Nicky Morgan: An arts education should not be the privilege of a few but a fundamental priority for all. Stop discouraging teenagers away from the arts

Allan Beavis's picture
The Observer reported yesterday that an independent study by the LSE and the Institute for Social and Economic Research challenges the coalition’s claims that the burden of austerity (“We’re in all in it together”) has been equally shared out.

Iain Duncan Smith’s sweeping and punitive changes to welfare benefits and Osborne’s to income tax has resulted in switching from the poorer half of households to most of the richer half, with the poorest 5% in the country in terms of income losing nearly 3% of what they would have earned had Britain’s tax and welfare system of May 2010 been retained. Conversely, the better-off half has gained financially, with an increase of between 1.2% and 2% in their disposable income.

A recent Credit Suisse report found that Britain is the only G7 country where inequality has grown since the start of the 21st century. All the other member states has seen wealth inequality either remain the same or fall since 2000.

Despite pronouncements and image makeovers, “Equality” isn’t a concept, which sits easily on the shoulders of the Conservative Party. Nicky Morgan, both Minister for Women & Equalities and Education Secretary, voted against gay marriage but has now claimed to have changed her mind, perhaps because her new Equalities portfolio would be incompatible with opposing same sex marriage?

As Education Secretary, Morgan recently advised teenagers to steer clear of arts subjects and move towards STEM subjects – with the clear message that science and technology are the only viable options for a successful career and that arts learning is going to hold you back and therefore of limited appeal.

This is very dangerous advice because it basically tells young people that creativity, self expression and spirituality have little value in the world and, worse, if you are good at them, want to explore them, or get fulfillment from art, music, drama, design and so on, then, well…perhaps you’re a bit of a loser.

The coalition’s shambolic education “reforms”, borne of free market principles, engineered by Michael Gove and a cabal of shady advisors and now further fulfilled in less confrontational and more voter friendly way by Nicky Morgan, has demonstrably sidelined and devalued the expressive arts in schools. Uptake has decreased, none of the subjects are included in the Ebacc and higher education tuition fees put off many young people from modest backgrounds into applying to music and drama colleges as well as from doing arts subjects at universities.

I wonder how Nicky Morgan reconciles the concept of Equality with that of Education. The DfE recently announced – again – their determination to raise the achievement of disadvantaged children. Research after research has demonstrated that poverty and poor educational outcomes are related, yet this government and the preceding Labour one introduced more and more punitive and divisive educational policies while failing – or perhaps willfully neglecting – the issue of child poverty and income inequality. Countries like Finland have proved that, in closing the inequality gap, educational attainment soars.

I wonder also how Morgan can explain how private schools have traditionally put arts subjects at the heart of their curriculum whilst she is happy to lecture teenagers, the vast majority of whom go to state schools, that music, art, design and drama are going to hold them back.

No wonder the face of the acting profession is dominated by privately educated actors and our music colleges hugely under representing state school musicians. It makes you wonder whether it suits that section of the financially, socially and culturally advantaged to want to keep the glories of the arts to themselves and the rest can just get a job and become a wage slave to the free market.

So, if students at independent schools enjoy such a rich access to the arts, why – in the name of Equality – should students in state schools not receive the same level of education and enrichment? Within the state sector, provision and resources are haphazard and inconsistent and it’s getting worse. At this calamitous rate, the arts will become the exclusive pleasure of the already advantaged. It is normal in private schools to offer music, creative writing, drama, dance – why is it becoming the exception in state schools?

It should be normal and a right to offer and encourage arts education in all schools because, in denying them, we limit young people’s chance of learning self-expression and achieving personal fulfillment. An education rich in the expressive arts will help significantly in breaking down the barriers which inhibit social mobility and thus make our society more equal and democratic.

Every child should experience the joy of playing an instrument, of singing in a choir. Here they learn about self-discipline, practice, and teamwork.

Acting gives children confidence to speak out and express themselves publicly and in different ways. This is a great skill in any career and in any industry.

Visual art in universal. It helps teaches every child how history has evolved and has been documented in a visual way. It helps them to understand architecture and the world they live in.

