it had concluded that the new qualifications, developed from the Government’s criteria, would be extremely challenging to mark as a result of the large number and specialist nature of the options creating major risks when it came to awarding grades safely. I interpret this to mean that AQA’s decision to drop history of art A-level was partly based on the fact that there were insufficient experienced examiners. This rightly had the Sunday Times art critic Waldemar Januszczak choking on his carpaccio.
The second reason appears to be the low number of students taking the subject. As AQA said, these issues are exacerbated in the context of very low student entry numbers for these key stage 5 qualifications. Why is that? As my noble friend said, since the introduction of the English baccalaureate, we have seen a decline in the take-up of creative subjects. I shall add only one fact and figure to my noble friend’s dismal facts and figures: 21% fewer arts GCSEs were taken in 2016 compared to 2010. The provision of creative subjects has fallen most significantly in schools with a higher proportion of pupils on free school meals. It is clear that despite assurances by successive Secretaries of State for Education, the introduction of the English baccalaureate has sent a clear message to schools, teachers, parents and students about which subjects are seen as of value. For the sake of completeness, I should add that AQA is adamant that this decision is not driven by commercial or financial factors.
There is great concern at the decision to drop this A-level. The Association of Art Historians has commented:
It also said that the symbolic space,
“the subject occupies within the school system is also fundamental in developing awareness of art history at undergraduate level and beyond”.
It is that “beyond” that creative industry leaders, in all disciplines, are worried about. These industries are grappling with some real issues, particularly skills gaps and shortages. For example, several creative occupations are currently featured in the tier 2 Migration Advisory Committee’s shortage occupation list, which is for non-EEA recruits. One can only imagine how this will look if there is a hard Brexit. Universities specialising in creative industries are keen to recruit their students from the widest pool possible, because talent and skills in these industries are at a premium.
There can be no argument about the importance of our creative industries. They are celebrated for outstanding economic performance in addition to their contribution to the UK’s culture and soft power. The Prime Minister herself has recognised our creative industries are a key strategic sector. For example, the success of UK television and film production, highlighted in official government figures last week as one of the,
“best performing sectors of the UK economy”,
which has helped to,
“maintain growth in a time of post-Brexit vote uncertainty”,
is attributed not only to the tax breaks that the sector enjoys but to the skills and talent base for which it is internationally admired. We simply cannot afford to lose this.
We need therefore to ensure that our education system supports the sector and that a good range of relevant creative subjects are taught in schools. As the Creative Industries Federation’s recent paper on the possible impact of Brexit, mentioned by other noble Lords, points out:
“Long-standing skills shortages in the creative industries stem from inadequate training and provision at schools … Brexit will compound this problem … It is crucial that education and training policy is formulated with a proper understanding of the needs of industry”.
How will the creative industries flourish if creative subjects are elbowed out of the curriculum? These subjects are opening horizons and signposting to possible careers. They can accelerate learning, attainment and success in students following a more traditional academic structure—including the so-called sought-after STEM subjects. My noble friend referred to the Creative Industries Federation’s other paper last month on the creative education agenda, which recommended four matters to the Government. It has done us a service with those recommendations. First, it says:
“Drop the 90 per cent target … The EBacc should not be the headline assessment measure for schools, but used as part of Progress and Attainment 8”.
Head teachers would be able to offer creative subjects as part of a balanced curriculum and it would send a clear message that the wide variety of skills and knowledge that they represent are important to our economy and our society. Secondly:
“Limit ‘outstanding’ to schools that warrant it”,
a point made, I think, by the noble Baroness, Lady Nye, and my noble friend. It goes on:
“A school must teach at least one creative subject, in lesson time, in order to be eligible for an ‘outstanding’ rating”.
“Audit the skills gap … The Department for Education should conduct a proper audit of the skills and education needed by the creative industries as part of an industrial strategy”.
Fourthly, and finally:
“Adopt proper careers advice … The Government should work with industry to launch a sustained national campaign demonstrating the range of jobs in the creative industries and the subjects that lead to them”.
These are all sensible proposals and should be adopted. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, yesterday, I drove down from the University of Birmingham, where I am proud to be chancellor, and spoke to my mother. She is a proud graduate of that university, as were her father and brother. She studied history of art there, and said to me that it changed her life. It introduced an appreciation of the arts for ever, which she then passed on to her children. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for initiating this debate.
