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Genista McIntosh: ’Government has consistently ignored arts education for 20 years’

Genista McIntosh

A succession of UK governments have exhibited a “consistent failure” to understand the importance of arts education over at least two decades, according to a former National Theatre and Royal Opera House boss.

Genista McIntosh, who was executive director of the NT from 1990 to 1996 and 1997 to 2002, chief executive of the Royal Opera House in 1997 and is also a Labour peer, was speaking during a House of Lords debate on September 14 about the English Baccalaureate and its impact on arts subjects.

She identified the issues around the EBacc as stemming from a “broader problem” that affects the entire school system.

“That problem is the consistent failure on the part of governments for at least 20 years — obviously, I am not making a party-political point, although it has got a lot worse in the last few years — properly to grasp the value and significance of arts education, cultural and creative.”

She added that this had little to do with individual minsters but centred around policy and a “growing emphasis on education as a largely utilitarian process”.

McIntosh went on to call on the government to commit to requiring Ofsted to withhold ‘outstanding’ status to any school that does not provide a full range of creative opportunities.

“This really matters. The government should say so unambiguously and make it stick,” she said.

Responding, Conservative peer John Nash said a major Ofsted study of the curriculum was currently underway and its outcome would inform the body’s approach to school inspections and also the government’s stance.

McIntosh was one of a number of peers criticising the effect the EBacc has had on the arts in schools, with Liberal Democrat peer and culture spokesperson Jane Bonham-Carter claiming the measure had led to creative subjects being “abandoned by state schools”.

She also criticised the government for omitting the decline of design and technology entries or recent Ofqual figures when analysing the effects of the EBacc on subject uptake.