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Culture minister Matt Hancock denies curriculum is being starved of arts education

Matt Hancock MP. Photo: UK government
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Culture minister Matt Hancock has denied that creative subjects are being squeezed out of the curriculum and has urged all schools to ‘follow the example’ of private schools by investing time into the arts.

His comments come following warnings by former Arts Council England chair Peter Bazalgette that not all children are getting a rich cultural education and that it is “vital that arts and culture are not squeezed out of schools”.

Speaking at a House of Lords inquiry into skills in the theatre industry, Hancock responded to claims of arts being pushed out the curriculum.

“I recognise the critique, but we need to be careful about making sure we have a fact-based analysis. The proportion of GCSEs in the arts has risen since 2011/12 until last year, I think that’s one way of measuring it. Arts is in the curriculum until [age] 14 and then the number of GCSEs being taken has risen over the past few years.

“There is in my view no contradiction between a high quality rigorous education that aims at good examination results and good life chances and a rigorous artistic musical and creative element to that education and theatres have a big role to play with this.

“I would argue that the best schools are doing this. Especially with the academy movement and if you look at private schools who have more freedom over their curriculum they put a huge amount of time into the arts and creativity but they don’t do that at a cost to maths and English.”

He added: “Our message to people who lead schools is that the arts help what they would think of as the core subjects and life chances. Drama and theatre helps with English.

“I don’t think this idea that there is a bifurcation between the education establishment and the need for a cultural education is there.”

Hancock also argued the committee should look at “actual evidence” rather than results from surveys.

He said: “There was a National Union of Teachers survey that said something like two thirds of teachers thought there was a drop in people taking GCSEs music but I’m pointing to the people who are actually entering and I’d rather take the actual evidence rather than surveys.

“I know that sentiment, but the problem is you are encouraging others to do the same and for teachers to say ‘well others are dropping music, so we should drop music too’, and I think that’s the wrong approach. We should be articulate about how important music and arts and culture are in education.

“If we say it is all going to the dogs then we may be in danger of people hearing that message and thinking that is the way to go.”

Asked what legacy he would like to leave in education, Hancock added: “I would like the value of the arts in education to be understood by all schools as well as it be understood by the most successful schools. If all schools are as good as the best schools are now then I would be a happy man.”

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