Dance, as well as being healthy exercise, opens the door to self-expression and physical discipline as well as an understanding of the way cultures and civilizations have been expressed in dance and movement.

An education rich in expressive arts should not be a privilege for the few but a priority for all. Going to school cannot just be about hitting government exam targets. Educational success should not just be calculated on the number of level of GCSE and A Level passes – this completely misunderstands the point of education. A rounded education equally rich in the arts as well as in the STEM subjects not only turns out more rounded, happy and curious students but is the passport to the social mobility which governments claim they want to achieve but whose policies do the exact opposite.
Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.


Fiona Millar's picture
Mon, 17/11/2014 - 13:58

Couldn't agree more Allan - and great to see you back on LSN!

Andy V's picture
Mon, 17/11/2014 - 17:23

She has clearly never heard of the Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver, which has a huge reputation and pioneers research with several STEM connections. I've had the privilege of visiting the location and touring the faculty exhibition halls that are open to tourists and all I can say is wow, fantastic work and hugely impressive range of inputs and influence across STEM areas from sustainable engineering design through projects to support the physically and learning disabled to fine art and crafts.

So come on SoS Educ. if your predecessor sent junior ministers to China and Singapore isn't it time you took your ideological blinkers off and looked further afield at cutting edge Arts.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 18/11/2014 - 07:54

Andy - I fear junior schools ministers, including the Minister for School Reform, will only visit or take evidence from those places which reinforce their prejudices especially if these prejudices play well in the Mail and Telegraph.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 18/11/2014 - 08:04

'The Digital Human' (Radio 4 Mon 17 Nov 2014) posed questions about the ethics of technology. It suggested it was not enough just to design a digital invention, such as the self-driving car, without considering ethics. It was suggested that firms involved in development shouldn't just employ technical boffins but philosophers and other experts. In other words, research and development should draw on the whole range of expertise not just technology.

By devaluing arts subjects and elevating STEM subjects, the Gov't implies the former isn't as important as the latter. But both are needed.

'The Digital Human' is available here.

Clara Richter's picture
Tue, 18/11/2014 - 09:24

Thank you so much for writing this Allan. You not only address the recklessness of the current government's pronouncements towards arts and humanities but a much deeper issue at the heart of this; inequality.

You raise a very good point and hot topic about the DfE's determination to raise the achievement of disadvantaged children. Just recently in the Great Yarmouth area, Ofsted brought an outstanding school down to good with one of the key factors being that children from deprived backgrounds were not achieving the targets they should. Before we know it an outstanding school with outstanding leadership will be under special measures - an utter disregard and disrespect to the excellent work that this school is doing for its special local area.

Nicky Morgan ignores the research which has proven students with arts degrees are significantly more employable then those graduating from STEM subjects. Research tells us that students with arts degrees have greater communication and problem solving skills, and, creative and adaptive thinking compliments the evolution of business fostering social mobility.

Andy V's picture
Wed, 19/11/2014 - 14:36

"I created the AlloSphere project and instrument. It is the culmination of 28 years of my research in media language/systems design. From my background as a composer and a media systems researcher, the language and instrument have been designed based on the creative process of musical composition and ensemble performance. Think of the AlloSphere as a large immersive scientific, artistic instrument, in which researchers
– typically an interdisciplinary team of artists, scientists and engineers – work together data mining very large and/or complex information. How have you achieved holistic rethinking in aspects of the creative medium, such as data process, perception, interaction, immersion and evaluation? By applying the creative compositional process of sketching in building our computational language and representing very complex information through our senses – namely visual and audio representations that you can interact with – we are enabling the same right brain-left brain process that artists experience when they create a work of art, for scientists and other researchers. This will facilitate the uncovering of new patterns in complex information and allow scientists and engineers to work with their information, perceptually and intuitively, the way that artists do."

