John Boyega, a Hollywood actor, is the most famous alumnus of Wes Streeting’s former inner-city school. However, both Boyega and Streeting hail from council estates and attended Westminster City School. Though the school was in special measures during Streeting’s tenure, opportunities for state school pupils like him are now rapidly diminishing. The school has had to make tough choices, such as cutting funding for extracurricular activities, including drama, despite boasting a Star Wars-famed alumnus. Unfortunately, Westminster City School is not the only institution facing this problem. According to recent research conducted by Labour, extracurricular activities, such as music, sports, drama, and school trips, have been in freefall over the last decade of Conservative government, particularly for primary-age children. Participation in theatre and drama has decreased by 47%, while music participation has dropped by 36%. Competitive sport participation has declined by 13%, and there have been similar drops in visits to heritage sites, museums, and libraries.
Labour’s study reveals that the poorest children suffer the most when it comes to access to extracurricular activities. Their findings are supported by the Social Mobility Commission report "An Unequal Playing Field." Therefore, the party is set to promise, if elected, to offer children ten life-changing extracurricular experiences before they turn ten, including swimming and music lessons, overnight trips, and other similar activities.
Streeting acknowledges that government funding cuts are a missed opportunity, and basic activities, such as drama, can help to heal mental health damages during the pandemic. When he attended a rough inner-city school, drama brought him a friendship group and gave him the confidence to pursue his later achievements. Although he returned to his old school, the school has been forced to make some tough choices, unlike the private school a short distance away.
Streeting’s background is atypical for Westminster and the Labour Party. He grew up in poverty, and he knows firsthand how essential benefits are to single mothers. Though he used to think that his childhood in a council flat in Stepney was unfortunate, he now feels that society has regressed under the Tories’ last ten years of government.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that Streeting is a seasoned politician and an experienced organiser who emerged from student union politics. He won the coveted marginal seat of Ilford North in 2015 and was appointed Child Poverty Secretary in the shadow cabinet after being diagnosed with kidney cancer earlier this year. Though his diagnoses came as a surprise, he is now fully recovered, with the exception of one kidney, and back working full-time. Despite Streeting’s frank criticism of Corbyn, the former Labour leader proposed a similar policy to back arts in schools and help children learn a musical instrument. Unfortunately, this policy was ridiculed in the tabloid press.
When discussing music, drama, and sports in state schools, those on the right often dismiss such activities as lacking academic rigor. The hypocrisy of this attitude is truly nauseating.
Despite criticism urging the Labour party to increase their attacks on the Conservatives, Streeting remains confident that they can win a majority. He argues that simply pointing out the faults of the current government will not be enough to convince voters to support Labour. Instead, they need to inspire people with a vision for a better future under a Labour government.
Streeting is convinced that there is a majority of voters who can be won over by the Labour party. However, they will not simply come to Labour due to Tory failures. Labour must actively demonstrate that they have the potential to create positive change.