Election 2015 @ After Nyne: The Future of the Arts in Education?

culture magazine

With just days to go before the UK Election, our guest writer Holly Barradell dissects party manifestos to find out how the ground lies with regards the future of the arts in education.

Education is an area that political parties always debate over, but more specifically in the last few years Arts education has come under attack. Many see the damage that has been done by Gove detrimental, it caused so much uproar for Arts teachers, as an Executive member of National Drama I was shocked by the amount of Drama teachers who contacted us with concerns for their jobs, their student number retention and the general slating their subject was getting which was all too distressing for them.

Most teachers are outraged by what the Conservative Party have done to teachers work life balance, the pressure on standards are through the roof, the unrealistic pension age and that’s bad enough for any teacher, let alone having all of that and then your subject ridiculed and belittled if you teach an Arts subject!

So, our chance to have a say by voting in the general election, but what are they saying in their manifestos regarding Arts Education?

Well here is a breakdown to help you decide where to put your ‘X’ this May…

Political Party Education in General Anything specific for Arts Education…
Conservatives They want a war on illiteracy and innumeracy but when will they realise that the Arts in education can help students who struggle with Maths and English? Nothing new to add from the Conservatives they are claiming they have achieved geographical spread during the last five years: “we have made sure that arts funding benefits the whole of the UK.” But have they? Arts Council England have seen huge cuts to their budget and the National Portfolio organisations (NPO) applications success rate has dropped as a consequence; for example in a county as rural and sparse as Herefordshire you only have three NPO’s.

Pledging to train an extra 17,500 maths and physics teachers in the hope of making Britain “the best country in the world for developing maths, engineering, science and computing skills”. Shame they don’t see the technology skills that can be taught in the arts?

Still defining the ‘core’ subjects as English, Maths, Science, Languages and either history or Geography, with all the arts subjects not mentioned…

Liberal Democrats Want to protection education from budget cuts and ensure that qualified teachers are teaching a core curriculum, but will this core curriculum ever give all the arts subject the status they deserve? The Lib Dem manifesto states “arts, creative industries and culture are crucial to Britain’s success and essential for personal fulfilment and quality of life”. The party intends to lead the way with an evidence-based ‘social prescribing’ of arts and sporting activity in order to tackle health conditions such as mental health problems and obesity – it’s a shame that with the Conservative government they have let so much damage happen to Arts education? Will they have the chance to rectify it?
Labour Want to create a Technical Baccalaureate – will this link to the technical elements in the Arts like Music Technology and Technical Theatre? And will this be different to Conservatives current Technical Baccalaureate option?

Want to create new Institutes of Technical Education – I wonder if this will include the technical arts aspects also?

Julie Ward is a Labour MEP and used to sit on the Executive for National Drama, she is very passionate about the arts and the power of arts education, in particular Drama, it’s good to know she is there voicing the opinion and concerns for Drama teachers and educators.


Harriet Harman, the Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, did something a little unprecedented. She promised that Labour’s General Election manifesto would include a bold policy for the arts. She held a public consultation to talk to arts organisations about her manifesto and get their input… Will anything come of this?


Labour have been very clear that they value Art and Culture education and during 1997-2010 we did see the introduction of more arts provision with the curriculum, Arts specialist status schools and DADA funding for starters!


Will Arts education take the ‘centre stage’ they are alluding to?

UKIP Scrap tuition fees for students from poorer backgrounds who take degree courses in the sciences, technology, maths or engineering. What about those in the arts? Don’t forget what the entertainment industry earns for this country!

They want a greater emphasis on vocational education with new apprenticeship qualification options – but they haven’t mentioned if there will be any apprenticeships in the Arts?

UKIP are the only party not to talk about the value or necessity for Arts and culture in society. UKIP also say that they will get rid of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport – is this a good or bad thing?


UKIP talk about cultural values as a tool to bind people together, but wants the celebration of ‘Britishness’ above alternative cultural values, stating a belief that “multiculturalism has led to an alarming fragmentation of British society”. Sadly within theatre, we have thrived from various cultures contributing to the art form. UKIP want to conduct a funding review into public bodies “which promote divisiveness through multiculturalism” this that could have some massive implications for Arts Council England’s work in their area of cultural diversity!

Green Party Want to scrap the National Curriculum – some arts subject (e.g Drama and Dance) aren’t a discrete subject in their own right so does this give the Arts more room to grow or a chance to stop schools offering the arts at all? They are the only party to pledge to reverse the cuts in the Arts and to give an additional £500m to support the arts, although it isn’t clear where these fund will come from?


It is good to hear they speak frankly about the views of Arts degrees being seen as an expensive luxury and that the futures of these degrees are in danger with this sort of viewpoint. They pledge to support the creative areas of the curriculum –but how will they monitor this when they are wanting to scrap a national curriculum?


They haven’t mentioned anything about apprenticeships at all though, in any subject area.


They do talk about giving local authorities the power to encourage local performance and giving fund at local level.

All food for thought, I don’t think I have answered anything here, I am simply stating what they are proposing and questioning it further – but what we must never forget as creative practitioners, whether we are teaching or in the industry, no matter what government throw at us we are always creative enough to find a way through to make the arts survive and thrive regardless!


Holly Barradell is a qualified Drama teacher who trained at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in Stage Management and went on to work professionally in theatre and television before training to teach. Holly has a PgDip in Education and won a teaching award in 2009, she sits as a member of the executive for National Drama and works as a Moderator and Examiner for GCSE and Alevel Drama & Theatre studies as well as being an external subject expert for Ofqual.