Are we facing a collapse in creative education in schools? Are dark forces at work?

Figures from the House of Commons Library reveal that the number of art, music and drama teachers has fallen by 3,500 since 2010 and that there are now 600 fewer music teachers, 1,200 fewer art and design teachers and 1,700 fewer drama teachers.

What do the party manifestos say about Creative Education?


While the Conservative manifesto, Forward, Together focuses on the impact of Brexit, there is a commitment to offer ‘strong support for the arts’.

This includes ensuring more support outside London, while also offering (as Labour has) to maintain free entry to the permanent collections of major national museums and galleries. The party will also introduce a new cultural development fund to use cultural investment to ‘turn around communities’.

It will hold a Great Exhibition of the North in 2018, to celebrate achievements in innovation, the arts and engineering, while also supporting the development of the new Edinburgh Concert Hall in the 70th Anniversary Year of the Edinburgh Festival.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has also launched his party’s manifesto. With a heavier focus on the arts in education, the party has vowed to ‘protect the availability of arts and creative subjects in the curriculum and act to remove barriers to pupils studying these subjects.’

The Liberal Democrat manifesto, Change Britain’s Future, states that schools should be free to encourage children to participate in a ‘truly rounded curriculum including the arts, sport and culture that broaden children’s learning and develop their passion for education.’

Labour has promised to provide a £1 billion culture fund and to end cuts to local authority budget funding if it wins the general election next month.

In the party’s election manifesto, published on May 16, Labour said it would introduce a cultural capital fund, totalling £1 billion, to “upgrade our existing cultural and creative infrastructure to be ready for the digital age”.

The fund would also invest in creative clusters across the country, designed to boost economic growth through culture.

It would be administered through Arts Council England over a period of five years, and is described by Labour as “among the biggest arts infrastructure funds ever”.

Labour has also promised to end local authority budget cuts, which have resulted in widespread cuts to the arts nationwide.

Figures also show that the number of hours of art, drama and music taught has fallen almost 38,000 since 2010. Yet the creative industries now account for one in 17 jobs and it is calculated that they are worth £87 billion a year to the country.

Vicky Featherstone is the artistic director of the Royal Court Theatre in London.

John Tiffany is the director and co-creator of the record breaking ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’.

Both have expressed their fear that if all of these trends continue a wide range of talent will be lost to the next generation. If the next government do not inject more money into arts education it is unrealistic to expect theatre companies, especially outside of London, to take up all the work once undertaken by schools.

John Tiffany spoke at an awards ceremony last month saying:

“It’s unbelievable how little infrastructure there is to celebrate people who want to be educated in the arts, and it’s kind of sending me crazy. If I could I would put a different government in place and put arts at the heart of any kind of education and learning.”

Sir Kenneth Branagh added his voice to the concerns:

“Theatre and film also play a role in expanding people’s points of view and broadening minds, which makes a real difference to society. In the arts industry it’s a proven fact how small investments return massively more than was spent, and the cultural impact it has on our children is huge.”

Paul Roseby is artistic director of the National Youth Theatre.

“I’m worried. Worse. I’m angry. The fundamental nature of what theatre practitioners, drama teachers, creative leaders, writers, designers, musicians and stage technicians do is being devalued. Its perceived value is plummeting even beyond our precious, sovereign pound after the European Union referendum. If we are really serious about finding the Mo Farahs of the film world, and the Tanni Grey-Thompsons of the theatre world, we must begin to fight the prejudice against the arts in bolder, simpler terms. Theatre arts and sport command the same disciplined team-building skills and provide the same adrenaline-making confidence boost.”

Is the only way to secure meaningful change – to put the arts on the same footing as sports – by making a certain amount of hours a week compulsory for creative learning taught by drama teachers in every school?

What is certainly true is that the arts should not be left to after-school clubs or parents to provide.

Mike Hodgkiss

Mike Hodgkiss has 36 years teaching experience in the secondary sector, twenty years as a deputy head in an 11-18 comprehensive school in Essex. He was a governor of a primary school for several years. He has led and coordinated training for staff in many aspects of teaching, learning and leadership not just in this country but in Europe too. He has written for EuroSchoolNet on international and citizenship projects and for ASCL's leadership magazine. He is currently editor of @Teachtalks.

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