Policy & Practice round-up November 2021

15 November 2021

This month we bring you news of the new Education Minister’s quizzing by the Education Select Committee on EBacc and BTECs; comments on arts education from the new Arts Minister Lord Parkinson; ONS data that shows arts subjects have been disproportionately hit by the pandemic; the RSA Learning About Culture final report; a research digest on culture and young people’s mental health; new evaluation principles from the Centre for Cultural Value; the Edge Foundation’s Skills Shortages Bulletin with a spotlight on the creative industries; and The Second Dose, a New National Youth Trends report from Beatfreeks.

Education Select Committee quizzes Education Minister on EBacc and BTECs

On 3 November the Rt Hon Nadhim Zahawi MP, Secretary of State for Education, appeared before the Education Select Committee to answer questions about his department. You can read a transcript of the session, or watch a recording.

Zahawi was asked about the EBacc by Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Committee who asked:

Will you look at the EBacc? While geography and history are important, so are design and technology and computer science. Surely they should be in the EBacc, or people should be given an option to do them as part of the EBacc?

In response the Secretary for Education said ‘On the EBacc, I am happy to take that away and have a look at it.’ This was followed by Susan Acland-Hood, the DfE’s Permanent Secretary, defending the EBacc saying:

‘The key thing about the EBacc, though, is that it was a way of trying to make known one of the pieces of secret knowledge that the middle class holds but does not share about the subjects that are likely to give you significant success in later life.’

Schools White Paper and longer days 

Zahawi confirmed there will be an Education White Paper on Schools published in the first quarter of 2022. He also spoke about the SEND Review which he committed to publishing with or before the White Paper. He was pressed on his view on a longer school day. Zahawi said he wants to see the results of spending the £5 billion allocated to Recovery before deciding any policy on longer school days. Longer school days are relevant to the arts sector as they could provide additional space, but should never replace curriculum time, for arts activities. The DfE report on longer school days will be published before Christmas.


The Committee asked about BTECs – regular readers will know reforms linked to introducing T Levels have put BTEC funding at risk. Zahawi said ‘We will not get rid of quality BTECs’ and ‘If we see that there are gaps where there are no T-levels, of course we will keep the BTECs.’

When asked about how the DfE would focus on closing the gap between children experiencing disadvantage and their peers, Zahawi talked about increased funding, as well as work to improve early years provision, including family hubs, and he highlighted that ‘skills, schools and families are three massive opportunities for us to deliver on.’

Arts Minister speech: Arts Premium

The House of Lords held a debate on the Creative Sector on 4 November at which the new Arts Minister Lord Parkinson spoke. You can read the transcript on Hansard.

Arts and employability

Baroness Featherstone opened the debate with a damning overview of the government’s lack of commitment to the creative industries pipeline through education, training and HE. She also provided a brilliant summary of recent research on the important skills that arts subjects and experiences develop in relation to  employability:

  • Skill Shift: Automation and the Future of the Workforce from McKinsey: creativity, critical thinking, decision-making and complex information processing are going to grow in the coming decade, from an already high base.
  • Realizing 2030: A Divided Vision of the Future, a report by Dell Technologies and the Institute for the Future: 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 have not been invented yet, and that 56% of business leaders say schools will need to teach how to learn, not what to learn, if students are going to be prepared for that.
  • World Economic Forum 2020 report: 50% of all employees will need reskilling by 2025, and creativity, originality and initiative are in the top 10 skills.

Lord Parkinson re-confirms no Arts Premium

After contributions from a wide array of Lords, Lord Parkinson responded and spoke at length about arts education in his speech. He repeated the standard government statement on the arts in schools, that many other ministers have also used:

‘The Government are committed to ensuring that all children and young people have a broad and balanced curriculum, of which creative education is a key part. Music and art and design are part of the national curriculum and remain compulsory in all maintained schools for five to 14 year-olds, and pupils have an entitlement to study at least one arts subject at key stage 4 in maintained schools.’

He also used the speech to re-confirm the Arts Premium, a manifesto commitment, is not being delivered, saying: ‘With the significant impact of the pandemic on children’s learning, our priorities have inevitably had to focus on educational recovery over the next three years.

We are of course extremely disappointed that the £90 million of arts funding schools were promised in the March 2020 budget is not being delivered, and would point to the many schools that see the arts as part of their focus on educational recovery. In fact, Lord Parkinson went on to say “We value the arts not just for their own sake but as part of our recovery from Covid.”

