Cost of living: Red Wall children missing out on art, drama and music as crisis hits schools, parents say


Parents in key Red Wall seats want the Government to focus education funding on extracurricular pursuits as much as academic subjects, a new report has found, amid fears that after-school activities have fallen victim to the cost of living crisis.

A report by Public First written in conjunction with Unison and the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) found that the parents in areas such as Bolton, Wolverhampton and Reading “care about many of the things that go unsaid in the day-to-day debate on education policy”.

Almost two-thirds of more than 1,000 primary school parents surveyed said they thought the Government should prioritise teaching life skills such as problem-solving, while around a quarter thought there should be greater funding on improving extracurricular activities.

The report found that parents in the Red Wall “seemed to reject the usual dichotomy between traditional education and ‘21st century skills’,” and that they instead wanted a balance between subjects such as maths and English with non-academic subjects including PE and music.

Parents in Derby voiced concerns that there had been a “narrowing of the curriculum” recently, with extracurricular subjects squeezed out and activities such as drama and music “becoming a box-ticking exercise”.

Derby North was one of several Red Wall seats to abandon Labour in favour of the Conservatives in the 2019 general election. The swing seats will play a critical role in the next national ballot, with polls suggesting the Tories have begun to lose their grip over Red Wall voters in the past three years.

It follows reports that schools have had to slim down the number of subjects taught this year to save money during the cost of living crisis, with music, drama and modern foreign languages the first on the chopping block.

Secondary school teachers told i they were being forced to cut back on extracurricular activities to cut costs, and that some students are being taught en masse in school halls because of a lack of staff to teach them.

The Public First report showed that almost half of Red Wall parents surveyed want Government funding to prioritise hiring more teachers in order to slim down class sizes, while almost a third want to see more teaching assistants.

However, it also found that parents in the Red Wall strongly admired their children’s teachers, with 38 per cent rating them the highest standard.

Ed Dorrell, a director at Public First and one of the report’s authors, told i: “What I think our report demonstrates is that broadly parents are content with the academic core of teaching that takes place in our schools. What they want a greater focus on from politicians is some of the stuff that is at risk of being cut out of school life by the cost of living crisis: art, drama, music and sport.

“Parents worry that these were some of the areas that most suffered as a result of Covid too, and are concerned that their children are part of a generation that somehow missed out.”

He added that the Tory party “would do well to remember in these tricky times the extent to which parents in the Red Wall — key voters at the next election — think highly of schools and the teachers and teaching assistants who work in them”.

Jon Richards, assistant general secretary of Unison, and Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of NAHT, said the report illustrated that there should be a “rigorous focus on core academic subjects, whilst also introducing many of the wider skills and activities which parents equally value”.

More from Education

It comes after Education Secretary Gillian Keegan announced last week that the Government will be scrapping its controversial Schools Bill to focus on tackling the cost of living crisis.

The Bill, launched in May, formed part of Boris Johnson’s drive to have all schools in England join an academy trust by 2030, and included the provision of a new register for children who are homeschooled.

Ms Keegan told MPs on Wednesday that although she “remains committed” to the general aims of the Bill, “obviously, there’s been a lot of things that we’ve had to focus on [including] the need to provide economic stability and tackle the cost of living”.

However, experts warned dropping the Bill marked a major Government U-turn, and that Rishi Sunak will have little time before the next general election to prove his claims that education will be his “silver bullet” policy.

Mr Sunak said on the first day of his premiership that “a good education is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet when it comes to making people’s lives better”.



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