Under the headline, “Top experts’ letter pleads for art history A-level”, the BBC reports that:
“Hundreds of academics have signed an open letter to an exam board, condemning plans to axe art history A-level … The decision to cut the A-level comes when ‘society has never required its insights more’, argues the letter. AQA said the change ‘was not about money or whether history of art deserves a place in the curriculum’”.
The AQA is the only exam board to currently offer the art history qualification. The decision will result in a subject of profound social, cultural and economic importance disappearing from the UK A-level landscape. There were 220 signatories, ranging from representatives from the University of Oxford, Sotheby’s and the Courtauld Institute of Art, to emerging art historians.
A reformed history of art specification, which was due for first teaching next September, would have given students the opportunity to study the most pressing social and political issues we face today, from war to environmental change, from identity to migration, played out through the visual and material world. It was an exciting and inspiring prospect. The plan was to support and encourage a greater number of schools and colleges, particularly in the state sector, to offer the subject to 16 and 18 year-olds. The exam board’s decision not to go ahead represents a vital loss for students. According to the letter:
“By denying young people access to the study of art history at a vital juncture in their lives, the AQA decision will actively discourage the next generation from pursuing careers in the arts and place current successes in real danger”.
In the 2015-16 academic year, as we have heard, 838 students—fewer than 1,000—took A-level history of art, with 83% attaining A* to C grades and 10.5% gaining an A*.
The decision comes amid—we must remember this—a series of changes to the curriculum set by our infamous former Education Secretary, Michael Gove, who proposed cuts to the number of creative and arts-based courses to make way for more challenging, ambitious and rigorous subjects. What was he thinking? Can the Minister confirm that other subjects to be axed include statistics, classical civilisation and archaeology? Many of these are not available on any other boards. The Association of Art Historians said that the decision could have a detrimental effect on the wider industry, as students would be far less likely to gain an interest in or gain access to a subject if it was no longer made available to them before the higher educational stage.
Hear the reaction from experts. Simon Schama tweeted:
“Art history A level axed as ‘soft’. SOFT?? tell that to Kant, Hegel, Ruskin, Burckhardt, Panofsky, Schapiro and the rest”.
“Rembrandt weeps. Can you believe that our history is no longer being offered at A level? Philistines must not prevail”.
In a statement, the AQA board said that the decision had not been made lightly, but that the subject was too complex:
“We’ve identified three subjects—Archaeology, Classical Civilisation and History of Art—where the complex and specialist nature of the exams creates too many risks on that front. That’s why we’ve taken the difficult decision not to continue our work creating new AS and A levels in these subjects”.
Does the Minister agree that that is pathetic?
“Why I don’t buy the argument that History Art A-level was axed for being ‘soft’” is the title of an article by Laura Freeman. She writes:
“Soft? Soft? History of Art is as soft as Carrara marble”.
This decision should be a spur to offering history of art in all schools: state, grammar and academy. It should be a wake-up call. The AQA has confirmed that it will not be offering it, but EdExcel might come in as a white horse. Does the Minister know and can he offer us some encouragement?
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, spoke about creativity. I was told throughout my childhood, through all my schooling, “Karan, you are doing well academically. Keep going, but you are not creative”. Why? Because I was useless at art. I started piano. At grade 1, I was told, “Karan, give up; you are tone deaf. You are not creative”. Throughout my schooling, college and universities, I thought I was not creative. Then I started my own business. I realised that one of the most important skills of an entrepreneur is the ability to be creative and I had it in abundance, but it had been wasted all my childhood. Now, when I give talks around the world and I ask audiences, “How many of you think you are creative?”, half the hands go up. Just imagine if 100% of the hands went up. It would encourage creativity in our schools from primary level all the way through. The GDP of this nation would double.
There are many reasons why it makes sense to encourage the creative industries. The arts make self-starters, develop emotional intelligence. The arts are stretching. Arts students are highly sought after by employers. Arts reach the parts other subjects cannot reach. Arts reach the students other subjects cannot reach.
Look at the response of the University of Cambridge to the decision. It deeply regrets the decision by AQA and says that it is really damaging. It states:
“The cultural and creative industries are one of the UK’s greatest selling points”,
“a mighty economic engine … Art history is a rigorous, ambitious and highly vocational subject which should be open to students of every background, and celebrated as an essential tool to enable greater understanding of cultural life in both the UK and abroad”.
Art History Link-Up states:
“Only eight state schools in the country currently offer History of Art”.
We need to change that. Our museums are the best in the world. The Tate Modern has 4.7 million visitors. The National Gallery has 5.9 million visitors. The Victoria and Albert has 3 million visitors. The Ashmolean in Oxford has almost 1 million visitors. The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has almost 1 million. This is amazing. This is not elitism.
