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Queen’s Speech - Debate (6th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:20 pm on 22nd October 2019.

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Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 9:20 pm, 22nd October 2019

My Lords, it really is a pleasure to contribute to this debate. While I cannot claim to have listened to every single speech, it has been a great pleasure to listen to the many that I have heard, which have been notably well informed. I know that the Minister will have a very difficult task in winding; I can see from her face that she has worked that out already. I also know that she has been listening very carefully and I very much hope that she is not alone.

We have been told several times already what the gracious Speech says about education—which is frankly not very much and certainly nothing that it would be possible greatly to disagree with. In fact, no Government in modern times would really have said anything different, which suggests that this is a largely policy-free area. The real question is not what you say about aspiration but what you do to make sure that that aspiration is achieved. In opening, the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, who is in her place, talked about additional money. That is of course very welcome, but it is not the whole story if there is nothing to say about content.

I will ask the Minister to pick up two recent reference points. One of them, the Durham commission report which was published last week, has already been mentioned several times. The commission was of course graced by the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, among others and was chaired by Sir Nicholas Serota. Last Saturday, the Guardian summarised the report’s significance rather well. It said:

“The report, put together in collaboration with academics from Durham University, concludes that creativity is not something that should inhabit the school curriculum only as it relates to drama, music, art and other obviously creative subjects, but that creative thinking ought to run through all of school life, infusing the way human and natural sciences are learned”.

The second reference point is a current Science Museum and Radio 4 collaboration which I have been very much intrigued by. It is called “The Art of Innovation” and is co-presented by the director of the Science Museum, Sir Ian Blatchford, and his colleague, the head of collections, Dr Tilly Blyth. It is a whole range of perfect little programmes about how art and science have inspired each other. I highly recommend them to anybody who has not already heard them. Both of these things point in the same direction, as did Sir Ken Robinson’s report, All Our Futures, 20 years ago. Like the Durham commission, he emphasised that creativity can be taught.

Art, science and mathematics all rely on creative thinking, curiosity and imagination—as the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, for example, said earlier. In my view, all start with the same question, which is, “What if?” Asking this question requires the confidence and courage in both students and teachers to challenge, doubt, question and get things wrong. Nothing in current education policy supports this approach, even though many fine teachers try every day to encourage it. The emphasis on testing knowledge has been shown to narrow focus, and to breed caution and anxiety. At this point, I refer to the many contributions that have touched on mental health. Mental ill-health in young people is a serious matter and something that we are not currently dealing with very well in either the NHS or the education system. We could do better quite easily.

The day I hear a government Minister say from the Dispatch Box that he or she understands that education is far more than the acquisition of knowledge; that young people need imaginative reach in all areas of learning; that simply getting more students to take exams in drama, art or music, while very important, is by no means enough; that passing exams is only one measure of educational success, not the be all and end all; and that these things will be reflected in future policy will be a good day for me. I hope that when the noble Baroness comes to wind up she can make my day.