Former Royal Ballet principal dancer and peer Deborah Bull has criticised the omission of culture from last week’s Queen’s Speech, calling for a commitment to improving arts education.
In a debate about the speech, held in the House of Lords on October 22, Bull said there had been a “void” where references to the arts should have been.
Bull, who was made a life peer in 2018, said she welcomed the speech’s ambition around ensuring “all young people have an excellent education”, but said: “I regret that it does not explicitly include a commitment to reversing the decline in arts provision in state schools.”
“Report after report has detailed the reductions in hours and teacher numbers and the number of students taking arts subjects at GCSE and A level, yet ministers are still reluctant to acknowledge that there is a problem,” she added.
Bull argued that arts education teaches confidence, communication, problem-solving and resilience.
“Independent schools have long understood this, selling themselves to parents on the basis of high-quality arts provision. Meanwhile, art is squeezed out of education for 93% of the population,” she claimed.
Responding to her comments, Nicola Blackwood, parliamentary under-secretary of state for health and social care, said the government was committed to the concept of “a broad and varied education”.
“As a former musician myself, noble lords are preaching to the choir when they emphasis the value of creativity to society and its role in preparing children for the future,” she said.
In her speech, Bull also touched on Brexit, highlighting the complications and challenges that will be faced by freelance talent.
She said: “Perhaps the minister might take away the suggestion [made during the debate by fellow peer Kamlesh Patel] that the more accessible visa system promised for scientific talent might reasonably be extended to cultural and creative talent too.
“As we work to rebuild our global reputation after Brexit, the soft power our artists and cultural organisations generate for the UK will be more important than ever before.”
Blackwood responded by saying she would “take away the sensible suggestion that [the fast-track visa for top scientists] be expanded to include the cultural and creative sectors”.