The criticism is that history of art should not be there because it is elitist. I spoke about Cambridge because I chair the advisory board of the Cambridge Judge Business School. Birmingham University has the famous Barber Institute, one of the finest University museums in the world. Over the past two years, 95% of Birmingham’s art historians have secured a graduate-level job or further study within six months of graduation. The DCMS report on the creative industries estimates that they account for 5% of Britain’s GDP. It is much more than that if you include everything that comes within the history of art.
To conclude, my daughter Zara is at Wellington College studying history of art. She came here on a visit with her teacher Mr Rattray, who studied history of art at Cambridge. When I took the students round, I learned more from Mr Rattray and the students about the architecture, history and art of our Parliament than I had learned in 10 years. That is the brilliance of the subject. Do you know what my daughter said to me when AQA made its announcement? “But Daddy, he is going to be out of a job”. We cannot let that happen.
My Lords, I am most grateful to be allowed to speak briefly in the gap. I absolutely endorse what we have just heard, as well as the concerns about music articulated by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton.
There are two particularly important dividends from giving students access to music and the arts. The first is social. As a schoolboy, I have to admit, I was a late developer academically—almost embarrassingly so—but my music master, Mr Lambert, recognised a musical spark of promise in me and guided me through O-level and A-level music. This gave me respect from my peers and, much more importantly, self-respect—a feeling of achievement. It set me on the path to where I am today as a composer. I want every young person to have this outlet.
The other dividend is economic. The Government often, rightly, congratulate the creative economy for what it contributes to the Treasury, so surely it is vital that they go on creating access, for this generation and the next generation of creative people, for what they will bring to the Treasury of this country.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, on securing the debate and for her excellent opening speech, which set the tone very effectively.
“Whoever neglects the arts when he is young has lost the past and is dead to the future”— a truism if ever there was one. Those are the words of the playwright Sophocles, written around 2,400 years ago. Just four years ago, those very words prominently began the Government’s response to the Henley review of cultural education. Sadly, somewhere along the way since 2012, it seems that the Government have lost their belief in the value of the arts and creative subjects in schools.
This issue has come to prominence largely because exam boards have dropped history of art and archaeology A-levels, as noble Lords have said. These have always been very much minority options that not many students have had access to, but the fear is that this is merely the tip of a sizeable iceberg. Squeezed school budgets, a growing emphasis on the STEM and English baccalaureate subjects, and government reforms of qualifications are reshaping what our young people study.
Ministers believe that students should mostly take what they refer to as “facilitating subjects”. I will not list them, because noble Lords are well aware of them, but there is an absence of creative subjects from the list—let me say only that ancient Greek is included but not art and design or computer science. Ministers claim that, because these are the subjects that Russell group universities want, every pupil should take them. In fact, although the Russell group prioritises these subjects, it actually says that only two of the three A-levels should be from this list.
But the Government prefer the absolute position, which chimes with their pushing the EBacc subjects at GCSE. They regard other subjects as “soft options”. This was never more obvious than when, in November 2014, the then Secretary of State for Education claimed that, for children, choosing arts subjects at school would,
“hold them back for the rest of their life”.
That was not just downright nonsense but an extremely damaging statement, suggesting a one-size-fits-all regime that ignores the strengths of many pupils and demeans their choices. Given that the creative industries are now such an important feature of our economy, does the Minister agree that we should not be sending a message to schools and young people that creative and technical subjects are not valued?
The benefits of creative subjects are not merely economic. Subjects such as drama and music are widely taught in independent schools and, until recently at least, were also offered at larger sixth-form colleges. But, in recent years, the colleges have suffered funding cuts, while the continued absence of a VAT refund scheme for them—which is available to academy sixth forms—leaves the average sixth-form college with £385,000 a year less to spend on front-line education. How can the Government justify their intransigence on this issue?
Cuts to sixth-form college budgets have resulted in the need to reduce their range of courses in order to increase class sizes in the remaining subjects. They are also reducing the possibility of taking additional subjects to AS-level, partly because they cannot afford the extra teaching and partly because the AS itself has been downgraded by the Government. The English sixth-form curriculum has traditionally been narrow, with just three subjects at A-level. The efforts of the Labour Government to increase breadth through the AS-level are being reversed by a mixture of cuts and policy, which particularly affects creative subjects that might be taken as an “extra”.
