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4 November 2015

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

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

By George Eaton

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.

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–  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. 

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