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Drama leaders accuse Nicky Morgan of ‘sidestepping’ arts education

Education secretary Nicky Morgan has been accused of failing to make arts education a priority. Photo: Ian Watts Education secretary Nicky Morgan has been accused of failing to make arts education a priority. Photo: Ian Watts
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Drama leaders have criticised education secretary Nicky Morgan for “sidestepping” the issue of arts teaching in schools.

They claim that subjects such as drama are not being given the importance they deserve in the curriculum.

The comments follow a speech made by Morgan at a Creative Industries Federation event last week, in which she rejected “any suggestion that I or this government think that arts subjects are in any way … less worthy than other subjects for study in school”.

She added that the ‘core’ subjects must be complemented by “high quality arts education”.

However, Morgan has been criticised for not placing the arts more centrally within the curriculum.

Education specialist and former National Drama chair Patrice Baldwin said Morgan was “sidestepping the main issue”, which she said was a decline of drama and arts teaching by trained specialists.

“Cultural learning and cultural experience are important but are too often ‘one-off’ or ‘bolt-on’. This is not the same as continuous learning in the arts through a well-planned arts curriculum,” she said.

The department for education has come under fire over its recent announcements regarding the English Baccalaureate, which does not include the arts.

“There is a very real danger that an arts education vacuum will now develop fast, thanks to the slimmer arts curriculum and the government’s EBacc manipulations,” Baldwin added.

There has been a 23% drop in the number of pupils taking drama at GCSE level between 2003 and 2013, this year’s Warwick Commission report revealed.

Drama UK chief executive Ian Kellgren warned that this decline in children studying the arts at school will have a knock-on effect on young people training and entering the performing arts industry.

He said he was heartened to hear positive rhetoric from Morgan about the arts but added: “Without the arts included in the EBacc and with no clear plan on how children from disadvantaged groups will have access to theatre, galleries and technology, we fear that this admirable goal will not be achieved.”

There have also been calls on the government to promote the arts by adding them to the STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths.

Aine Lark, chair of National Drama, said that not highlighting drama as a key subject and failing to recognise its impact on other aspects of a person’s development were undermining drama teachers across the country.

“Drama is continually being eroded from the school curriculum, and in some instances being ‘delivered’ by non-specialists, including individuals with no professional teaching qualification at all,” she said.

Sadler’s Wells’ artistic director Alistair Spalding, who attended the speech, called on the department for education to follow up on Morgan’s pledge that widening access to the arts would be a priority.

He said that without arts included in the curriculum, “increasingly fewer students will take them”.

“This would represent a major own goal not only in economic terms, jeopardising the pipeline of talent for the creative industries’ sector with consequent loss to the economy, but, more importantly, in social terms, as engaging in the arts at school positively affects students’ confidence, social skills and ability to work with others,” he said.

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