This column appeared in the Friday 25th August 2023 edition of the South London Press.
Over the last two weeks, after two years of hard work, countless young people across the country received their A-Level and GCSE exam results. From the long-term impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic to the difficulties the education sector has faced under successive Conservative governments, young people have not had it easy these last few years. Because of this, it is so important that we celebrate their successes.
I really struggled at school. I didn’t get any A-Cs when I first took my GCSEs because of difficulties I was facing in school and because I was moving home a lot. It wasn’t until I went to college and did a BTEC in Performing Arts that I started to come into my own. I succeeded in ways I hadn’t before and was receiving top marks in my courses. I even gained enough confidence to re-sit my English GCSEs, and this time round I got Bs!
Because I was doing so well, I was encouraged to go to university, where I studied Drama and Business. It was at university that I began to get involved in politics and realised that my voice, and the voices of people like me, needed to be heard.
The arts opened doors for me in ways that I never would have expected at school. I was the first person in my family to go to university, and if it wasn’t for the arts, I may never have had the opportunity to go at all.
Sadly, many young people today do not have this same access to creative subjects. Even though the creative industries sector contributed £109bn to the UK economy in 2021 (5.6% of the economy that year), participation among children aged 10 in drama-based activities has declined by nearly 50%, and participation in music-based activities has dropped by more than a third.
93% of 16–18-year-olds say that studying a creative subject impacts positively on their mental health and wellbeing, but the Government have decided to slash arts funding with a £50mn-a-year cut from arts organisations in London alone. Because of this lack of access, the arts have become increasingly dominated by class-based inequality, with disparities in gender, race, and disability as well.
For Labour, breaking down these barriers to opportunity is fundamental to our approach to education. When in government, Labour will put our young people first by putting their education first. All young people deserve a broad and enriching education, not just because these are linked to better educational outcomes, but because engaging in the arts improves communication, critical thinking, and teamwork skills which are highly valued by employers. The opportunity to develop these skills must not just be available to the most privileged among us, but accessible to everyone, regardless of their background.