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Arts in Schools Summary

Published by A New Direction, in partnership with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the other nine former Bridge organisations, the recently published The Arts in Schools: Foundations for the Future report offers an evidence-based analysis of the current state of arts education in England’s schools and a vision for how it can be transformed for the better. We summarise the report’s key findings here, along with how CLA will support next steps for these findings. 


The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation published The Arts in Schools: Principles, practice and provision 40 years ago. It was the culmination of a four-year inquiry into the state of arts in schools in England and Wales. The report helped to consolidate the place of the arts in UK school life in the 1980s. Its recommendations were taken up by local authorities, which at the time managed most schools. It paved the way for the arts to be included in England’s first National Curriculum in 1988 and inspired many professional arts organisations to engage with the education sector for the first time. 

The Arts in Schools: Foundations for the Future is a recently published successor to the 1983 report, assessing the situation 40 years on. Co-authored by CLA founder, Sally Bacon OBE, with Pauline Tambling CBE, the report used an intensive consultation process over six months in 2022, involving more than 300 experts from the education and arts sectors, and young people themselves. The findings from these consultations offer an overview of the current state of arts in schools in England and what needs to be done to ensure every child has access to an arts-rich education. 

In this blog we offer a summary of some of the key framings and findings of the report. As a detailed and deeply insightful piece of work, it is beyond the scope of a short blog to cover all the report’s findings. As such, we hope that this will give readers a snapshot of some of the key headlines from the report that they can explore further in the full report

The current context for Arts in Schools

The last four decades have been a period of relentless change for our education system. But we have also witnessed three major changes in the economy and society that reinforce why high-quality, universally accessed arts education needs to be central to our school curriculum:

The growth of the creative industries – In 2019 the creative industries contributed £115.9 billion to the UK’s GVA (gross value added), accounting for 5.9% of the UK economy. The creative industries sector (which includes digital and IT) is one of the fastest growing parts of the economy. Even with pandemic decline, GVA for the creative industries grew at a higher relative rate than the whole of the UK economy. This represents a huge growth and employment opportunity for today’s young people which is not currently reflected in the school curriculum or careers education.      

Growth in economic sector buy-in for the value of an arts-rich education to employers – In the last four decades, representatives of industry from the World Economic Forum (WEF), the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and others have taken the position that arts education in school is essential for economic growth. When consulted they say that they want to see creative skills in new applicants: creativity, problem-solving, leadership, teamwork, communication, focus, and flexibility – all skills developed by studying arts subjects.

The challenges young people face have multiplied – Children and young people today are confronting economic, social, technological, environmental and geo-political change, as well as threats around poverty, online abuse and risk, grooming, drugs, knife crime, identity, gender, racism and xenophobia – multiple difficulties which can impact upon their education and potential. An arts-rich education has a huge role to play in children’s preparedness for living in challenging times, and in protecting their education and wellbeing through this indisputably difficult period.

All three of these major economic and social changes reinforce the need for greater access to high quality arts and cultural provision to prepare children and young people for the world of work, as well as preparing them for grappling with the challenges that they face growing up, and the challenges they will face as adults in the future.

The value placed on arts in schools

The Arts in Schools consultations found that: 

  •       Despite all that we know about the value of arts subjects for children and young people, there is a lack of value ascribed to the arts within the state education system in England. At every stage in the schooling system the arts are disadvantaged: at initial teacher recruitment and training, through to a lack of support for arts teaching in primary schools. The prioritisation of EBacc (non-arts) subjects in secondary accountability measures has meant a reduction in the level of arts subjects teachers and resources available, and therefore declining GCSE and A Level take-up. Dance and drama have no parity at inspection level, and film and digital media have been excluded from the national curriculum. We have an assessment regime that does not work for arts subjects, which require different kinds of measurement, and the investment required to develop these has not been made because of their perceived low status. 
  •       Re-centring the arts in education will require education system change – Whenever there has been disquiet about the place of the arts in schools, the response of governments and funding agencies has been to offer non-statutory guidance, or to put in place time-limited ‘pilot’ and ‘targeted’ projects, or ‘plans’, to fill the gap. In order to ensure access to the benefits of arts subjects that children and young people require we need a broader and more balanced curriculum for our schools, one that equips young people for the present as well as the future, and with a new area of learning, Expressive Arts, set alongside other curriculum areas of study – all of which are equal in status, and aligned to clear purposes for schooling.

What arts-rich schools do 

The consultation found that arts-rich schools have several features in common:

  • Leadership is key. Good arts practice in schools is only possible if there is support from the senior leadership team (SLT) or MAT, and where the arts are ‘on show’ to parents and governors, and celebrated within the school and wider community so that their value is recognised
  • The involvement of parents and children. Arts mean a great deal to young people. Involving young people in the development of arts practice and curriculum in schools is something that engages young people further in the arts overall. Involving parents in deciding how young people access arts in schools is important to ensuring their buy-in and ongoing support for the arts 
  • Extra-curricular opportunities are not an alternative to classroom time. Out-of-school activities are best deployed where young people wish to pursue their arts learning beyond what is possible within the curriculum, often with peers who are also motivated to do more, and with specialist staff or professional artists

Recommendations for system change

Drawing together the consultation findings, the report sets out ten core principles for policy and delivery, including five to underpin the arts in schooling, and makes the following recommendations for change: 

  1. A national conversation about why and how we educate young people in England. Based on the same process conducted to develop the Welsh curriculum and involving parents, employers, young people and experts and policymakers from across the arts and education.
  2. The use of the term ‘Expressive Arts’ to further define and clarify the role and importance of the arts in schools.
  3. Changes to how we assess arts subjects. The models described by the Rethinking Assessment movement form the basis for considering approaches to arts assessment, reflecting the use of digital learner profiles, and achievements beyond exams. 
  4. Creating an arts entitlement within the school day, and extra-curricular arts as additional. Every child, including those in academies, should have an entitlement to a minimum of four hours of Expressive Arts education per week. Extra-curricular arts should be re-cast as supplementary to arts in the main school day. 
  5. Representation and relevance must be considered in every dimension of arts education. This includes selection of works of study as well as identities of people leading and teaching arts in schools. 
  6. Teachers and learner agency is important. The voices of children and young people should contribute to the arts offer in schools, and teacher agency is equally important in terms of what is taught, and how. have their voices included in the development of how arts are taught in schools. 
  7. The production of a refreshed, coherent, evidence base to support the growth of arts education. This evidence base can support a narrative for parents, headteachers, governors, teachers and arts organisations on the importance of the arts and how they can be taught well. 
  8. Support for the arts in schools from the professional arts sector. The report calls for more collaboration between education and arts policy makers and funders to ensure that the resources of the professional arts sector can be made easily available and relevant to schools (including, importantly, online).
  9. Place schools at the heart of their communities. Schools should be relevant to their local circumstances, engaging with civic society and accessing the resources of their local communities. 
  10. Aggregating the findings of all recent reports and initiatives calling for education system change. These include Rethinking Assessment, Big Change’s Subject to Change, ASCL’s Blueprint for a Fairer Education System, and the Times Education Commission. 

Conclusion and next steps

The report, an executive summary, a 40-year timeline, a set of case studies demonstrating what works well, and a series of related blogs are available here. The CLA is delighted to be taking on and hosting The Arts in Schools assets from the autumn, when they will be available on our website to support the cultural learning sector’s understanding of the current state of arts in schools, what works well, and what needs to change. We will also continue to advocate for these changes to key policy makers.