The debate responded to growing concern from dance professionals that the position of dance in education is under threat. The Universities and Science Minister, David Willetts MP, recently said that he believed that “soft” subjects such as A Level Dance should be worth fewer points for students applying to attend university. The dance sector strongly rejects this argument. The Russell Group Universities Guide advises students making decisions about subject choices: “Generally speaking, students who take one ‘soft’ subject as part of a wider portfolio of subjects do not experience any problems applying to a Russell Group University.”
Doran, who co-founded the group with Sir Gerald Kaufman MP to raise the profile of dance in parliament, says: “Studies have shown that dance can make a huge difference to a child’s overall performance in school. Dance as a subject is unique because it contributes to both the artistic education and physical activity offered in schools, whilst helping children develop skills to help them communicate better, work as a team member, analyse further and imagine more.”
In the debate, Nick Gibb MP, the Minister for Schools, responded on behalf of the government. He began by recognising the importance of dance to the cultural life of the country. He went on to say: “The government does believe that every child should experience a wide variety of cultural experience, including dance… Dance does have an important place in schools, and I’m confident that it will continue to play an important role in schools.” He added that the government recognises the benefits of studying subjects such as dance alongside the core English Baccalaureate.
Gibb also praised the Music and Dance Scheme and the Dance and Drama Awards, which help the most exceptionally talented students study for professional careers in dance. He praised the Royal Ballet School, which he had previously visited, and highlighted the outstanding dancers it produced, including Darcey Bussell and Lauren Cuthbertson. Cuthbertson was in the audience of the debate, along with Edward Watson, who also trained at The Royal Ballet School before joining The Royal Ballet.
In response to Doran’s question about recent comments on the status of Dance A Level, Gibb said it depended on what the young person wanted to study at university. He blamed mistakes in the combination of subjects studied by able young people from poorer backgrounds, which are narrowing the students’ range of options for university or beyond. He said that Dance A Level might be right for a student who wants to study an arts subject at university, but may not be right for a student seeking to study a science degree.
Other MPs who spoke on behalf of dance during the debate included Gordon Banks, Nicholas Dakin and Pat Glass. Sir Gerald Kaufman was also in attendance.
Edward Watson said: “I’m attending the debate today because I believe that all young people should get the opportunity to take part in dance at school. I benefited from the best training and I’m so grateful. I want all those children who have a talent for dance to get the chance to receive high quality dance training, no matter what their financial background. I’m here to support the future generations of great British dancers.”
Before the debate, Arlene Phillips said: “I was shocked and outraged that a government minister should say that dance should have lower UCAS points than other subjects. I’m so pleased that there is going to be a serious debate in Westminster so politicians can discuss the many benefits of including dance in the education system. By building dance into school life we can get kids physically active, drive up educational achievement and capture the attention of many students who are on the margins at school.”
Caroline Miller, director of Dance UK, said: “The whole dance industry is seriously worried that dance is being overlooked in the Department for Education’s curriculum review. This is about ensuring that young people get a fair deal at school and have the chance to study dance, because it brings positive outcomes at multiple levels.
“If the curriculum review prioritises competitive sport, where does dance fit in, considering it is the second most popular physical activity after football, and the most popular physical activity for girls? And if we don’t give all children, no matter what their economic circumstances, the chance to study dance at school, how are we going to spot the most talented dancers of the next generation, tomorrow’s stars of London’s West End and top dance companies? This is a serious workforce development issue – the professional performing arts contribute £3.4 billion to the national economy and £1.8 billion to the London economy annually.”
Just 58 pence per school-aged child is currently spent on dance activity, compared to £38.21 per child invested in music, and £79.47 per child invested in sport.
Picture: Lauren Cuthbertson, Pat Glass MP, Edward Watson and Sir Gerald Kaufman MP