I don't about anyone else but this sounds like a wonder example of the arts helping support and inform STEM to add the Clara's input. But don't tell the SoS Educ as it won't fit her and her party's predetermined perception. The latter may be lopsided because it fails to factor the arts in and doesn't therefore optimise the left and right hand sides of the brain. :-( :-)

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 19/11/2014 - 16:11

Thanks, Andy. The quote chimes with the suggestion on Radio 4's 'The Digital Human' (see my comment above) that technical innovation should involve a whole range of expertise not just designers and inventors.

One of my granddaughter's teachers told her, 'There is art in science, and science in art'. That must have impressed her because she repeated it to me. It's a pity this teacher isn't advising the Government.

Andy V's picture
Wed, 19/11/2014 - 16:19

Pleasure :-)

Here's another link that escapes Ms Morgan and indicates that her engagement and enjoyment of music may also be lopsided:

“The mind counting without being conscious that it is counting.” That’s how the the philosopher Leibniz described listening to music. By the time he came along, the idea that music and maths had a deep connection had been around for two millenia. It started with Pythagoras, flourished in the Renaissance, and then faded away in the Age of Reason.

Andy V's picture
Fri, 21/11/2014 - 15:13

"Engineering needs to emphasise its creative side to encourage more young people to take it up as a career, says a leading member of the profession.

Engineers should embrace the arts, Sir John O'Reilly, a fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, argued in a lecture."

On this basis one could say that whilst Ms Morgan has run out of STEAM Sir John O'Reilly has a full head of STEAM :-)

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 22/11/2014 - 10:32

Thanks, Andy. Full STEAM ahead, it is then.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 22/11/2014 - 11:52

All this is true and good stuff. The point is that science and technology is implicitly creative and not in opposition to creative subjects.

However beware gender feminist drivel like this.

"A feminist might also ask us to consider how we typically associate science with general or universal laws, rather than with the understanding of particulars. Have we privileged such knowledge or given it higher status because it is male- (Yang-) gendered? In evolution, for example, we may apply general rules about natural selection, but we are typically interested in specific structures and their specific histories: how did the feather evolve? from what did it originate? what environment or function shaped its development? Here, though general laws may prevail, they are insufficient. Likewise, general laws about the weather do not tell us what specific weather we can expect tomorrow. Again, theory may guide us, but we rely equally on the details. Yet we tend to emphasize the power of general theories, not their incompleteness. In the classroom, do we stress the structure of the periodic table to the exclusion of familiarity with the elements themselves?

Similarly, do we emphasize abstract over concrete? In physics, why do we typically use depersonalized objects, such as metal balls or carts, to test ordinary phenomena? Why not examine motion on an inclined plane by rolling a soup can (complete with label!)--or examine freefall using a heavy physics textbook(!)?"

This is from

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 23/11/2014 - 09:12

Roger - giving arts subjects parity of esteem with science subjects doesn't imply there's a risk that 'gender feminist drivel' will follow especially drivel which appears to think labelled soup cans* aren't 'depersonalized objects' like metal balls.

*Is this supposed to be a reference to Warhol and therefore 'creative'?

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 23/11/2014 - 11:21

Janet - I regard myself as a feminist of the 'equity' variety. The distinction from gender feminism is well explained by Steven Pinker in 'The Blank Slate' (Penguin 2003), pp 341-343. Wikipedia also recognises both the distinction and its controversial nature amongst feminists, plenty of whom also criticise gender feminism.

However, as you imply, the distinction has relevance to the main issue of this thread, so I feel it does need to be addressed. Needless to say, I expect others to disagree with me - this is after all a forum.

First, it is necessary to address the misunderstandings of science in the section that I copied from my link.

Is 'hard' science like physics 'privileged' (in a male dominated society) because it is male? This question follows from another gender feminist foundation belief that maintains that science is (merely) 'a social construct'. Furthermore, as all social constructs are equally 'valid' in cultural terms (cultural relativity), alternative interpretations of science are equally valid to those of (male dominated) mainstream science.

This is, in my view, a very dangerous standpoint leading to failure to condemn 'cultural' practices such as FGM. For me, it also has echoes in the alleged attitudes of some Social Services departments that teenage girls that choose to associate with sexually exploitive groups of older men are making (valid) lifestyle choices.

