FAQs - The Arts in Schools: Foundations for the Future

1. This report comes at a time when the education sector is facing significant challenges, what would be the first changes you would like to see undertaken if changes were to be made?

It’s clear that reform is necessary and ours is one of many reports calling for change more widely. Our recommendations suggest a way forward, and a national conversation about the purposes and principles of schooling would be the place to start.

2. Ofsted has come under scrutiny recently, how did the round tables and the research in general view the role of Ofsted?

Our roundtable participants told us that schooling focuses too much on accountability measures such as examination results and Ofsted reports, almost to the exclusion of other outcomes, with school resources and energy being directed towards achieving what is measurable. This can present difficulties for subjects where expression and personal judgements are as important as right or wrong answers, and where the individual student voice is a key element.

3. How have the subject associations responded to the report?

We are about to publish a series of subject association blogs as part of this project which make clear that they are all seeking changes to the schooling system and that their objectives and recommendations align with ours.

4. Music is singled out having had a different level of support and access to materials, are other art forms equal in their lack of resource and support in schools? Which is the most under-resourced arts subject in your view?

All arts subjects are lacking resource and support, but in 1988 the new secondary National Curriculum specified art and design and music as foundation subjects, with dance and drama relegated to being within PE and English respectively. This remains the case today, so they are not available in all schools if there is a school-level decision not to employ specialists to teach them. Art and design, and music, have subject leads at Ofsted; dance and drama do not, so there is not parity at inspection level. Today we see no reason why film and digital media are not included within the curriculum (they form part of the Expressive Arts area in Wales).

5. One of the developments in the education sector has seen the creation and growth of Academy Trusts, do you foresee this as being beneficial to providing access to the arts based on the discussions at the round tables and research?

Our report charts a number of losses as a result of Local Management of Schools and academisation. As we have seen through our roundtables, provision beyond the minimum National Curriculum requirements now relies on committed school and multi- academy trust leaders believing that the arts are important, and ‘brave teachers’ (a phrase we heard a lot in our consultation) choosing to provide a rich and ambitious curriculum. Increased system fragmentation and more accountability measures have been problematic for the arts. We have arrived at a time where ‘what works’ is determined by what can be measured, and what can be measured has become the priority. It is still possible to deliver an arts-rich education, but it has become more difficult to do so under the current system.

6. Given the original report gave rise to new roles in education and learning in arts organisations, is this an ambition for this report?

The original report gave rise to a new workforce but this has been affected hugely by Covid – with the rise of blended learning (digital as well as in person) and subsequent financial pressures. Schools are more under pressure than ever and school trips are less likely given school funding pressures and the cost of living crisis. Beyond the schools sector, the priority now is to ensure that learning teams in professional arts organisations are properly resourced, fit for purpose, and can be responsive to school needs, and that there is support and brokerage work in place to build connections between schools and the professional arts sector.

7. Has there been any response to the report from agencies and advocates of STEM subjects?

It is being shared with them following launch. We are not making a special case for the arts but would like to see a new public debate about education in England, as has happened in Scotland and Wales, where education and skills are devolved matters. We want to see new curriculum areas of study – including the Expressive Arts – all of which are equal in status and aligned to clear purposes for schooling. And the arts are not alone in seeking change – the science world has presented similar arguments. In 2016 the Wellcome Trust delivered evidence to an Education Select Committee inquiry into the purpose and quality of education in England which stated that ‘Current school performance measures concentrate on exam results without recognising the wider benefits of education’.

8. If England is considered to be the least-advanced in developing arts education in context of the rest of the UK, what stands out from the other nations regarding driving change and excellence in practice?

Starting with a national debate to consider the fundamental purposes of schooling, and then mapping areas of learning – such as the Expressive Arts – onto purposes. Key to this has reflecting on global changes and challenges, and the understanding that education must change in step with these if young people are to be well-prepared for the world in which they will live and work.

9. How did you decide on who attended the round tables, and how did you find the schools who were invited to take part in the research?

We drew on a pool of educators, school leaders and those working in arts organisation learning teams recommended by our roundtable chairs, through our own contacts, and through the former Bridge network. We wanted to ensure a wide national spread and a diversity of specialisms and voices. We really wanted to hear from school leaders and MAT heads, as well as from teachers and young people.

10. How did you find the young people who were invited to take part in the research?

The former Bridge organisation network facilitated a parallel project to our roundtables with a group of 13 young people from across England, aged 18-26 years, of whom ten were involved throughout. The young people all had recent experience of schools and colleges, and most were still in some form of education or training, including further or higher education (FE, HE) or a current or recent apprenticeship. They met a total of four times. Some of them attended the final roundtable on equity, diversity and inclusion in September 2022, and the gathering of all the roundtable chairs in November 2022.

11. Did you invite anyone from political parties to join the round tables/research at any point? Why/not?

No as we wanted independent voices and to hear from those on the ground, rather than in policy roles.

12. How does this report fit with the proposed new Cultural Education Plan?

The plan was announced by DfE a year ago but there has been no visible activity since. We feel that our survey of the last 40 years, along with what we have heard from teachers, MAT and school leaders will be valuable to those writing the Cultural Education Plan. We advise against more non-statutory guidance which heaps pressure on school leaders, or short-term solutions. We have found that the issues facing arts education stem from a lack of clarity about the purpose of schooling, and the dominance of knowledge-based models of teaching which do not allow students their own voice.

13. What will Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation do with this research going forwards?

As project funder and partner, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation will support the dissemination of the report. The Foundation is keen to see the ways in which it is taken up and its principles and recommendations taken forward.

14. Do you anticipate undertaking a further report in the future?

We are not considering another report at this stage, but we hope that various elements of the project – the Timeline and the case studies – will be iterative and updated each year.

Questions from the launch event

Read the answered questions from the launch event