‘Diabolical’ – UK Cuts Funding for Arts and Humanities Teachers

The Department for Education’s list of postgraduate training bursaries for 2021 includes no arts subjects, perpetuating the lack of diversity within Britain’s creative industries.
November 11, 2020, 1:51pm
Students in a secondary school classroom.
Photo: Getty Images

Back in February, the government revealed that the UK’s creative industries were growing more than five times faster than the national economy, contributing almost £13 million every hour. Fast forward nine months’ worth of a global pandemic, and the arts and entertainment sector has been one of the worst hit financially. 

In the three months running up to June 2020, the industry saw a 44.5 percent reduction in GDP output compared with the three months earlier. The revival of this industry lies, it would seem, in investment in its future. 

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But in October this year, the Department for Education (DfE) published its list of subjects for which initial teacher training funding will be provided for the academic year 2021-22, and no arts subjects have been included. The subjects for which aspiring teachers will be able to receive postgraduate bursaries of £7,000 to £24,000 are chemistry, computing, maths, physics, languages, classics and biology. 

For trainees this current academic year, bursaries ranging from £9,000 to £15,000 were also provided for geography, design and technology, English, art and design, business studies, history, music and religious education. 

When contacted by VICE News, the DfE was unable to “put a minister forward for a chat”, but gave the following statement: “The package of support for trainee teachers comes following a surge in the number of applications for those looking to enter the classroom compared to the equivalent period last year.”

Trainee teacher applications rose by 65 percent in England in July this year. While this may sound encouraging, the increase is likely down to a panicked response to a poor job market and the threat of unemployment for graduates embarking on their careers in the middle of a pandemic. 

But those wanting to train in secondary school arts and humanities teaching in September 2021 may no longer have that option. Chloe*, a 26-year-old English teacher who completed her PGCE in Secondary English in 2019 with a £15,000 bursary, tells VICE News: “I would not have been able to train as a teacher without the bursary. Having the bursary when I started my training meant that I was still taking home a similar amount of money each month, without having to work a part-time job.”

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She continues: “Without the bursary, I imagine that many aspiring teachers, particularly from lower income backgrounds who may not have familial financial support, will be unable to take part in teacher training. This could be very damaging – certain students respond much better to teachers who they feel they can relate to, as it helps drive their own ambition. Lacking diversity robs students of this opportunity and may make them believe that certain sectors are not open to them.” 

Restricting graduates from lower income backgrounds not only perpetuates a lack of socio-economic diversity within arts education – therefore impacting the UK’s future arts sector – but also reduces ethnic diversity. Data reported in the Guardian in June this year showed that Black people had the highest unemployment rates of all groups, and were most likely to have a household income below £400 per week. 

Karriad, a 21-year-old PGCE student in Secondary Religious Education currently receiving the £9,000 DfE bursary, says: “Arts and humanities will continue to be run by the white upper classes. Even in my training environment, many people are from reasonably well-off backgrounds and we are all white. We are maintaining a stereotype, and through lack of support for studying these subjects, we are not opening up opportunities to people of different backgrounds.” 

These recent funding cuts come as yet another blow to the UK’s arts sector, with the Incorporated Society of Musicians and the Musicians’ Union tirelessly lobbying for the government to support freelance musicians and 578 arts organisations and venues being deemed ineligible for a slice of the Culture Recovery Fund. 

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Karriad believes that the implications of all this will be “diabolical”. She says: “The government has been pushing a message that devalues and ridicules careers in the arts, and the push for STEM careers is a worrying hint towards the era of hyper-productivity that awaits us.”

When asked why funding for arts and humanities teachers had been cut, the DfE told VICE News: “The financial incentives are set to attract those to the hardest to recruit subjects.” That is, STEM subjects like maths and physics, which are not only more difficult to recruit into, but also have lower rates of job retention

Caroline, who is in her first year of SCITT (school-centred initial teacher training) in English, explains why this is unsurprising: “It’s hard to recruit because if people have a degree in maths or physics, why would they take a relatively low-paid, high-stress job in teaching?” As well as believing that the whole incentivisation system needs reconsidering, she adds, “Can we please move on from STEM to STEAM [science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics]?” 

Thomas Lydon, editor of Music Teacher magazine, says that government cuts to arts and humanities education are nothing new: “A succession of Tory governments has not only prioritised STEM subjects but has actively dis-incentivised both teachers and students from continuing education in the arts. Any sane government that is motivated to achieve a healthy balance of expertise in its population should calibrate its teacher training to support that.”

By financially discouraging people from teaching arts and humanities in schools, the government is doing more than further reducing diversity within arts education. Limiting the pool of teachers in turn limits the cohort of students, which limits the pool from which our future musicians, actors, Netflix producers, authors, journalists, filmmakers will be drawn. 

No one is denying that we need to build up the next generation of scientists, bankers and doctors, but this stunting of creativity from the very bottom up is yet another worrying insight into this government’s priorities.

*Name has been changed.