What did she say?
- The headline of the speech was the contribution that a cultural education makes to a young person’s understanding of what it is to be British.
- She stated that she doesn’t recognise the argument that government education policy – particularly the EBacc - is detrimental to the arts in schools.
- She talked about the financial contribution (£460 million) that the Department for Education invested in cultural initiatives over the last parliament.
- She recognised that we need a strong talent pipeline to the creative industries.
What was good about it?
It was great to hear the Secretary of State publicly announce that she would make the strongest possible case to Treasury to ensure similar levels of DfE investment in the next parliament. She said that she believed George Osborne to understand absolutely and be supportive of cultural learning. The DfE money is critical to the cultural learning ecology and to ensuring children are guaranteed culture in their lives. It must continue over the next five years.
The speech made good references to the social mobility argument: that an arts and cultural education is essential and the ‘birth-right’ of every child and young person. It was also good to hear, at one point, the arts and cultural subjects being described alongside ‘the other academic subjects’ – making a clear statement that they have the same rigour and value as the sciences. Nicky Morgan also said that the government would ‘obviously do something about it’ if arts become relegated to after-school activities.
The relationship between creative industries and cultural learning was clearly acknowledged.
This speech was the first we have had from a Secretary of State at the DfE on arts and culture for a long time and it was good to hear the department beginning to engage with some of the issues that concern us.
What caused concern?
There appears to be a vast difference between the DfE’s understanding of cultural learning in schools currently and that of the CLA and our membership. Both Nick Gibb and Nicky Morgan claimed that there is no decline in uptake of arts subjects and therefore no problem – a position that directly contradicts our analysis of their data.
The Department for Education obviously has access to more data than we do, but we cannot work out how the numbers have been organised to show a 1% increase in the number of children taking arts GCSEs since 2010 - when our analysis show a 13% decline overall. There was also no response to a direct question about the falling numbers of hours of arts taught in schools (10% since 2010) and specialist teachers (11% since 2010).
We have repeatedly asked the DfE to show their workings to us on GCSEs, but so far we haven’t seen their stats. If anyone can shine any light on this discrepancy, we would be very grateful, and we will, of course be continuing to push to see the evidence that backs up this position.
Despite the example above of language giving the arts parity of status with other subjects, Nicky Morgan continuously referred to arts ‘opportunities’ rather than arts subjects taught in the classroom by teachers, and ‘appreciation’ rather than art and culture created by children and young people. This is important as extra-curricular arts is very different from (and complementary to) a core curriculum.
There were some troubling nuances in the SoS’s definition of ‘Britishness’: namely that it did not appear to take into account the porous nature of arts and culture. We think it is important to recognise at the highest level that a cultural education should open up opportunities to learn from the traditions, ideas and practices of cultures and communities around the world. We recognise that our own culture is shaped, enriched and inspired by other cultures as well as contributing to them. The SoS’s position was excellently challenged from the floor by CLA colleague Kenneth Tharp of The Place who pointed out that rather than cultural learning helping young people understand Britishness, it helps us all to understand what it is to be human.
As has been the trend over the past few years, there was nothing in the speech about the importance of Youth Work, Early Years or Families, or about how the department engages directly with young people themselves. When asked by a colleague in the audience if she was aware that there is currently no provision for arts and Early Intervention, the SoS said that she was not.
When asked if the role of Ofsted in assessing cultural learning could be strengthened (by implementing our recommendation that schools can only be ‘outstanding’ if they have excellent cultural provision), both politicans said that they didn’t want to use Ofsted as a straitjacket for teachers. This is a very perplexing statement as the government has just announced plans to do exactly this for the teaching of the EBacc subjects.
No new policy
Although it was good to hear some of the warm words about the arts, Nicky Morgan didn't use this opportunity to make any concrete plans or new policy for creative education over this next parliament. We are keen to know exactly how this vision will be implemented and supported.
What can we do now?
- Nicky Morgan called on the creative industries to make a stronger and louder case for the creative skills, knowledge and understanding that the workforce needs, and so, if you are a creative business please do drop her a line to make your thoughts on this known.
- Celebrate and support the teachers and school leaders who are choosing to continue to offer the arts subjects as core components of their school curriculum. If you are an artist, practitioner, partner school or organisation, do get in touch with your colleagues to tell them how brilliant and vital their work is and to talk again about ways you might be able to support one another.
- Keep sending us examples of what is happening locally in your school: email@example.com
- In the short-term it is extremely important that we make the strongest possible case for cultural learning in the next Spending Round.
We will be sharing our key arguments in the next few weeks, but, as our MPs return to their constituencies for recess, we urge all of you to attend a local surgery to talk about cultural education. You can ask your MP to write to Nicky Morgan on your behalf and ask her to champion cultural learning in the Spending Round. Here are some key asks and arguments to help. We'll be developing and refining them over the next few months and would welcome any feedback, case studies or input from our members. Do get in touch if you haven't already.