Experts recommend that the arts and culture are made central to the National Curriculum up to age16

20 December 2011

As snow fell across some parts of the country yesterday, so the Department of Education released a flurry of documents and statements related to the National Curriculum Review. Here are the headlines:


In January this year the Secretary of State announced a Review of the National Curriculum and appointed an Expert Panel, headed by Tim Oates, to advise on a new framework for the UK to reflect the best of practice in other countries.

Colleagues throughout the sector sent in written evidence to the review team and the Cultural Learning Alliance sent in its own joint submission and encouraged all our members to get involved and have their say.

The DfE has now published this summary document which analyses the 5,763 responses they received. This summary includes some very heartening support for the arts and for cultural learning as expressed by colleagues, parents and teachers. Many respondents supported the retention of art and design, history and music within the National Curriculum and called for more creativity and innovation.

The CLA is absolutely delighted that the Expert Panel has built on this groundswell of support (as well as its own extensive research) to deliver a report which robustly recommends that arts subjects retain their statutory place in the National Curriculum. In fact the panel has gone further – suggesting that the current curriculum framework narrows too early in a child’s education, and that the arts should newly become part of every school’s basic curriculum at Key Stage 4.

This is a fantastic recognition of the value and importance of arts disciplines to our education and learning system.

The Secretary of State, Michael Gove, published this statement on releasing the documents. The headlines of his response are that the timescale of the National Curriculum review has now been revised and extended, with the new curriculum as a whole now to be introduced in 2014. More information on a revised remit and timetable are to be published in the new year and the SoS says that this lengthened timetable will allow for more consultation and debate by experts.

It is critical to note that these recommendations have not yet been adopted or agreed by the government, but they remain a very encouraging indication of the thoughts and ideas of the experts and advisers involved in the process.

A number of colleagues have been in touch to tell us what they think of the review. Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive of the ISM, the professional association for musicians in the UK, said:

‘This is promising news for music education and the whole music profession; the review panel’s comprehensive report should be taken on board by the Government and head teachers in schools across England. Whilst there is more to do, this is an important step forward in the review of the National Curriculum.’

The report has been picked up and analysed across the media including the BBC, the Independent and the Telegraph.

What else is in the Expert Panel’s report?

  • A set of aims for the national curriculum as follows:

The school curriculum should develop pupils’ knowledge, understanding, skills and attitudes to satisfy economic, cultural, social, personal and environmental goals. More specifically, provision should be developed to:

  1. Satisfy future economic needs for individuals and for the workforce as a whole, including the development of secure knowledge and skills in communication, literacy and mathematics and confidence in acquiring new knowledge and skills;
  2. Appreciate the national cultures, traditions and values of England and the other nations within the UK, whilst recognising diversity and encouraging responsible citizenship;
  3. Provide opportunities for participation in a broad range of educational experiences and the acquisition of knowledge and appreciation in the arts, sciences and humanities, and of the high quality academic and vocational qualifications at the end of compulsory schooling;
  4. Support personal development and empowerment so that each pupil is able to develop as a healthy, balanced and self-confident individual and fulfil their educational potential;
  5. Promote understanding of sustainability in the stewardship of resources locally, nationally and globally.
  • Statutory subject shake-up

The panel makes some very clear distinctions about the different elements of the school curriculum, pointing out that the National Curriculum, Basic Curriculum and Local Curriculum should all form part of what a school offers to children.

  1. The National Curriculum involves the delivery of Core and Foundation subjects, which all currently have programmes of study and attainment targets published by the Secretary of State. Both Core and Foundation subjects are statutory.
  2. The Basic curriculum includes a set of statutory subjects which schools must include, but they are given the flexibility to decide what they cover.
  3. The local curriculum can be decided by schools and their communities

The Expert Panel suggests:

  1. that Core subjects should continue to have published attainment targets and programmes of study, and that Foundation subjects should have significant, but condensed and refined published specifications.
  2. that the Core subjects of the National Curriculum should, as now, be English, mathematics and science;
  3. Foundation subjects of the National Curriculum at Key Stages 1 - 4 should be geography, history and physical education. Foundation subjects at Key Stages 1 - 3 should be art & design and music. Modern foreign languages should be a foundation subject at Key Stages 2 - 4.
  4. The arts’ and design and technology to become part of the Basic curriculum (statutory) at Key Stage 4.
  • Level descriptors to be abolished

Students are currently assessed at different stages and are given a numbered ‘level’ which describes their attainment in each subject. Despite the consultation showing some teacher support for the existing system, the panel suggests that these are abolished and that a new system including a narrative description of achievement should be developed instead.

  • Shake-up of Key Stages

The panel is very clear (and we are very pleased) that the National Curriculum should not be organised according to the age of the learner. Instead it recommends that the current Key Stage system is retained (but with a shortening of some stages and lengthening of others). This means that teachers will have flexibility to tailor their approach to learners at different stages and abilities, but we may just need to ensure that the proposed new stage breaks do not open up more opportunities for national testing.

What exactly do they say about the arts at Key Stage 4?

The arts, at Key Stage 4, would combine art and music but also other aspects of the arts (e.g. dance and drama).

‘It may be worth explaining specifically why we believe ‘the arts’ should be made compulsory at Key Stage 4. Bearing in mind the influence that the EBacc is having on the provision of academic courses in Key Stage 4 for a larger proportion of pupils, we are concerned, as in primary education, that the role of art and music in a broad, balanced and effective education should not be lost. As Annex 3 shows, of the 14 jurisdictions compared, only four, including England, cease compulsory provision of art and music by the age of 14. Massachusetts (US) and Ontario (Canada) continue compulsory art and music till 18.’

‘Apart from the intrinsic worth of including art and music in the statutory curriculum from 5 to 16 because of the importance of pupils acquiring knowledge of their cultural heritage(s), there is now substantial evidence that a good art and music education benefits individuals, their communities and the nation as a whole in other ways. For example, a recent report from the US President’s Committee on arts and humanities provides evidence of benefits to pupil engagement, cognitive development and achievement, including in mathematics and reading. Similar findings have been reported recently in Australia and in a systematic review of research carried out in the UK. In addition to these educational outcomes for
pupils, consideration needs to be given to the importance of creative subjects to the economic health of the nation.

In other words, the arts subjects in the curriculum have the potential to meet aims and purposes in all of the domains mentioned in Chapter 2 (i.e. economic, cultural, social and personal). We therefore recommend that education in art and music should be supported in Key Stage 4 through statutory requirement (separately or in combination), i.e. as part of the Basic Curriculum, as broad responsibilities; content should be determined by the school.’

What is missing/ of concern?

It is also important to note that Draft versions of the Programmes of Study for English, science, mathematics and physical education are still being developed and will be shared more widely next year prior to a formal public consultation. The intention is that the final Programmes of Study for these subjects, and any other subjects that it is decided should remain in the National Curriculum, will be available to schools by September 2013 with teaching in maintained schools to commence from September 2014.

We lobbied very strongly in our original submission for Drama to be included in the English programme of study (or to be given its own Foundation status) and similarly for Dance to be included in PE, or for it to become its own subject. This will be extremely important and will have significant implications for delivery of the curriculum. Although we did see some good analysis of this issue for Dance in the summary of responses document, we did not see any reference to Drama in the same way.

A new remit for the review and a new consultation period may present us with an opportunity to work with the Department for Education to create an excellent and robust framework which really supports young people, teachers, practitioners, and parents. We urge the Department and its officials to respond to the CLA’s recommendation earlier this year to meet with us and our representatives and talk through the ways that cultural learning can be strengthened and supported in schools.