Arts Education Under Threat


When I was 11 a new teacher arrived at my school. She played the harp and offered to teach anyone who was interested. I jumped at the chance. It was about twice the size of me and I was awful at it. But it inspired a love of classical music, and taught me about practice and perseverance.

The Arts in education are now under serious threat. Due to a variety of factors, including, we at Lambeth CLC believe, worrying curriculum reforms outlined below.

But firstly, why does this matter?

Along with the anecdotal evidence like my reminiscence above, there is now plenty of concrete evidence on the value of the arts in education. The power of a creative education is clear and measurable.

A wealth of statistics support the positive ‘side effects’ of access to the arts for young people. ‘Soft’ skills such as increased self-esteem, confidence, flexibility, communication skills, creative thinking, problem solving, teamwork, (i.e. employability!).  But also hard statistics on increased educational attainment (not just in arts subjects), improved school attendance, alternative pathways for those at risk of offending, community cohesion, family learning etc, not to mention the ‘Art for art’s sake’ argument; the pure value and pleasure of artistic endeavour.

To say nothing of the necessity to give young people a chance to find their talent – to nurture the artists, musicians film makers of tomorrow – or just as importantly – the audiences of tomorrow. Opera, for example, needs desperately to engage with young people to ensure there are still people buying tickets for La Boheme in 2030.

The Cultural Learning Alliance was set up to make the case for ‘meaningful access to culture in this difficult economic climate’. In their ImagineNation: The Case for Cultural Learning (Cultural Learning Alliance, 2011) report they identify five key findings;

Using only evidence from cohort studies with large sample sizes (typically 12,000) and research with control groups we can emphatically say there are instrumental outcomes which cultural learning delivers.

We have grouped these into five key research findings:

1. Learning through arts and culture improves attainment in all subjects.

2. Participation in structured arts activities increases cognitive abilities.

3.  Students from low-income families who take part in arts activities at school are three times more likely to get a degree.

4.  The employability of students who study arts subjects is higher and they are more likely to stay in employment.

5.  Students who engage in the arts at school are twice as likely to volunteer and are 20% more likely to vote as young adults.

(Cultural Learning Alliance website, http://www.culturallearningalliance.org.uk/page.aspx?p=93)

So if it’s so good, why is arts education under threat?

In 2010 the government introduced the English Baccalaureate as a performance measure in schools at GSCE level. The ‘EBacc’ focuses on ‘core’ subjects and doesn’t include any arts subjects. The plan is for it to replace GCSE assessment in these core subjects by 2015.

Worryingly there is emerging evidence that the introduction of the EBacc, even before it has been made ‘compulsory’, is having an adverse effect on arts teaching. The pressure on schools and teachers to deliver results in EBacc subjects is squeezing out the arts.

‘According to Ipsos Mori research, 27% of schools withdrew subjects from the curriculum in response to the EBacc this academic year. The most commonly withdrawn subjects were drama and performing arts (23%) and art (17%).’ (The Guardian, 2 November 2012)

The latest version of the draft Primary school curriculum does not include Drama as part of English – so it has no formal place in teaching, and Dance is under threat as it falls out of physical education and has no independent status as a subject.

There are other factors at work. Funding for arts outreach, including partnerships between schools and arts organisations has decreased. The economic downturn and corresponding government cut backs have not been kind: a combination of cuts in local authority, children services and Arts Council funding.  In difficult economic times the arts are often the first to go, and the wishy washy ‘outreach’ bit of the arts most likely to get the chop when companies are faced with reduced budgets. (N.b. not all – many arts education programmes valiantly survive on less money and support).

Several high profile artists and arts organisations are now voicing their concerns;

Nicholas Serota, Director of the Tate: “The arts are integral to our understanding of the world, as important as reading, writing, geography and arithmetic.”

Greg Doran, Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company: “There is evidence of the link between the attainment that students make in arts subjects and their performance elsewhere in the curriculum. Arts subjects should be part of the Ebacc.”

(The Guardian, Arts leaders voice deep concerns over lack of cultural subjects in Ebacc, Friday 2 November 2012)

Former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen is an outspoken critic of the EBacc and campaigns vociferously – see his blog michaelrosenblog.blogspot.co.uk (recent posts include The arts and Ebacc: get it, Gove?).

Danny Boyle points out that the Arts are now central to our economy:

Accepting an award honoring his Olympics team, Boyle said “a true legacy of the opening ceremony” would be for the arts to be recognized in the Ebacc. He added: “For a modern economy that doesn’t make cars anymore, we’ve got to understand where our growth comes from. Our success is in culture” (Evening Standard, 26 November 2012).

If all this sounds glum, there is still some hope. Schools and Head Teachers do still have some autonomy over what and how they teach and how they choose to prioritise and profile subjects. If students, teachers and parents place importance on the Arts, schools can respond.

Artsmark is a national kitemark schools can apply for. The award demonstrates commitment to high quality arts practice and strategic arts policy to enable pupils to experience arts in a variety of forms in and outside the curriculum. See www.artsmark.org.uk.

Arts Award is an accredited qualification for young people that can be delivered in and outside lesson time by schools or other arts organisations, and gives young people the chance to develop skills and persue artistic interests.  See www.artsaward.org.uk

We believe passionately in the value of arts in education – everyone deserves an opportunity to immerse themselves in creative and cultural learning. Even if it doesn’t involve a harp.

If you are concerned about this issue you can lend your voice in a variety of ways:

  • Sign up to the Cultural Learning Alliance www.culturallearningalliance.org.uk The website also has a wealth of research, evidence and further information
  • You can also sign the petition at http://www.baccforthefuture.com/ – a campaign to have the Arts included in the EBacc.
  • You can lobby your MP: (http://www.parliament.uk/get-involved/have-your-say/lobbying/).
  • Get involved on Twitter – try following @CLA ,   @bacc4thefuture and @artsemergency
  • If you are a school you could deliver the Arts Award (www.artsaward.org.uk)  or look into applying for Artsmark (www.artsmark.org.uk)

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