This impacts on the decisions of exam boards. With the costs of managing small-uptake A-levels already an issue, boards must be feeling an additional financial pinch with the loss of AS-level income now that A-level is a stand-alone exam. The numbers studying music at A-level have never been large, but they are dwindling. Schools across the country have already reluctantly decided to stop offering music as an option, and the likelihood is that more will follow.
Even modern languages, one of the EBacc subjects, is not safe. Last week, the Sixth Form Colleges Association published a report based on a survey of its members, which found that more than one-third of colleges have ended courses in modern languages, including A-levels in German, French and Italian. Indeed, evidence points to languages suffering a slow death. This year, fewer than 4,000 students sat German A-level and French entries were down to fewer than 10,000. Schools and sixth-form colleges with pressurised budgets are forced to choose which courses to keep and which to cut. Not enough modern teenagers want to study a language, it seems, which is a great shame because a language is more than just a qualification; it is a skill for life. As the country becomes mired in acrimonious negotiations on leaving the EU and turns ever more in on itself, the future looks bleak for the study of languages.
In a trend that leads directly to the reduction of A-levels in creative subjects, the Sixth Form Colleges Association report also found that almost six out of 10 colleges have reduced extracurricular activities, including educational visits, music, drama, sport and Duke of Edinburgh award schemes, or cut them altogether.
There has been a great deal of discussion about the need to close the divide between academic and vocational education, but with the EBacc the Government are unequivocally promoting the superiority of the academic pathway. If the reduction in the availability of creative subjects is the result, should we be surprised? Less than 50% of students took the EBacc in the past academic year, yet already there has been a significant effect on other subjects since it was introduced—most notably on what I argue is the key subject of design and technology, for which there has been a 30% drop in take-up. The curriculum should not be driven by the needs of the minority who are going to the most selective universities—what my noble friend Lady Nye described as a false hierarchy of subjects taught. Every student should have elements of the EBacc subjects in their curriculum. Equally, they should have artistic and practical elements. Many of the essential work-related skills that the CBI says are in short supply may well be better developed in artistic and practical contexts.
More investment from government is essential if sixth-form colleges and school and academy sixth forms are to continue providing young people with the breadth of high-quality education, including creative subjects, which they need to progress to higher education and employment. Failure to do so risks turning sixth-form education into a narrow and restricting experience. That would be bad for students, bad for society and bad for the economy.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for securing this debate. We have heard some thoughtful contributions. I agree with her and other noble Lords who have mentioned the importance of the creative industries. The creative industries are a cultural and economic success story, a high-value, high-growth sector, worth £87.4 billion to the UK economy in 2015. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, rightly mentioned our world-class museums.
The arts also enrich children’s lives. The Government fully recognise that they help develop the self-confidence, resilience, communication and team-working skills that will stand young people in good stead throughout their adult lives, a point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, is right: the creative arts help develop critical skills for business, as he will know from his experience. The Government are determined that all young people should have access to an excellent, well-rounded education, and the arts are central to this.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, asked about the action that we intend to take to ensure that exam boards continue to offer a range of creative subjects at A-level. What do we mean by creative subjects? The noble Baroness, Lady Nye, claimed that the Government have no definition of a creative subject. It is true that we do not set out to be too prescriptive about such a definition. For example, in some subjects, students design and create their own works of art or products, but many other subjects, such as computer science, involve other types of creativity. The Government have recently reviewed the content of every A-level, with input from universities and subject specialists, so that they fully prepare students for further study. Almost 50 new A-levels will begin to be taught between 2015 and 2018, including many arts subjects.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, and many other Peers raised specific concerns about AQA’s recent decision not to develop new A-levels in history of art, archaeology, classical civilisation and statistics. I myself studied history of art at a fine institution on the East Neuk of Fife in Scotland and recognise how such subjects help our understanding of societies and foster skills in critical analysis. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, cited his own personal example. I therefore share your Lordships’ disappointment about this decision. However, contrary to some media reports, I assure your Lordships that this was not a government decision but was taken by AQA. Our intention has always been that there should continue to be an A-level in history of art and archaeology, which is why we published subject content earlier this year. In AQA’s judgment, there are challenges in delivering the qualifications because of the breadth and specialist nature of options, which are taken by a small number of students. These issues are not new. AQA has also cited the difficulties in finding examiners who not only have the subject expertise but the sound assessment knowledge to ensure that all students are awarded the grade they deserve.
