New National Curriculum 2014: Opportunities for arts and culture?

The latest in the Schools Forum series explored what’s required by the new National Curriculum, and how it offers the potential for advancing and enriching the arts and culture offer.

By Greg Klerkx

September marks a huge change for schools across England as the government’s new National Curriculum begins to take hold. At the first AND Schools Forum of 2014, held on 29 January at Sadler’s Wells, 35 teachers from schools across London gathered to explore what the National Curriculum actually says about the arts – and how it might open new opportunities for schools to create a richer, more innovative arts offer.

Holly Donagh, AND Partnerships Director, gave an overview of the new National Curriculum and its key timelines and milestones. She noted that there is specific guidance for Music, Art and Design, and for Dance and Drama in the context of PE and English respectively. Along with design & technology, the humanities (geography and history), and modern foreign languages, the arts (comprising art & design, music, dance, drama, and media arts) will not be compulsory subjects after the age of 14. However, all pupils in maintained schools will have a statutory entitlement to be able to study a minimum of one subject in each of these four areas, meaning that all pupils will be entitled to study one arts subject should they wish.

While many teachers would like the arts to have a stronger claim in the National Curriculum, Holly pointed out that it is merely a baseline. The government emphasises that schools will still be evaluated on their broader offer to pupils, and that ‘The school curriculum comprises all learning and other experiences that each school plans for its pupils. The National Curriculum forms one part of the school curriculum.’ Holly also highlighted that a key stated aim of the National Curriculum is ‘to engender an appreciation of human creativity and achievement’, which the arts are uniquely placed to do.

Holly mentioned five broad approaches that might help schools to think about maximising their arts and culture offer. While these might not work for every school, they may provide some useful starting points for discussion and further thought:

  • Whole school approaches that deeply integrate the arts may be possible, given that the new NC has fewer requirements. This potentially frees up time that could be used to support a creative offer within and beyond the main curriculum.
  • Area-based curricula could be of interest to schools willing to consider a local, area based curriculum working with partners. This has been successfully achieved in Peterborough, for instance.
  • Partner and consortium approaches focus on how schools can develop whole school curricula in partnership with other agencies and organisations. An example given was

    Download St Paul's Way Trust School Case Study

    , a secondary Trust school with close links to Queen Mary, University of London and King’s College, London.
  • Cross curricular approaches that use the arts and culture to amplify, extend and enhance teaching in other subjects. For instance, art could be used in KS2 Maths by having pupils draw 2-D shapes and make 3-D shapes using modelling materials. Dance has been used to demonstrate the properties of objects in motion (physics), as another example.
  • Subject specific and specialisation approaches look at opportunities for specialisation within a defined cluster of schools. Could schools in a teaching school alliance or other cluster provide/devise a range of offers between them? Might schools jointly pay for practitioners to come in and provide specific expertise?

Following Holly’s presentation, teachers worked together to explore their key questions and issues around the National Curriculum, and to offer examples of particular approaches that might offer a way forward. Teachers were asked in table groups to free-write all the questions they had – from the technical to the big picture – about what the NC might mean for the arts and culture in their schools. Using the silent conversation exercise below, each table group then generated a single, overarching question of interest to which others were asked to reply using Open Space methodology.

Download Schools Forum Resource - Silent Conversation Exerc

Some key themes emerged from this process. On the subject of how to encourage teachers to experiment with more creative approaches to teaching and learning, ideas included linking with other schools to share practice, holding INSET days focused on arts-led teaching, and getting pupil feedback to suggest new teaching and learning pathways. “Allow (teachers) to take risks,” suggested one teacher. “You can learn just as much through something not going as planned as you can from success,” suggested another. Another teacher offered that “we need to make sure it’s understood that the arts are vital to many children as their ‘way in’ to learning and school.”

Another common area of concern was how to convince school leadership of the ‘value proposition’ for the arts at a time when tight budgets and changing priorities are shifting resources elsewhere. “Evidence, evidence, evidence,” wrote one teacher. “There is plenty of research showing the value and impact of the arts and this should be available and public whenever possible.” The Cultural Learning Alliance is a very useful source of evidence and research. Several teachers said that keeping the arts visible was critical: “Showcase successes: creative subjects are the best PR for schools.”

There was also a broad discussion about how schools could best assess their arts offer. Most schools represented at the Forum had achieved Artsmark, and teachers said it had proven to be a great way to engage their entire staff team in an exploration of where and how the arts positively affected learning and supported the broader school vision. “It really pulled us together and has had a lasting impact on breaking us out of our subject silos,” said one teacher. Teachers noted that both Artsmark and Arts Award are valued by Ofsted when it considers the breadth of a school’s offer to its pupils.

Download a more detailed document with the questions raised and responses offered here:

Download Schools Forum Resource - Discussion Feedback

Download Holly’s presentation here:

Download curriculum presentation

Download the silent discussion exercise instructions here:

Download Schools Forum Resource - Silent Conversation Exerc

A New Direction has access to a variety of models and research documents that could help teachers build and deliver a stronger case for the arts. For more information see the Research and Resources section of the website go here.

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curriculum presentation doc 846.1KiB

Schools Forum Resource - Discussion Feedback doc 585.0KiB

Schools Forum Resource - Silent Conversation Exerc doc 402.1KiB