Now for the science.

Do mainstream (mainly male) scientists emphasise the (Yang) abstract over the (Yin) concrete? This is the wrong question. Only by ascending to a higher order of abstract thinking can the confusing and apparently counter intuitive behaviour of the concrete world be understood. This principle is not confined to science but is shared much more widely in philosophy generally, not to mention the creative arts. The Periodic Table in Chemistry is a very good example. Of course chemists are interested in the actual properties of individual elements and compounds but these make no sense as patterns without the abstract and beautiful explanatory power of the Periodic Table and all the further even more abstract chemistry and physics on which it is based.

Why choose to roll steel balls (male 'Yang' objects), rather than cans of soup (female 'Yin' objects), down slopes in pursuit of the understanding of Newtonian dynamics? Apart from the absurdity that Janet comments on, had Galileo been able to do this, the mathematical patterns that led Newton to his brilliant unifying work would not have emerged on account of the consequences of the soup sloshing about inside the can. Newton's abstractions that so challenge KS4 science students (and their teachers in terms of how to teach them) brilliantly explain the concrete world of the scale that human senses can address, but fail completely at the cosmic scale, for which Einstein's even more abstract relativity theory is needed, and at also at the sub-atomic scale which requires the bizarrely abstract constructs of quantum theory.

That is surely enough on that subject.

However, as the linked article goes on to discuss, gender feminism is even more dangerous in terms of its support for the unscientific 'natural childbirth' movement, which seeks to exclude medical science from the process. This is putting babies at risk in the UK now, through the resistance of a midwifery establishment to high-tech foetal monitoring (by mainly male doctors) which can drastically reduce still births and birthing complications that are unnecessarily damaging and killing babies.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 28/11/2014 - 10:07

'Don't stop the music - children need a proper arts education'. Guardian article yesterday.

Sir Michael Wilshaw called for a description on what constitutes a broad, balanced curriculum, that rather vague concept which all schools are supposed to do. But this doesn't seem to be happening. At the same time some subjects such as music and drama are being squeezed out.

There should be a clear description following consultation and debate about what should be in a broad, balanced curriculum. Then the too-prescriptive National Curriculum, which doesn't apply to academies and free schools in any case, should be scrapped.

Something for Labour to consider when it's not taking pot shots at private schools.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 28/11/2014 - 11:38

I strongly support proper provision and full access to arts education in the mainstream 11-16 curriculum.

However there are only so many hours in the week. This is why there should be no place for any specifically vocational education in the curriculum pre-16, and therefore no place for employer sponsored 'vocationally oriented' schools taking pupils at 11 or 14. Quite simply there are many more, much better things for pupils to be doing during the hours of compulsory school-based education.

A few weeks ago I watched a BBC Countryfile programme, which was bemoaning the demise of KS4 vocationally related 'rural studies' courses with school league table driving GCSE equivalents. There was much talk of City and Guilds and BTEC coming up with new such courses and pressuring the government to accredit them.

Fortunately, the head of the local secondary school was also interviewed. He argued, in my view correctly, that all industries including those that support rural economies, need broadly educated school students at KS4 in terms of all the arguments being made on this thread. So far as progression to farming related careers is concerned this requires high quality post-16 courses at a high level building on the knowledge and understanding gained from GCSE courses in English, maths and the sciences.

Andy V's picture
Fri, 28/11/2014 - 17:08

Part of the issue around a lopsided curriculum is that it invariably fails to educate the whole person and fails to recognise that our national community cannot be made up of all Chiefs and no Injuns.

It follows then that:

Not all can be architects - there is a need for the artisan.
Not all can be electrical engineers - there is a need for electricians.
Not all can be agriculturalists or farm managers - there is a need for farm workers.

Not all top chefs or landscape gardeners/horticulturists gained high academic qualifications.

