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New government

Welcome to the new Labour Government!

In this special ‘new government’ edition of our newsletter, CLA reflects on the new appointments in the Department for Education and DCMS (the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), and what these signal in terms of likely policy changes. We also revisit the Labour manifesto pledges for arts education, consider the extent to which they match our blueprint for change, and highlight what we want to see from the Labour team during its first 100 days.

Do take a moment to let us know what changes you want to see from the new Labour government in its first 100 days …

The people

Secretary of State for Education, Bridget Phillipson

So what do we know about our new Secretary of State for Education? We know that she was state educated, that she was a recipient of free school meals, and credits the Education Maintenance Allowance with her decision to pursue A-Levels. She was keen on singing and acting when she was young, and her mum signed her up for a drama class at her local community centre to boost her confidence. She ended up being an extra in Byker Grove! So Phillipson has first-hand personal experience of the benefits of the arts in children’s lives.

Phillipson was first elected as Labour MP for Houghton and Sunderland South in the 2010 General Election. She has been a member of the Shadow Cabinet since 2020, and a key figure in Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party. During the 2024 General Election campaign she has taken a central role, particularly given the prominence of Labour’s policy proposal to impose VAT on private school fees.

Having been a member of the Home Affairs Committee from her election until November 2013, Phillipson was promoted to Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury by Keir Starmer in 2020. Working in this role for a year and a half, Phillipson was then appointed as Shadow Secretary of State for Education in November 2021. Since her appointment as Shadow Education Secretary, Phillipson has been a regular for the Labour frontbench in media and is regarded highly amongst colleagues and across Westminster. In post, Phillipson has focused on early years provision, free school meals, and teacher training, recruitment, and retention.

Phillipson has been vocal on Labour’s intention to introduce VAT on private school fees, which the Party says will generate £1.7 billion in additional revenue. She has previously stated that she believes “parents can make decisions about where they educate their children,” but “personally it is not a choice I would make,” caveating that “I just happen to believe that the taxpayer shouldn’t be subsidising that choice.” She has spoken favourably of her experiences of state education and has argued that falling rolls in the school system will create “ample space” in state schools if independent school pupils migrate to the state sector. Phillipson, alongside colleagues in Labour, has suggested private schools should “seek to absorb” any increase in costs, rather than passing the burden of the cost on to parents through higher fees. She commented, “State schools have had to make some really tough choices in recent years, and I think private schools might like to consider how they cut their cloth.”

Phillipson has previously spoken about being a recipient of free school meals herself. One of Labour’s key policies throughout the General Election campaign has been the introduction of free breakfast clubs in all primary schools, funded by the imposition of VAT on private school fees. Phillipson has argued introducing free breakfast clubs will boost academic attainment and support parents’ ability to work. Labour has committed to rolling out free breakfast clubs in primary schools, as outlined above; however, the Party has stopped short of committing to universal free school meals, already in place in Labour run-Wales and London.

Phillipson has acknowledged the ongoing difficulties around the recruitment and retention of teaching staff, with the new government committing to hiring an additional 6,500 teachers. She told the 2023 Labour Party Conference, “We are working on planning around how we bring it to life, looking at what we did last time around and how we make teaching a more attractive place to be.”

Phillipson has emphasised her commitment to reforming the inspection regime. She previously stated that “I am clear that under Labour the days of one-word judgments will come to an end.” Labour’s manifesto includes replacing a single headline grade with a new report card system, bringing multi-academy trusts into the inspection system and introducing a new annual review of safeguarding, attendance and off-rolling.

At the 2023 Labour Party Conference, Phillipson announced Labour’s plans to undertake a review into the early years sector. Labour plan to increase the number of primary school-based nursery provision, introducing 3,300 new settings across the country, and will review the removal of restrictions on local authorities from opening nurseries.

Phillipson has frequently spoken about the importance of education in her own life, describing herself as fortunate to have grown up in a family that valued education. She has previously stated that free school meals and the education maintenance allowance were critical in her staying on to complete her A-Levels.

Phillipson previously commented on the National Tutoring Programme, describing it as a “disaster”. Speaking at the 2023 Labour Party Conference, she said “We know that the pandemic has had an impact and will cast a long shadow over the next decade and more because the government failed to deliver a proper plan.”

Labour intends to introduce a review of curriculum and assessment, putting an emphasis on providing children with “both the knowledge and skills not merely to face their futures but to shape them” – including, as the Prime Minister has previously mentioned, oracy.

Commenting on changes she would like to see to the curriculum, Phillipson has said “there is a real issue around creativity in our state schools and the lack of access that state school students have to music, sport, art and drama.” Phillipson said that she does not believe this “should be the preserve of just those whose parents can afford to pay for extras on a weekend or after school,” suggesting she would support increased funding for access to creative arts and sport as part of the curriculum. Phillipson’s words have chimed with our own reporting on the ‘enrichment gap’ in schools revealed in our 2024 Report Card.

Phillipson has outlined her support for the focus on reading and phonics in the current curriculum but has indicated further attention should be allocated to early maths learning.

Catherine McKinnell, MP for Newcastle North (state educated) has been appointed as Minister of State in the Department for Education, having held the Shadow brief for schools. Quite a change from Nick Gibb, who held the post for much of the past decade (and his successor Damien Hinds, who was only in post for the final months of the last government). She is joined by Jacqui Smith (state educated) who will join the House of Lords to Minister of State for higher education.

Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Lisa Nandy

Unlike Bridget Phillipson, Lisa Nandy, the new Secretary of State for DCMS (also state educated) did not hold the Shadow role prior to 5 July, but has been appointed to the position following Thangam Debbonaire losing her Bristol West seat. However, she comes with excellent experience and credentials in terms of her work for Labour in the Shadow Education team.

Nandy has been MP for Wigan since 2010, since when she has served as Shadow Foreign Secretary, Shadow Levelling Up Secretary, Shadow Energy Secretary, Shadow International Development Minister, and Shadow Minister for Charities and Civil Society (2012-15). Importantly for CLA Nandy was Shadow Minister for Children from 2012 to 2013.

Prior to her parliamentary career she was senior policy adviser at The Children’s Society 2005-2010), where she specialised in issues facing young refugees, also acting as adviser to the Children’s Commissioner for England. She was appointed to the Education Select Committee in the year of her election in 2010.

Chris Bryant, newly appointed as Minister of State for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, comes with similarly helpful credentials. Lord Bryant has been MP for Rhondda and Ogmore since 2001, since when he has held various ministerial roles, including that of  Shadow Minister for the Arts from 2014 to 2015, during which time he spoke up for the diversity of the creative industries and the need to see more people entering the arts sector from a wider variety of backgrounds. His new role also includes being Minister of State in the Department for Science, Innovation.


As we have reported, Labour wants to deliver significant reform, with ‘change’ being a core and welcome message throughout the party’s manifesto.

The Party provided a lot of detail on its education pledges, and centred many of its education priorities around its mission to break down barriers to ensure all young people get the opportunities they deserve. Securing economic stability for Britain was a thread running throughout the manifesto, with Labour identifying high-quality education and skills training as being central to achieving this. Labour aims to get more teachers into shortage subjects, support areas that face recruitment challenges and tackle retention issues, and introduce a new teacher training entitlement.

We already know that they are planning to create an expert-led review of curriculum and assessment, working with school staff, parents and employers, and want to build on the work of teachers to deliver a curriculum which is rich and broad, inclusive and innovative: ‘Every child should have a broad curriculum with an excellent foundation in reading, writing and maths, and support to develop essential digital, speaking and creative skills’. They also state that the review will consider the right balance of assessment methods. On the creative arts, it highlighted:

  • Supporting children to study a creative or vocational subject until they are 16, and ensuring accountability measures reflect this.
  • Implementing a creative industries sector action plan as part of the party’s Industrial Strategy, creating jobs and accelerating growth in film, music, gaming and other creative sectors.
  • Launching a new National Music Education Network – a one-stop shop with information on courses and classes for parents, teachers and children.

The CLA perspective

Our own CLA blueprint for an inclusive, arts-rich education for every child sets out the fundamental changes we want to see – the Expressive Arts as an equal curriculum area mapped onto new purposes for schooling; an Expressive Arts entitlement within the school week; changes to accountability and assessment; and an entitlement to arts teacher training and development.

It also sets out the essential building blocks which should underpin these changes: an emphasis on a rounded learning experience for the whole child; a focus on representation and relevance; and a commitment to ensuring that the cultural sector can provide strategic support to schools.

We know that the government will have priorities across education, but we hope that their commitment to arts and creativity is maintained as they tackle many issues across teacher recruitment and retention and school budgets.

We welcome the new government’s review of curriculum and assessment (and the curriculum intention wording – ‘broad, inclusive and innovative’) and hope the review will be deep and far-reaching, also addressing the purposes of schooling, and mapping curriculum areas onto purposes. With regard to reviewing assessment, scrapping the EBacc would send an immediate signal that the accountability system will no longer be predicated on a hierarchy of subjects which excludes the arts. Our 2024 Report Card clearly shows the damage that has been done to the arts in schooling since the introduction of the EBacc.

We also value the intention to replace a single Ofsted headline grade with a new report card system.

We value the mission to break down barriers to opportunity for young people, and we support the link between education and industry with the identification of high-quality education and skills training being central to achieving economic stability. We also value the commitment to a creative industries sector action plan.

As we have already reported, one of the main headings under the ‘Break down barriers to opportunity’ section in the Labour manifesto before the election was entitled ‘Access to arts, music and sport’ – a small detail, but nevertheless important in reflecting a commitment to the arts and recognition of their importance in education.

While we welcome the interest in music education, we hope that policy attention and investment are directed towards all Expressive Arts subjects and not just music, which has been in receipt of the lion’s share of government funding in recent years.

We now need the new government to be ambitious, bold and committed in delivering change in our schooling system if the decline in Expressive Arts teaching and take-up is to be halted and reversed, and if the enrichment gap highlighted in our 2024 Report Card is to be narrowed.

Here is a selection of five of the changes we would like to see signalled in Labour’s first 100 days are:

  • A new social contract for education as part of a new national education and skills strategy
  • Scrapping the EBacc and removing the hierarchy of curriculum areas through which Expressive Arts subjects have been deemed strategically unimportant
  • Ensuring the proposed new curriculum and accountability review is ambitious and far-reaching, and looks at introducing an Expressive Arts entitlement within the school week
  • Removing the dominant focus on terminal exams
  • A commitment to supporting teacher recruitment, training and workforce development – as well as the cultural education workforce that exists beyond schools

Let us know what changes you would want to see by emailing us at