Save Our Subjects: Joint meeting of Arts Education APPGs

On the 13 May 2024, The All-Party Parliamentary Groups for Music Education; Art, Craft and Design Education; and Dance Education met in parliament. This was a special session to discuss the impact of accountability measures on arts subjects, and how education policy can change to support arts subjects in English schools. 

The meeting was organised by the Secretariat organisations for the respective APPGs: The Independent Society of Musicians (ISM), The National Society for Education in Art and Design (NSEAD) and One Dance UK. It was co-chaired by Wera Hobhouse MP, Chair of the Music Education APPG, and our Sharon Hodgson MP, who is Chair of our own APPG. Sharon is an enthusiastic supporter of arts education and is a member of all three groups. 

This was an important drawing together of Parliamentarians from the three APPGs to discuss the urgent issues being raised by the Save Our Subjects campaign. The meeting was held at Westminster, with a wider sectoral audience joining via online link. Lord Kenneth Baker spoke about the findings and recommendations of the Lords Education for 11-16 Year Olds report. 

Lord Baker said: 

For 14 years we have been teaching an Edwardian Curriculum. The subjects that we teach now, are exactly the same as those listed for secondary schools in 1904. Except in 1904, there was one extra subject, drawing!

‘We need to build a national curriculum which removes the accountability systems and testing at age 16. The UK is the only jurisdiction that tests so much. Our obsession with tests, mean we are losing time – time that could be given to employability skills. UTCs there is 1-2 percent unemployment with their school leavers; in other state schools there is 12 percent.’

Sophie Leach, Deputy General Secretary presented a sobering summary of the current state of arts education in state schools. Drawing upon a joint policy briefing paper produced by the ISM and the Save Our Subjects campaign organisations, sheset out the impact of the E-Bacc and Progress 8 on the amount of curriculum time, the quality of provision, and the teaching workforce: 

As the creative arts lose curriculum time, teacher numbers reduce. This in turn leads to fewer options being made available. We have long warned about the breaking of the talent pipeline – of young people moving through education and into the creative sector. We now face a hemorrhaging of teacher talent, with equally devastating effects. The conditions have been created for an arts emergency, and the Save Our Subjects campaign implores policy makers to take notice, to understand the causes, and to take action.’

Jasmine Ainsley-Kaur, dance student and ambassador for One Dance UK, gave a moving account of her journey to become a dancer. She gave a clear illustration of what is at stake if young people like her are excluded from opportunities to develop their talents and interests in the creative arts. Jasmine said: 

'Dance should be for everyone and not just a lucky dip’

Sharon Hodgson MP shared Labour’s proposals for Education and their commitment to ensuringthat creative education is no longer compromised by accountability measures and damaging subject hierarchies.

Colin Stuart from the ISM closed the meeting with a summary of the Save Our Subject asks, offering concrete proposals and policy direction to immediately address the crisis in arts education.

On the same day a coalition of 14 organisations and campaigning individuals released a joint statement urging all political parties toact to avoid an ‘Arts Apocalypse’. The coalition which includes NSEAD and One Dance UK called for education and arts trade unions, subject associations, arts educators, arts organisations to be assured a seat at the table when the curriculum is reviewed.

NSEAD General Secretary commented:

‘For 14 years, in our work with the Art, Craft and Design in Education APPG, with the strong and unwavering support of Chair Sharon Hodgson MP and The Earl Clancarty, NSEAD have presented compelling research, analysis and proposals to address the continuing, calamitous decline in arts education. The partnership with our fellow subject associations through the Save Our Subjects campaign, has brought focus and collective action to this vital work. NSEAD actively collaborates with a number of organisations and advocacy groups including the Cultural Learning Alliance, the #ArtIsEssential campaign coalition and the Arts Apocalypse coalition. 

'The more we work together, the stronger our cause. Our subjects are in danger, our politicians must listen, and act – before it is too late.'