The old adage is that it takes a village to raise a child can be equally pertinent if rearranged to say that it takes all sorts of citizens with a huge range of interests and qualifications to make a national community.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 28/11/2014 - 18:03

True, but I am not talking about everybody necessarily gaining C+ qualifications. Every child has a right to the chance to become well educated regardless of academic ability and ultimate job choice. This thread includes many strong arguments for school access to culturally rich experiences that vary in academic demand and are not specifically vocational.

This was certainly true at Richard Dawes's school at Kings Somborne in the 1850s.

The important distinction is between developmental education and the illusion of useful job training at the age of 14 or less - widening or narrowing horizons. The widening of opportunities for all children is the ultimate promise of the ending of selection and the creation of comprehensive schools,

It is not just about jobs. Well educated parents (in my view regardless of grades achieved) make better parents and their children do better at school.

My travels in Europe have led me to believe that it is common for members of the general public to speak more than one language and to be articulate, well informed and culturally literate.

This is also true in my experience of Polish plumbers, if you are lucky enough to find one.

I really like Michael Portillo's European TV train trips and the conversations he has with the locals.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 28/11/2014 - 18:47

'It takes a village to raise a child'

This homily is also written on the wall of a local RC primary school where I sometimes deliver my granddaughter for her ballet lessons. It is underneath a large frieze depicting the Stations of the Cross in gruesome detail.

This reminds me of the following extract from Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee.

'The village school at that time provided all the instruction we were likely to ask for. It was a small stone barn divided by a wooden partition into two rooms – The Infants and The Big Ones. There was one dame teacher, and perhaps a young girl assistant. Every child in the valley crowding there, remained till he was fourteen years old, then was presented to the working field or factory, with nothing in his head more burdensome than a few mnemonics, a jumbled list of wars, and a dreamy image of the world's geography.'

I also recall Laurie Lee, when he returned to his village following his extensive and adventurous travels, complaining of the lack of interest shown by villagers in his experiences. I can't remember where I read that.

So I don't have much time for that particular homily. Surely it is not the raising of the child that matters so much as the educating of the child. For this it is necessary to leave the village, both metaphorically and in reality.

Andy V's picture
Fri, 28/11/2014 - 19:10

You appear to be obsessed with skewing threads to the religious, which in some psychological circles might be construed as a concern. While there is no definitive confirmation as to its origin, it is generally accepted as being an ancient African saying.

Judging from the comment it seems prudent to explain the use of the adage. I used it as a method of articulating the idea that all communities are made up a diverse range of citizens and the general view that it is not just parents/families and schools that contribute to the raising of its youngster. I do hope that helps clarify matters and sincerely hope that readers will see that there is no hidden/subliminal religious theme or message. Oh, and before I forget neither am I putting forward any form of homiletic.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 29/11/2014 - 07:46

'...the Education Secretary is so wrong when in her recent speech at the launch of the “Your Life” campaign she stated that arts and humanities subjects will not give young people the skills that they need to pursue a career. She is wrong because she seems to understand education only through the narrow prism of the labour market. An attack on the arts is an attack on education as a whole and on the fundamental importance of a balanced education. Denigrating the arts means also devaluing the sciences, as would be true the other way round.'

Crossbencher, the Earl of Clancarty, House of Lords, 27 November, 2014

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 29/11/2014 - 07:55

‘The status of arts subjects has plummeted.’

Ebacc is biased against the arts.

Additional programmes like music hubs don’t address the real problem: the reduction in funding for wholesale arts education.

‘…music hubs will always be inherently patchy.’

‘The DfE states that 21% of schools with a high proportion of free school meals withdrew arts subjects in 2012’

The Earl of Clancarty, House of Lords (link above), 27 November 2014

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 29/11/2014 - 08:01

‘The idea that we have to choose between arts and sciences is utter nonsense. The two are married together.’

‘…creative and cultural learning supports attainment in all subjects, including literacy and maths.’

‘…the Government are going in the wrong direction on art and culture, and the arts are in danger of becoming more remote from children from working-class backgrounds…children in disadvantaged communities, as well as remote from young people in our regions.’

‘In the end, it is art that defines us as human beings. Therefore, we underinvest in these subjects, and in this generation and future generations, at our cultural, moral and economic peril.’