We believe the Arts Premium could play a key role in the educational development and recovery of children and young people, as well as in supporting arts education freelancers at this critical point in the sector’s recovery from the pandemic. Lord Parkinson had mentioned earlier in his speech: ‘I want to speak to freelancers on an individual level to understand how the pandemic affected them and what more support they might need.’ We will be suggesting the Arts Premium to DCMS as a vehicle for supporting freelancers.

The speech also made useful points about careers advice and ensuring equitable access to careers in the creative sectors. Lord Parkinson highlighted the need to address representation and ensure ethnic diversity, as well as looking at class and income as part of the work to widen participation in the arts.

ONS data shows arts subjects disproportionately hit by pandemic

The TES has looked at data from the Office of National Statistics that shows that arts subjects were disproportionally affected by the pandemic:

‘Between April 2020 and June 2021, an average of just 60 per cent of the learning material received by in-school students was successfully delivered to remote learners studying what the ONS classed as "arts including design and technology".’

The report also found that while the proportion of delivery of other subjects increased over the pandemic, arts subjects continued to be taught at lower levels. The TES blog suggests why arts subjects were so affected, including because students didn’t have access to specialist tools or spaces and could not go on visits, and proposes strategies schools can use to address the issues created by the gap in provision.

RSA Learning About Culture Final Report

The final report of the RSA Learning About Culture project was published on 1 November. You may recall that in 2017 randomised control trials (RCTs) were set up by the RSA and Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) to test the impact of five arts interventions by external providers at primary level. The EEF reported on the five trials in September and the RSA has published their report reflecting on the project and suggesting next steps.

The research did not find any statistically significant impacts on literacy from the five interventions, which is what the RCTs were testing. The EEF has noted that for schools wanting to deliver arts activities for the broader benefits they confer the trials show no negative impacts on progress in literacy by doing the arts interventions instead of business as usual: ‘the interventions were not found to be harmful to the measures of pupil attainment used’. The RSA notes: ‘participating in arts-based learning didn’t get in the way of attainment, it just didn’t raise attainment higher than the approaches schools might otherwise have taken.

The RSA report reflects the fact that that we need better evidence on what direct outcomes are delivered because of arts interventions, for example being better at music or drawing, and the mechanisms for delivering these outcomes, before we look at far transfer effects on outcomes like literacy. You can read the full report on the RSA website, as well as their other reports Arts Rich Schools and the Cultural Learning Evidence Champion's Handbook linked to the Learning About Culture project.

Research digest – the evidence around culture and young people’s mental health

The Centre for Cultural Value has also published a Young people’s mental health research digest, which explores the evidence available and provides a snapshot of the current thinking. The digest looked at 20 peer-reviewed studies and found that The qualitative literature paints a picture of the value of cultural programmes in building young people’s confidence and self-esteem, and how this is built up through the opportunity to showcase artwork, compose music and devise theatre pieces.’ And that:

‘Engaging with culture also helps young people to cope with difficult feelings and act as a distraction from negative thoughts, with the phrase “safe space” being a recurrent term within the literature.’

The digest concludes: ‘Overall, while there is promising evidence that there is a positive value of cultural experiences in supporting young people’s mental health and wellbeing, there is a need to further explore concepts of “safe spaces”, the role of cultural practitioners in these complex contexts, and an exploration of longer-term outcomes through rigorous mixed-methods research.

New evaluation principles for the cultural sector from the Centre for Cultural Value

The Centre for Cultural Value has launched a set of new, co-created evaluation principles for the cultural sector. Based around four core themes; Beneficial, Robust, People-centred and Connected, the principles are a sharing of ideas to inform how evaluation is carried out and used. They are available to view and download on the Centre’s website.

The principles are intended to be the start of a conversation. You can share your thoughts and feedback on social media using the hashtag #TheEWord or by emailing ccv (at)  

Edge Foundation Skills Shortages Bulletin: creative industries spotlight

The latest Skills Shortage Bulletin published by the Edge Foundation on 21 October looked at the impact of the pandemic on young people and employment, and included a section The Creative Industries: Crisis or Renaissance? which examies the value to the UK economy of the sector. We're really pleased to have contributed, and join with the Edge Foundation in calling for a ‘more innovative strategy, vision and new approach to learning that values the multiple benefits associated with a thriving creative sector’.

New National Youth Trends report: The Second Dose

Beatfreeks released a brand new National Youth Trends report on 2 November, based on data collected over the last two months, with over 2,000 Gen Zs across the UK. ‘The Second Dose’ reveals how 16-25s are reflecting on the pandemic: from the changing understanding they have of what a ‘career’ can mean, to the shifting role social media played for them in the pandemic, to their expectations of how the future could, and should, look. You can download the report from Beatfreeks’ website.