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MPs demand more action from government to stem the ‘downgrading’ of arts in schools

MPs have called on the government to take more responsibility to ensure schools provide the arts as part of a “broad and balanced curriculum”, rather than simply expecting them to do so.

In a new report that advocates for the inclusion of culture in the English Baccalaureate, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee – made up of cross-party MPs – also urged the government to come up with a “clear explanation” as to why it has rejected concerns that arts uptake in schools is declining, when so many organisations are arguing the opposite.

The committee said it was deeply concerned by the evidence it had heard from the sector surrounding the “downgrading” of arts in schools and that the government should take more action to make sure that children are getting access to culture in their education.

“The government has not shied away from a prescriptive approach to other facets of education policy, for example specifying which times tables primary school children need to learn,” it said.

The report comes as part of an inquiry by the committee into the social impact of participation in culture and sport, and is led by evidence given to the inquiry last year.

The committee said arts education was the area “where there was the largest gap between government’s policy intentions… and the lived experience of organisations submitting evidence”.

“This gap urgently needs to be closed, including through a clear explanation from the DfE and the DCMS of the figures on cultural education that they hold, and why these seem to differ from those used by cultural organisations concerned about arts education,” the committee said.

The government has maintained that uptake of arts GCSEs in schools has not suffered since the introduction of the EBacc, with the minister for schools standards, Nick Gibb, arguing that figures have remained “broadly stable”.

This is despite figures from arts education campaigners claiming there has been a 35% decline in the uptake of arts subjects at GCSE between 2010 and 2018. This includes a 10% decrease between 2017 and 2018 alone, according to the Cultural Learning Alliance.

The committee’s report continued: “The minister for school standards told us he wanted to see an increase in the number of pupils taking arts subjects at GCSE and A Level. The best way to ensure that this happens is to add these subjects to the EBacc, as recommended in our recent Live Music inquiry and by our predecessor committee in 2013 in its Supporting the Creative Economy inquiry.”

The Live Music inquiry, which published its report in February, claimed that music education was in crisis as a result of the EBacc, which is having a “devastating” effect on music in schools.

Music education ‘crisis’ laid bare in parliamentary report [1]

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said in response: “This is a government that takes the arts in schools extremely seriously which is why music and art remains compulsory in the national curriculum from age five to age 14. It’s also why between 2016 and 2020 the government is spending nearly half a billion pounds on a range of music and arts projects including supporting programmes such as the Saturday Art and Design Clubs and the National Youth Music Organisation.

“The proportion of young people taking at least one arts GCSE has fluctuated but remained broadly stable since 2010.”

What is the EBacc?

The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) was first introduced by government in 2011 as a performance measure for schools.

It comprises a set of core subjects that are compulsory for all those taking the EBacc. These are English, maths, science (either double or triple award), a foreign language and either history or geography.

This means students will take a minimum of seven GCSEs.

Under the government’s current plans, 90% of English secondary school pupils will be studying the EBacc by 2025.

The EBacc: Everything you need to know [2]