Lord Cashman (Labour), House of Lords (link above), 27 November 2014

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 29/11/2014 - 08:22

Emphasis on accountability measures has sidelined arts subjects.

Not just STEM but STEAM—science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford (Lib Dem), House of Lords (link above), 27 November 2014

‘Research demonstrates that participation in the arts can help pupils, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, develop those characteristics [communicate effectively and think creatively]. The importance of arts education across the state sector must not be underestimated. ‘

End of Maiden Speech by Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con) after praising free schools, Policy Exchange, the New Schools Network and a couple of specialist performing arts schools which (surprise) specialise in performing arts. This doesn’t quite address the issue of arts subjects in all schools.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 29/11/2014 - 10:04

Janet - Re: your four preceding posts: quite so. What the best teaching and learning in all such subjects have in common is that they challenge, stretch and develop the intellect. There are no intellects so limited as not to be develop-able by such means. Furthermore cognitively developmental gains in any subject area transfer across to all. This is the basis of all developmental theories of learning from Piaget and Vygotsky to Shayer, Adey and their contemporary fellow travellers. It is summed up within the concepts of 'plastic intelligence' (Shayer and Adey) and 'developing capacity for learning' (Guy Claxton).

Andy is right that this is not limited to the influence of school and family but can be lifelong if the right opportunities are provided. For me the classic example of this is Michael Faraday, whose background and education were humble. However as a result of his work as a laboratory technician in the company of other powerful minds, in terms of physics and chemistry he surpassed them all. Faraday's are the 'giant's shoulders' on which the whole of modern physics including relativity and quantum theory are based.

However schooling is the one developmental stage in people's lives that is most susceptible to significant improvement through the actions of a wise and benevolent state. Therefore it is an opportunity that must not be wasted, as Janet points out.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 29/11/2014 - 11:56

The Lords' debate of Arts Education in English schools deserved a thread of its own particularly Lord Nash's reply to the many concerns.Here it is.

Georgina Emmanuel's picture
Sat, 29/11/2014 - 18:50

I have recently returned from two weeks in Singapore. I lived and worked there and in Hong Kong for 21 years. My recent trip coincided with the 30th birthday celebrations of one of the country's colleges of the arts. The prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, was guest of honour at the celebrations. The headline in the Straits Times covering the event read: 'Arts play key role in S'pore's cultural shift' PM.

I joined the college two years after the arts and design schools had opened. As part of the pioneering team I was asked to set up the music school. At that time, many parents were reluctant to invest in any kinds of arts higher education because they feared there was no worthy (and well-paid) career awaiting graduates. The government was also negative about the project fearing that Singapore might become the home of too many unemployed arts graduates. The parents of some of the music students were so sure that their children were making a ghastly mistake that many of the students had to earn their own school fees, which they did, in all kinds of imaginative ways (one even sold fish in the local market).

Now, years later, the graduates have done amazingly well nationally and internationally (and made money!). From being a tiny under resourced college back then, this college has now been housed in a state of the arts multi-million dollar building. This rehousing of arts institutions at enormous cost to the government, is part of what the government describes as 'a cultural and mind set shift'. The article in the Straits Times goes on to state that 'the shift is the emphasis on building many peaks of excellence in different areas to create multiple pathways to success.'

As part of this shift, a conservatoire of music was opened a few years ago that offers full scholarships (covering tuition, accommodation and living expenses) to every single student who is accepted after audition. No means testing then.

Why do I bring this up now? It just all seems so ironic to me - one moment a witness to all of this proliferation of arts education in Singapore and the next, back in the UK where we are actually debating the value of arts education in this country; and the Education Secretary is even suggesting students would be safer choosing the sciences at university! We are the envy of the world in the fields of arts and design. China, for example, is looking to the UK for guidance on developing their arts education.

And to those who might argue that our students need to build up their core skills and knowledge first (e.g. maths, science, English), I can only suggest that they take up arts in some form (if they haven't done so) with a view to seeing how interdisciplinary it can be. It is full of maths, science, and English and what a lovely way to develop these key skills.

Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.