Downgrading the importance of arts lessons will put the North East’s creative industries at risk, MPs have warned.
Across the region thousands are contributing to a £70bn creative industry, from website designers to the brains behind the computer games of the future.
That success could be jeopardised, Labour MPs have claimed, as a result of a Department for Education decision to exclude creative subjects in the gold-standard English baccalaureate performance benchmark.
Washington MP Sharon Hodgson, who chairs the all-party group on art, craft and design in education, said the status of arts education in schools had to be changed.
“The impact of that discrimination is that schools are pressured to deter or even prevent students from doing similar creative subjects, not to impact their league table status,” Mrs Hodgson said.
The Labour MP added: “Although the traditional subjects of English, maths and the sciences are and will always be important, it is also important that young people are creatively and culturally literate. As we have heard, the gaming industry is a perfect example of where both the traditional and the creative can be merged to create competitively skilled employees.
“Web-based games such as Moshi Monsters and RuneScape have more than 100 million registered users between them. With two out of every three households playing video games – a number that I am sure will keep rising as they become an ever more pervasive feature of smartphones – it is an industry booming like never before, and it is crucial that our education system is geared towards creating the pioneers of tomorrow.”
In Tyneside alone almost 8,000 people are employed by 1,775 creative and digital businesses, with an annual turnover of £866m.
In a parliamentary debate Mrs Hodgson was backed by Durham MP Helen Goodman, who said schools were noticing the change in Government policy. She told MPs: “Since 2010, there has been a 14% drop in the number of children taking arts subjects at GCSE. We must incorporate arts into the curriculum at the same level as other subjects.
“I cannot do better than quote a letter from my constituent, Jonathan Carney. He is head of visual arts and photography at Redcar academy and, in preparation for this debate, he wrote to me, saying: ‘I am very concerned that the current disincentives to study arts subjects in schools will have a serious impact on the pipeline of UK workers in to employment in the Creative Industries and more broadly on our children’s ability to compete in the global jobs market.
“Employers look for well-balanced, well-rounded individuals who are capable of expressing themselves and thinking creatively.’
“We would all agree with that; none of us could have put it better.”
Ms Goodman added: “One thing that is a bit worrying about the Secretary of State for Education’s approach is that he seems to think that those subjects are not intellectually rigorous. Has he not met an architect or listened to a jazz pianist? Of course those subjects are as intellectually rigorous as mathematics, Latin grammar and English literature. It is patently absurd to think that rigour is only in one part of the curriculum and not in another.”
Culture minister Ed Vaizey defended the Government’s focus.
He said: “I passionately support the arts and would be concerned if I thought that some of what people allege about the state of the arts in schools was genuine.
“The Secretary of State for Education is a fantastic supporter of the arts. I have no doubt about that, and I work closely with him, as I have done for several years.
“One of the first things that we did was jointly to commission Darren Henley to look at music education, to secure the ring-fenced funding of music education services at a time when most funding was being devolved to schools, and when schools were becoming academies, as they still are.
“I felt that it was important to take that strong position.”