The Fall and Rise of Arts Education in Schools?

 In arts, business, education, music, schools

Arts education in schools has been under attack. We believe this may be changing and are keen to do what we can to help turn the tide.

Starting a business is by turns exhilarating and depressing, exciting and scary.

In the six months since we first discussed the idea behind Arts People, we have established a fully functioning company that has begun to make a reality of our passion to see young people access high quality arts education. That is exciting – the potential is clear- but it is also scary, for the responsibility weighs heavily. Can we make the difference we want? And how do we manage growth, without compromising quality?

Over the past few years, arts education in state has been undermined. The great majority of young people need to be introduced to music in state schools. Too often, this does not happen well enough and, over the last three or four years, the situation has deteriorated further. We want to be part of changing that. We believe we can, not just because of our support model, but because there are reasons to be optimistic about policy.

The fall of arts education…

Last year, the Education Policy Institute (EPI) published a report that showed a marked decline in the proportion of key stage 4 examination entries that were in arts subjects. The report’s key findings were:

  • entries to arts subjects by KS4 cohorts had declined over the past couple of years, following several years of gradual increases, with the 2016 entry rate falling to the lowest of the decade:
  • the average number of arts entries per pupil fell from 0.80 in 2013 to 0.70 in 2016; this followed an increase from 0.75 in 2010.
  • the proportion of pupils taking at least one arts subject declined from 57.1 per cent in 2014 to 53.5 per cent in 2016. Again, this followed an increase from 55.6 per cent in 2010.
  • if the same proportion of pupils had taken at least one arts entry in 2016 as in 2014, then around 19,000 more pupils would have taken an arts subject.

The TES more recently published an analysis of Department for Education (DfE) data on the secondary curriculum. Particularly depressing were figures which showed significant falls in the time devoted to creative subjects: at key stage 3, between 2011 and 2017, time spent on music study fell by 11% and drama time by 7%; during key stage 4, music was down 12%, art 20% and drama 26%. Both financial constraint and league table pressures, including the need to prioritise English Baccalaureate (Ebacc) subjects (typically science, geography and history) are having a worrying impact. We strongly suspect this pattern is repeated in primary school.

And it will be students from disadvantaged homes who will probably suffer most. Their parents, for example, will be less able to compensate for this decline by purchasing private tuition. These students will be over-represented in schools facing greater pressures to spend additional curriculum time on maths, English and EBacc subjects.

And the rise?

Fortunately, we are beginning to see concerns about the issue be articulated in important quarters. It is coming from those employed in the arts, from academics and, reading the tea leaves, by Ofsted.

In May 2018, 100 high profile artists sent a latter to the Guardian newspaper which was unequivocal in its denunciation of the impact that the Ebacc expectations were having. They wrote, ‘There is compelling evidence that the study of creative subjects is in decline in state schools and that entries to arts and creative subjects have fallen to their lowest level in a decade. Young people are being deprived of opportunities for personal development in the fields of self-expression, sociability, imagination and creativity.

This places one of our largest and most successful global industries at risk, one worth £92bn a year to the UK economy. That is bigger than oil, gas, life sciences, automotive and aeronautics combined. This is at a time when economic growth is of critical importance to the UK’s international position. A good education fit for the 21st century, must be broad and balanced.’

Quoted, again in the Guardian this September, Diane Reay, Professor of the Sociology of Education at the University of Cambridge, declared ‘I want to see radical change, not short-term, piecemeal measures. There should be a commitment to a broad and balanced, engaging curriculum with creativity at its heart.’

Amanda Spielman, the new Ofsted Chief Inspector, has commissioned new research into the curriculum. In June this year, speaking at the Wellington Festival of Education, she pointed out that ‘I’ve never met a teacher who went into the job to maximise Progress 8 scores. Teachers go into teaching because they want to inspire young people – and to give them the best possible chance in life. A focus on the curriculum will be a return to doing just that… We want a dialogue to understand your thinking and how you’re making sure that the curriculum gives every child a full, deep rich education.’ The implication is that a new Ofsted focus on the curriculum will support those who believe that a balanced education allows for proper access to arts education for all.

We are not yet where we would want to be, but, at Arts People, we are optimistic that the growing recognition of the importance of an arts education for all will help our partner schools as they work with us. We will do our best to support them.

Update October 12th

The fall

The University of Sussex published this week a survey of 500 schools showing:

  • A 10% fall in the number of students starting a GCSE music course since 2016
  • 18% of schools not offering GCSE music at all
  • A nearly 40% fall since 2012-13 in compulsory Year 9 music, to under half of schools
  • Some schools not offering music in Year 7

The rise

Also this week, Amanda Spielman revealed Ofsted’s plans for changes to the inspection regime and referenced ‘the arts and creative subjects’ in her speech. The new framework, if adopted, will encourage a new focus on the curriculum. This we believe, needs to be the subject of our next blog.

References/Further Reading


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