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Drama leaders decry education secretary’s ‘anti-arts propaganda’

Education secretary Nicky Morgan. Photo: Policy Exchange
Education secretary Nicky Morgan. Photo: Policy Exchange
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Cabinet minister Nicky Morgan’s claim that students who choose to study arts subjects such as drama will have limited career options has been labelled “anti-arts propaganda”, with critics saying the education secretary’s comments are damaging to the sector.

Speaking last week at the launch of a campaign to promote science, technology, engineering and maths subjects, Morgan said the idea that studying arts subjects can keep pupils’ career choices open “couldn’t be further from the truth”.

In her speech, the Conservative MP said young people used to be told that STEM subjects led to specific career paths, such as medicine or engineering.

“But if you wanted to do something different, or even if you didn’t know what you wanted to do, then the arts and humanities were what you chose. Because they were useful – we were told – for all kinds of jobs,” she said.

“Of course, now we know that couldn’t be further from the truth; that the subjects that keep young people’s options open and unlock doors to all sorts of careers are the STEM subjects,” she added.

She also described maths as “the subject that employers value most”, and claimed that pupils who study it to A level will earn 10% more over their lifetime. She added that many young people were making choices aged 15 “which will hold them back for the rest of their lives”.

National Drama chair Patrice Baldwin condemned Morgan’s remarks as “myopic”, and claimed it “was no coincidence her anti-arts education propaganda is thrown down like a gauntlet” during a consultation about the future of drama GCSEs.

“The arts develop skills that are useful in many jobs. Drama improves confidence, and develops communication skills, presentation and performance skills, problem solving, and creative and critical thinking,” Baldwin added.

Calling on the government to place equal emphasis on the arts, she said society needed scientists, mathematicians and engineers as well as musicians, artists, actors and dancers.

Meanwhile, Ambassador Theatre Group joint chief executive Rosemary Squire said she was “proud” of her arts and humanities background. “It is vital that the next generation is encouraged to pursue the subjects they are passionate about – whether STEM-based or in the arts and humanities – because it is passion and diversity that drives creativity, and creativity is required to drive all businesses forward, regardless of their field,” she added.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said downgrading the arts was “the wrong message” and added that schools needed to be “offering and encouraging a well-balanced and rounded education”.

But Ian Kellgren, chief executive of Drama UK, said Morgan “may be right in a narrow and limited way”, and agreed there is a shortage of trained people in financially booming areas. But he added: “The wealth and health of a nation cannot be focused just on such areas.”

National Theatre director of learning Alice King-Farlow said that STEM-trained pupils were also needed in the creative industries, but emphasised that drama and arts subjects were “equally brilliant preparation for employment”.

The Department for Education and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport both declined to comment.

 

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