The House of Lords Queens Speech Debate, 2016

Following the Queens Speech, Wednesday 18 May 2016, the House of Lords debate took place Thursday 19 May.

Lord Nash, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education, opened the debate, followed by members of the House of Lords, many of whom provided evidence and support for media and culture. Lord Casman examined the impacts of the arts on his own education and the potential impact of the English Baccalaureate on education:

''I turn now to education and particularly to education and the arts. My life was, arguably, changed by arts in education. I failed my 11-plus and I remember when I went to my secondary modern school they gave up on me. You could see it in the eyes of teachers who did not know what to do with this energetic rebel. Yet, a drama teacher—Bill Everett—saw something. It was because of him that I spent a lifetime in the arts and creative industries. And we are in the creative industries. Here in both Houses, we use our creative talents to imagine something better. We pool them to bring forward solutions to problems that other generations have tussled with for thousands of years. One of our brilliant policemen came up to me and said, “It is nice to see you still performing, my Lord”. I said, “Actually I gave up performing some years ago”. “No, you haven’t”, he said, “I have seen you in the Chamber”.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, said, let us celebrate the enormous talent base in this country. Let us celebrate it around the world. It has not happened by chance; it is because we have invested in talent and education which changes people’s lives, hearts and minds. This is why I believe that all students should have access to drama as a subject in schools, taught by specialist-trained drama teachers with qualified teacher status. Drama is a distinct art form and should have its own subject status, separate to English, in both primary and secondary schools. For drama to be engaging before GCSE level requires trained and qualified drama teachers in secondary schools. In primary schools it requires high-quality, in-service drama training as a minimum. English teachers are not usually drama trained and drama should not be seen just as a method of English teaching.

I hope that the Government will seize this opportunity to review their narrative around the English Baccalaureate, against which the arts community fought so valiantly. It sent a damaging signal to downgrade the arts in education. This has happened. The number of children sitting arts GCSEs is declining steadily. It is down in music and drama, and film is excluded from the curriculum altogether. Teacher training places in arts education have been cut by 35% and the numbers of specialist arts teachers have fallen. This makes no sense for the arts and our creative industries. It makes no sense in wider educational terms either. We must reject the binary choice between science and arts. We need our young people to grow up to be problem solvers—to be creative and analytical, innovative and inquiring in their chosen profession. We do not need them to live their lives in closed silos, shut off from the possibilities of imagining other approaches and other ways.

I believe that, in the end, it is art that defines us as human beings. We underinvest in this and future generations at our cultural and economic peril. We need a curriculum that embrace arts in all its forms and place it at the centre of how we all explore the world.''


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