MPs and Lords are questioning the ‘discounting’ that devalues GCSE arts subjects in the school league tables.
St Boniface's Catholic College, Plymouth via Creative Commons (cc by-nd 2.0)
“Arts should be part of the core curriculum” claimed John Whittingdale MP, Chair of the Commons Select Committee for Culture Media and Sport, at a parliamentary debate this week to address the Government’s response to the Committee’s recent report Supporting the Creative Economy. His view that “the success of our creative industries is an ample demonstration of why it is so much in our interests to make arts a core part of the curriculum” was picked up by MPs from both parties, with the Shadow Equalities Minister Sharon Hodgson making the case for STEM — the focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics in schools — to become STEAM with the inclusion of the arts, to improve the status of arts education in schools.
Hodgson raised specific concerns about the introduction of ‘discounting codes’, the recent reform under which subjects such as fine art and photography are deemed to be so similar that they will be credited as one GCSE rather than two in the school league tables. Arguing that discount codes are deterring young people from taking more than one GCSE in arts subjects, she said: “We would find it absurd to restrict a child by discounting French and German or chemistry and physics, so why do we accept discrimination against creative subjects?” Posing the question “why is the Department [for Education] knowingly and deliberately undermining creativity in our schools?” she also referred to cuts to the numbers recruited into initial teacher training for arts and drama teachers, with a reduction of places from 600 to 350 for art and design teachers since 2009.
Shadow Culture Minister Helen Goodman echoed Hodgson’s view, saying “The broader arts curriculum has been seriously hit by the Government’s approach to performance measurement...”, but she also challenged the Culture Minister Ed Vaizey’s views on the effectiveness of music hubs. She said: “I do not think those are performing as intended. We hear many reports, particularly from the Musicians’ Union, of the undermining of music services, and of the fact that the music hubs are not making up for local authorities’ loss of direct funding as a result of reductions by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.” But Culture Minister Ed Vaizey defended the Government’s record on the arts in schools, saying: “No one has made teaching the arts illegal in schools… A good head teacher and a great teaching staff will recognise the importance of the arts and the fantastic bonus that great arts teaching brings, not just in introducing children to the arts, but enhancing their academic achievement in many other subjects.”
Some of the themes picked up in the debate mirrored those two days earlier in response to a question in the House of Lords on arts subjects in secondary schools. Viscount Clancarty asked what encouragement the Government will give to the take-up of arts subjects in secondary schools and challenged the use of discount codes for arts subjects. Lord Nash replied: “We are looking specifically at how it works as it is so important that schools are not incentivised to offer pupils a narrow curriculum, although it is equally important that pupils take subjects that are distinct from each other. We are reviewing how the discount codes for dance and drama work, and we are also considering whether to allow appeals against the discounting decisions that have been made in other areas if there is evidence to support reconsidering our initial consideration.”