DCMS Select Committee ‘deeply concerned’ about downgrading of arts in schools

A new report released by the DCMS Select Committee today (Tuesday 14 May 2019) has revealed concerns about the downgrading of arts subjects in schools, with all the consequent implications for children’s development, wellbeing, experiences, careers and, ultimately, life chances.

In its recommendations, the Committee wrote: ‘It is not enough for the DCMS and DfE to simply expect schools to provide a ‘broad and balanced curriculum’: they need to take action to ensure that this is actually happening. The Government has not shied away from a prescriptive approach to other facets of education policy, for example specifying which times tables primary school children need to learn.

The report re-iterates the conclusions from the Committee’s earlier Live Music Report in respect of music education, in schools and through Music Hubs, citing they ‘remain deeply concerned about the gap between the Government’s reassuring rhetoric and the evidence presented to us of the decline in music provision in state schools, for which the EBacc is blamed and which affects students from less advantaged socio-economic backgrounds disproportionately.’

The Committee also commended the work of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Music Education in pursuing these issues further, stating they would ‘welcome sight of the Government’s response to each of the 18 recommendations in its recent report ‘Music Education: State of the Nation’.

Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians and Founder of the Bacc for the Future campaign said:

‘We welcome this important and timely report into the social impact of participation in sport and culture from the DCMS Select Committee. This report highlights importance of creative education as a key element of a broad and balanced curriculum for all young people. We were especially pleased to see the DCMS Select Committee calling for the Government to respond to the 18 recommendations of the State of the Nation report, published by the APPG for Music Education and co-authored by the ISM and the University of Sussex.
The recommendations in particular include reviewing and reforming the EBacc to provide a better education for our children. As it stands, the EBacc policy is failing on its own terms – despite the Government’s EBacc uptake target of 75% (rising to 90% by 2025), the rate of take up has plateaued at 38% since 2014. We agree with the Committee that the Government must do more to ensure that schools are providing a ‘broad and balanced curriculum’ and this can only be the case if the EBacc is dropped, or at the very least a sixth pillar added that includes the arts (as the report suggests).

The committee has also recognised the gap between the national curriculum and what is actually being taught in schools in England - for example through the steady encroachment of the EBacc onto Key Stage 3, which further places music lessons at risk. Headline accountability measures should not erode the delivery of a broad and balanced curriculum at Key Stage 3 and should be delivered across all schools at all Key Stages.

Music education is in crisis and the Government must act quickly to ensure music does not become the preserve of a privileged few. The State of the Nation report serves as an action plan for Government and we hope that its recommendations are taken seriously, as the DCMS Select Committee urges.’

DCMS Committee Chair Damian Collins MP said:

'Culture and sport play a major role in how we see our nation. What we’ve focused on in our inquiry is the transformative power of culture and sport not just to enrich the value of our lives but to address a range of long-standing social problems.

'We cannot break the debilitating cycle of gang violence and knife crime just by arresting those who commit offences. Government statistics clearly show that custodial sentences in and of themselves do not necessarily rehabilitate young offenders. In schools, we have seen that sport and culture can improve educational attainment as well as the wellbeing of the students. Social activities like group singing and walking football can improve the mental and physical health of those who take part. Creative arts organisations are taking the lead in regenerating communities, and major sports clubs are using the power of their appeal to change life chances for young people.

'Yet despite this and the many incredible case studies we have seen as part of this inquiry, there is a lack of a credible agenda to harness the power of culture and sport across government. More needs to be done to co-ordinate and invest in community initiatives, share evidence of success and encourage others to emulate examples of best practice.

'We should see more schools extending their cultural and sporting provision where it can be shown that it improves results across the board. More provision should be made to use culture and sport to divert young people away from the pathway of offending. More prisons should encourage partnerships with sports clubs to help rehabilitate young offenders. More Creative partnerships should be developed across the country to support the regeneration of communities. Social prescribing should become a mainstream part of helping people recover from long term health conditions.

'I would also like to record the Committee’s recognition of the value of the work done by volunteers that give so many people the opportunity to take part in programmes across the country.'

Current membership of the DCMS Committee:

Damian Collins MP (Conservative, Folkestone and Hythe) (Chair)
Clive Efford MP (Labour, Eltham)
Julie Elliott MP (Labour, Sunderland Central)
Paul Farrelly MP (Labour, Newcastle-under-Lyme)
Simon Hart MP (Conservative, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire)
Julian Knight MP (Conservative, Solihull)
Ian C. Lucas MP (Labour, Wrexham)
Brendan O’Hara MP (Scottish National Party, Argyll and Bute)
Rebecca Pow MP (Conservative, Taunton Deane)
Jo Stevens MP (Labour, Cardiff Central)
Giles Watling MP (Conservative, Clacton)