Sharon Hodgson, Labour MP and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Art, Craft & Design in Education and access to arts and culture outside the classroom.
I passionately believe that all children should have access to arts and culture as part of a broad and balanced curriculum. Engaging in subjects such as Art, Drama or Music can have a range of benefits for children and young people, as well as holding significant intrinsic value in their own right.
Sadly this is not currently the case, and we have seen the delivery of creative subjects suffer in recent years due to a focus on the English Baccalaureate (EBACC), funding challenges, and teacher shortages.
As part of a recent report by the Fabian Society regarding the decline of arts education in Primary schools and how it can be reversed, 401 Primary school teachers across Great Britain were surveyed.
When asked about arts education and activity in Primary schools they have worked in, and whether provision had increased or decreased since 2010, two-thirds of those in England said there is less arts provision in their Primary school, compared to just 7% who think there is more.
There were also significant concerns around a decline in the quality of provision available, with 49% of English Primary school teachers saying that the quality of arts provision in the Primary schools they have worked in has worsened since 2010.
This depressing trend will come as no surprise to the many people who warned about the potential consequences of the EBACC when it was first introduced.
Access to the arts should not be confined to the classroom. School trips away from the classroom allow children to engage in arts and cultural experiences that may not otherwise be accessible. There is some fantastic work being done in my region of the North East, particularly by the Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums.
In 2017-18, 132,356 children and young people took part in 3,189 activities and visits across these museums and galleries, with 95% of the teachers rating their experience good or excellent. Many of the museums and galleries provide experiences that are grounded in the history and culture of the region, something hugely important in allowing children to build connections with their local heritage.
There are also an increasing number of programmes which families can get involved with, something I think is hugely important.
There are also a number of venues that have created programmes that provide safe and engaging spaces for children with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND). As Chair of the APPG on Dyslexia and Other Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD) I often meet people who use Art or creative subjects to express themselves, and it’s absolutely vital that these opportunities are open to all.
Unfortunately, many children across the country are denied access to school trips. According to the Fabian report, 58% of teachers in England believe their school makes fewer out-of-school arts trips nowadays compared to 2010. One of the key reasons cited is the prohibitive financial costs involved, often relating to the price of transport.
All children should have access to arts and culture outside the classroom, and it’s something I will continue to push for, through my work on the APPG.
Sharon Hodgson is MP for Washington and Sunderland West. She’s also Shadow Minister for Public Health.