Policy and practice round-up July 2017

26 July 2017

This month we bring you news from Westminster including a possible curriculum fund; reports on inequality, arts and health; and a new focus on curriculum signalled by Ofsted.

Arts for Health and Wellbeing

A report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Arts, Health and Wellbeing was launched on 19 July. Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing, is a great read, with a wide range of evidence and case studies on the benefits that the arts can bring to health and wellbeing. If you are making the case to colleagues about the value of cultural learning for improving children’s mental health, this is a go-to report.

You can download the report on the APPG website.

Reports published looking at inequality and vulnerability

The Commission on Inequality in Education from the Social Market Foundation looks at the evidence of inequality in education over time. It highlights the fact that very little improvement has been made – and for some children the situation is actually getting worse.

Children’s Commissioner’s Report on Vulnerability

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner, launched a first attempt at quantifying the number of vulnerable children in the UK, using a range of indicators. There are 11.8 million children in England aged 0-17. Initial analysis reveals a host of shocking statistics about the number of children living in vulnerable situations, including:

  • More than half a million children so vulnerable that the state has to step in
  • 800,000 children suffering from mental health difficulties
  • Tens of thousands of children involved with gangs

You can download the report on the Children’s Commissioner website.

News from Westminster

The big news from Westminster this month is of course the English Baccalaureate consultation response, published on 19 July, which we have covered in this post. Prior to the publication there were some interesting debates in the House of Lords that highlighted the value of arts education, and the negative impact of the current accountability systems on provision.

Debate on the English Baccalaureate

On 3 July 2017 there was a House of Lords debate on the English Baccalaureate in response to a question from the excellent Earl of Clancarty. Lord Baker spoke during the debate about the fall in entries in every technical, creative and artistic GCSE, saying:

‘If this trend continues, there will be no technical education or creative education in schools for those aged under 16. This is a disgrace and really is unacceptable. Changes must be made to the EBacc, otherwise the Government will not meet their objective to improve technical education.’


During the debate Lord Nash, the Department for Education spokesperson, said that the government is not concerned about a drop in creative GCSE entries, since entries to computer science have gone up. 

He added:

‘I think we all know that the quality of some of these subjects was not what it might be, and that quite a few people were taking some of them not because they suited them but because they were easier.’


We are very shocked at the Government’s complacency around arts subjects and we fundamentally disagree with Lord Nash about the rigour of arts GCSEs which require the same, if not more, technical expertise and effort in comparison with other GCSEs and have equivalent rigorous requirements.

Curriculum Fund in the Conservative manifesto

The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that the Conservative Manifesto included a commitment to a curriculum fund:

 ‘We will introduce a curriculum fund to encourage Britain’s leading cultural and scientific institutions, like the British Museum and others, to help develop knowledge-rich materials for our schools.’


Members of the House of Lords picked up on this line to ask for more details and at the same time to push the value of arts subjects. Baroness McIntosh pointed out:

‘Many cultural institutions already provide a vast amount of teaching and learning material, and work very hard to make it available … what is really necessary is for schools to have the funds to access this material and to feel supported … rather than feeling undermined, particularly in respect of arts-based subjects, by a persistent mixed message from the Government about the value of creative education, which is mostly evidenced in the continuing refusal to add arts subjects to the EBacc.’


Viscount Younger of Leckie said that the curriculum fund came out of last year’s Educational Excellence Everywhere White Paper. He went on to say that the Department for Education plans to develop resources in opportunity areas. It was also clear from the language he was using that the likely pedagogical model will view children as empty vessels that need filling with knowledge, rather than a more experiential model looking at developing skills. He also said that details of the curriculum fund will ‘come out in due course’.

You can read the full debate on Hansard

Select Committee Chairs appointed

The process of appointing new select committees to scrutinise the work of government departments is underway, with chairs for most committees already elected. The Education Select Committee Chair is Robert Halfon. Damian Collins has been elected as the Chair of the Culture Media and Sport Committee. The political parties will now elect their allotted quota of members to the committees.

Amanda Spielman’s speech at the Festival of Education

Ofsted’s Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman gave a speech at the Festival of Education which has opened the possibility of Ofsted pushing for a greater focus on a broad and balanced curriculum, something that can only be good for the provision of cultural learning in schools. Spielman talked about the purpose of education as ‘broadening minds, enriching communities and advancing civilisation.’ She went on to say:

‘I have seen GCSE assessment objectives tracking back into Year 7, and SAT practice papers starting in Year 4. And I’ve seen lessons where everything is about the exam and where teaching the mark schemes has a bigger place than teaching history. That is not what will set our children up for great futures. Nor will the growing cannibalisation of key stage 3 into key stage 4. Preparing for GCSEs so early gives young people less time to study a range of subjects in depth and more time just practising the tests themselves.’


We have been very concerned about the move to two-year Key Stage 3 in schools. It could means that if a child does not pick an arts subject for his or her GCSEs, they stop studying arts subjects at age 12 or 13. Spielman picked up on this:

‘The idea that children will not, for example, hear or play the great works of classical musicians, or learn about the intricacies of ancient civilisations – all because they are busy preparing for a different set of GCSEs – would be a terrible shame … Curtailing key stage 3 means prematurely cutting this off for children who may never have an opportunity to study some of these subjects again.’


Spielman went on to talk about the role of Ofsted in balancing the accountability system, which seems to be a veiled reference to the English Baccalaureate and SATs.

It appears that Ofsted will start focusing on the breadth of curriculum and be predisposed to be concerned about a shortened Key Stage 3 and a narrowing of the curriculum in Key Stage 2. We welcome Speilman’s comments, which bode well for ensuring the place of cultural learning in children’s education.

Worried about the impact of Brexit on education?

The British Council has worked to develop a Communique with recommendations about how educational, cultural and scientific initiatives should work post-Brexit. Over 450 educational, cultural and scientific organisations and representatives from 30 European countries have endorsed the Our Shared European Future recommendations, made to EU and UK leaders in early July 2017, and further endorsements are welcome. See more on the British Council website