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Labour pledges to improve access to arts and culture for working class children

Shadow culture secretary Michael Dugher warns of increasing exclusion since 2010.

Working class children are increasingly excluded from the arts and culture, shadow culture secretary Michael Dugher has warned, pledging to make the issue a "priority" for Labour. In an interview with the New Statesman, the Barnsley East MP highlighted statistics showing the gap in participation between working class pupils and those from affluent backgrounds. Research by Ipsos MORI found that 70 per cent of children from non-graduate families spend fewer than three hours a week on cultural activity, compared to more than three hours a week for 80 per cent of those from graduate families. 

Dugher said the Conservatives had exacerbated the problem by reducing arts teacher training places and abolishing Creative Partnerships (which brought musicians, artists and actors to classrooms) with a fall of a third in the number of primary school children taking part in cultural and arts activities. The number of teachers in this area has fallen by 11 per cent since 2010. A report by the Royal Schools of Music exam board found that 40 per cent of children from disadvantaged backgrounds had never played an instrument and said they had no opportunity to learn at school. The same report found that 74 per cent of children from affluent backgrounds had instrumental lessons - individually or in class groups - compared to 55 per cent from disadvantaged social groups. Only half of primary school music teachers surveyed last year by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation said they had the resources needed for music education. 

Dugher said: "There’s a massive, massive problem out there and it disproportionately hurts people from disadvantaged backgrounds. As someone who came from a working class background, who represents a very working class constituency, I think how we make sure that we’re doing everything we can to improve access to arts and culture for working class people is a massive priority."

He pledged that Labour's review of arts and culture investment, announced at this year's conference, would examine:

- National and local funding options to ensure that every child can learn an instrument and have a creative education.

-  How to make creative education more of a priority for school inspectors.

- How to ensure schools in disadvantaged areas forge better links with local cultural organisations and increase the work experience opportunities offered to working class children. 

Dugher also said he would examine making public funding "absolutely conditional" on arts organisations improving access for working class children. The outreach programmes would then be reviewed and audited every year to ensure the targets are being met. The rewards from increasing access, Dugher said, were high. Data shows that 40 per cent of 16-year-olds who engage in the arts and culture perform above average in school tests and are more likely to go on to university. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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