‘Creativity crisis’ looms for English schools due to arts cuts, says Labour

Number of GCSE music and drama students fell by a fifth over last decade, research finds

Schools in England face a “creativity crisis” with the number of creative arts students and teachers down by as much as a fifth in some subjects after a decade of underinvestment, Labour has warned.

Pupils’ engagement in the creative arts is considered by many to be a key factor in their recovery from the pandemic yet, according to Labour, specific government funding for music, arts and cultural programmes will equate to just £9.40 per pupil this year.

New analysis of government data shows that the number of GCSE music and drama students has fallen by a fifth over the last decade, Labour says, a trend mirrored by a drop in the number of drama teachers.

In addition, one in seven music teachers and one in eight art and design teachers have left the profession, Labour’s analysis has shown.

School reforms have caused pupils to move away from arts subjects such as dance, music and art, and towards more traditional academic subjects such as geography and English.

In further education, there was an outcry in May from artists and musicians who accused the government of neglecting the country’s “cultural national health” after becoming aware of plans for a 50% funding cut to arts subjects at universities, which could come into effect from this autumn.

The shadow schools minister, Peter Kyle, said the government’s refusal to back school arts threatened children’s recovery from the pandemic and the country’s future prosperity. He said creative industries contribute £11bn to the UK economy, but warned that this would be under threat if fewer pupils had the chance to learn such skills.

He said: “Parents across the country want their kids to thrive and to bounce back stronger than ever from this pandemic. Pupils want to draw, act and sing – and through doing that, they’ll make friends and develop their creativity.

“After a decade of failure on school arts, the Conservatives are out of step with parents’ priorities. Labour is calling on ministers to back our children’s recovery plan, and fund the activities all children need to learn, play and develop. Our kids, as well as the economy of tomorrow, can’t wait.”

The study of music is an area of particular concern, with critics warning that it is increasingly becoming the preserve of wealthier families. Earlier this week, a report by the schools watchdog, Ofsted, said the study of music was in decline not only at GCSE and A-level, but also earlier in a child’s education.

Music provision for children in key stage 3 (ages 11-14) has been reduced, the report finds, and primary-level trainee teachers are offered shrinking amounts of musical training. “And with reduced lesson time, this has been accompanied by lower levels of staffing to support a school’s rich musical life,” the report says.

A Department for Education spokesperson said the proportion of young people taking at least one arts GCSE since 2010 had remained stable. “We have committed to an ambitious and long-term education recovery plan, including an investment to date of over £3bn, to support children and young people to make up for the learning and experiences they have missed out on during the pandemic.”

Responding to a parliamentary question from Labour last week, the school standards minister, Nick Gibb, said the government had delivered the largest cash boost for schools in a decade. He said: “This government values the arts and supports the creative arts throughout the education system.

“Alongside funding for schools, the department has invested nearly £620m from 2016 to 2021 in a diverse portfolio of music and arts education programmes to ensure all children, whatever their background, have access to a high-quality education in music and arts. A further £84m has been made available for music programmes and a range of arts and cultural programmes in this financial year.”


Sally Weale

The GuardianTramp

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