The noble Baroness, Lady Nye, and other noble Lords wanted to know what action the Government are taking to secure the future of these qualifications. I can reassure the House that we are taking the matter seriously. As soon as AQA notified us of its decision we opened urgent discussions with the other exam boards on the option for them to offer the subjects. It is of course for individual exam boards to decide which qualifications to offer so I am not in a position to make any undertakings today, but I can say that discussions have so far been positive. I can also reassure the House that students currently studying these subjects for examination in 2017 and 2018 are not affected. The OCR exam board will continue to offer A-levels in classical civilisation beyond this date, and as the House will know, there are alternative qualifications in art history such as the Cambridge Pre-U, which are accepted by universities and count in school performance tables.
While noble Lords, myself included, might wish all young people to have the opportunity to study history of art, and archaeology if it is available, at school—the Government are engaged with other exam boards so that this may happen—we should recognise the wider context. The numbers of students currently studying the subjects are low, and universities do not require an A-level in these subjects as a pre-requisite for degree-level study. However, I am aware of the efforts that the arts world is making to improve take-up, including the fast track AS-level offered by the Wallace Collection.
While small numbers of pupils are likely to study history of art A-level, the national curriculum for art and design ensures that many more pupils have an introduction to this important subject. Its aims include ensuring that pupils evaluate and analyse creative works and know about great artists, craft makers and designers. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, mentioned careers advice, which is a very important point. Young people should have a good understanding of the world of work and the skills needed to do well in the labour market, which is why we are investing over £90 million during this Parliament to ensure that young people have equal access to life-changing advice, including funding for the Careers & Enterprise Company. This will help to ensure that pupils develop skills in visual literacy, which the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, asked about; this reflects the points made about history of art.
The national curriculum is compulsory for maintained schools and includes music, drama, dance, and design and technology. Academies and free schools can use their freedoms to innovate and build more stretching and tailored curricula to meet the particular needs of their pupils or the particular ethos of the school, including promotion of the arts. On the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, on EBacc, I reassure the House that this core academic curriculum can sit alongside a high-quality education in the arts. We have never said that pupils should study the EBacc subjects and nothing else. Indeed, the EBacc is deliberately limited in size, so that there is flexibility for pupils to take additional subjects of their choosing. On average, pupils in state-funded schools enter nine GCSEs and equivalent qualifications, rising to 10 for more able pupils. For many pupils, taking the EBacc will mean taking seven GCSEs, and for those taking triple science, it will mean taking eight. Therefore, there will continue to be room for pupils to study other subjects, such as the arts, which reflect their individual interests and strengths.
We are also committed to ensuring that all children receive a high-quality arts education, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with special educational needs and disabilities. Between 2012 and 2016, this Government invested more than £460 million in a diverse portfolio of music and arts education programmes designed to improve access to the arts and to develop talent across the country. There are too many to mention here but the programmes include the Saturday Club Trust’s art and design club, which provides 14 to 16 year-olds with the opportunity to attend free Saturday morning classes at their local art college or university. These programmes are a direct result of the Henley reviews into music and cultural education—a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton.
The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, spoke about the film industry, which does not surprise me, given his interest. He may be interested to know that the Department for Education provides £1 million for the BFI Film Academy, which I suspect he will know. This is one of the programmes suggested by Darren Henley, whose reports were mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton.
In addition, some schools use pupil premium funding, worth over £2.5 billion overall and up to £1,900 per pupil, to provide cultural enrichment opportunities for disadvantaged pupils.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, highlighted the issue of post-16 funding and I should like to address the points she made about sixth-form funding. This Government believe that every young person should have access to an excellent education and we have protected the base rate of funding for all types of providers until 2020 to ensure that this happens. We have ended the unfair discrimination between colleges and school sixth forms. All providers now receive funding according to the same base rate and we now ensure that funding is based on student numbers rather than discriminating between qualifications. On top of this, we are providing more than half a billion pounds this year alone to help post-16 institutions support students from disadvantaged backgrounds or with low prior attainment. We have also introduced extra funding for large programmes, including those for high-achieving students taking four or more A-levels.
In this short debate, I hope that I have been able to reassure the House that the Government are fully committed to developing young people’s creativity and to ensuring that a wide range of high-quality A-levels is available in the arts and other creative subjects. I have explained that the Government share noble Lords’ concerns about the AQA’s decision to withdraw from history of art and archaeology, and are working with other exam boards urgently to see if a solution can be found. However, these are exceptions; our wider A-level reforms include many arts and creative subjects which are not under threat and will give a fresh, new impetus to the study of arts and the mastery of creativity.