Careers Education for Students - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:31 pm on 6th September 2018.

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Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 4:31 pm, 6th September 2018

My Lords, it is my great privilege to be the first to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, on her really excellent maiden speech, and to welcome her to our debates.

I have only one complaint about what she said: she said pretty much all of what I wanted to say and said it all a lot better than I am likely to say it. I therefore apologise in advance for not matching her eloquence. It is, however, a huge personal delight to be the first to speak after her, because I met the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, 20 years ago for the first time at the Royal Opera House, where she was at the height of her very distinguished career as a principal dancer with the Royal Ballet. I am sure I am not the only one among your Lordships who remembers the power and eloquence of her performances, both in the classical ballet repertoire and in the many roles that she created with contemporary choreographers. However, nobody then—or since—could be in her company for long without realising that there is a great deal more to the noble Baroness than her consummate artistry. Her wider influence, and her skill as an advocate for the arts—which she has just demonstrated—began to be felt through the writing, broadcasting and lecturing that she started while she was still dancing.

After she retired in 2001 she turned her demonstrably formidable energy and intelligence first to creating the artist development initiative at the Royal Opera House and then to leading ROH2, which did so much to open up the Royal Opera House to new influences. Since 2012, as she told us, she has led the cultural institute at King’s College London, where she is now vice-president and vice-principal.

Most of us never manage to be exceptionally good at even one thing. The noble Baroness has demonstrated through her career that she is exceptional in everything she undertakes. She showed in her speech today the same power and eloquence that she once expressed on stage, and we are extremely fortunate to have her with us.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, on securing this debate, and, like the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, and the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, I will focus on the creative industries and particularly on the theatre. As I said, I apologise in advance for repeating things already said very forcefully by other noble Lords. In doing so I must declare an interest as the deputy chair of the board of the Royal Shakespeare Company. I must also record particular thanks to Jacqui O’Hanlon, the RSC’s inspirational director of education, who frankly has forgotten more on this subject than I shall ever know and provided me with excellent briefing for this debate. I make no apology for having digested quite a lot of it wholesale into my remarks.

It is of course encouraging that the Government have launched a careers strategy for schools and we have heard many signs from other speakers of optimism about how it might improve things in the future. It is good that there are criteria and a timeframe for it to be delivered, but please let us not forget the immense pressure that schools face to meet all the new expectations put on them while also struggling with reducing budgets. It is also vital, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, said, that the strategy should not concentrate solely on the STEM subjects with which the Government are so preoccupied. Guiding young people towards a career is challenging and always has been, but particularly now because, as the noble Baroness remarked earlier, the World Economic Forum assessed in 2016 that 65% of young people in education today will go on to work in jobs that have not yet been created.

In such a fluid situation the need for students to develop flexible, adaptive, collaborative skills, along with an ability to think critically and independently, has never been more important. These skills, which studying creative and arts-based subjects crucially help to develop, are precisely those which employers of all kinds say are most important to our future prosperity. How sad then that these subjects are being increasingly marginalised in maintained schools, as recent statistics show all too clearly. It is also sad that, as the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, said—I declare a further interest as a member of the Communications Committee of your Lordships’ House, which I may say he leads brilliantly—employment opportunities in the creative sector itself are not well understood in most schools, so students are not being helped to recognise them.

DCMS figures reveal that 6% of all UK jobs are now in the creative industries. The sector has many self-employed freelancers and micro-businesses. Getting a job can often mean creating your own, rather than working for one of our national arts organisations, and career pathways are not always predictable. The sector is diverse, as are the qualifications necessary for industries that include craft, design, music, film, performing arts, cultural heritage, galleries and tourism —of course, all the areas in which digital skills are now so vital. But this diversity is not a bad thing; it is absolutely necessary if the entrepreneurial innovation and ambition which we will rely on more than ever in the coming decades is to thrive. Any careers strategy must include a commitment to sharing knowledge of the opportunities in the creative industries. This will require close co-operation between the Department for Education and DCMS. Can the Minister tell us how that is coming along?

We also need the cultural sector itself to make concrete connections between its education and outreach work and career pathways into the industry. This is already happening in some places: the RSC’s “Next Generation” talent and career development programme is a good example. It targets young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, recruited from schools across the whole country with which the RSC is in long-term partnerships, and offers them opportunities to work with the RSC both onstage and backstage. This can be a life-changing experience for the young people involved, for the sorts of reasons already mentioned by other speakers. These are to do with how little contact many young people have with any sense that these industries might be a place in which they could aspire to work. I hope the Minister will agree that encouragement and resources from government to allow other organisations to follow suit with this kind of programme would be an excellent investment in our future.

Lastly, the Motion tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, refers to “all students”. Jacqui O’Hanlon reminds me that in talking about career opportunities, we must not forget those with special educational needs and disabilities. Current employment rates for young people with additional learning needs are very low, taking in only 4.9% of those who would like to work. Here again the RSC is on the front foot with a pioneering programme of supported internships, developed with one of its partner schools, Woodlands in Coleshill, which has resulted in 61% of participating students getting into paid employment.

Other organisations are also doing amazing work. I take this opportunity to mention, as I have several times in your Lordships’ House, the astonishing achievements of Chickenshed in north London, an inclusive theatre company that has been going since 1974. Some noble Lords may have heard the founders talking about it with Sue Lawley on “The Reunion” last Sunday on Radio 4. Chickenshed welcomes into its theatre groups children and young people of all abilities aged from five to 21, and creates wonderful productions in its purpose-built theatre. If time allowed, I would tell your Lordships about “Stig of the Dump” and “Mr Stink”, but I am afraid I will have to save that for another time. However, Chickenshed also runs educational courses in inclusive performing arts at BTEC, foundation degree and BA levels, and many of its graduates go on to have careers in the arts. It is a shining example of how involvement in the performing arts can transform not only the lives of young people but the perceptions of audiences.

The cultural sector in all its diversity offers opportunity and hope—“hope”, today’s watchword—for the future. Let us ensure that it is not overlooked as the Government’s career strategy develops.