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Policy And Practice Round Up December 2023

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Policy and Practice Round-up December 2023

This month we bring you updates on new arts teacher recruitment data; a new House of Lords report calling for more creative subjects in schools; 11 key facts about England’s education system; and a parliamentary report on how the arts can support mental health in schools and the latest PISA results.

New teacher recruitment data

The UK Government has published its 2023/24 teacher recruitment data for England. This latest update shows that the Government has failed to meet any of its recruitment targets for arts subjects, with recruitment down on 2022/23 and significantly down on 2021/22.

For each subject, the Government sets itself recruitment targets to meet ahead of every academic year. For 2023/24, these recruitment targets for arts subjects – that is, Art and Design, Music, and Drama – were more ambitious than in previous years (note that the government does not report data on recruitment figures for Dance). However, not only has the Government failed to meet these targets, it has actually failed to increase recruitment at all across all three subjects. The number of new arts subject teachers is actually down on previous years.

For Art and design, the Government met just 44% of its recruitment target, compared with 88% in 2022/23 and 134% in 2021/22. It recruited just 364 teachers, 111 fewer than in 2022/23, and 416 fewer than in 2021/22. The numbers for Music teacher recruitment are even worse. The Government recruited just 27% of its 2022/23 target, down from an already-low 62% in 2022/23 and 71% in 2021/22. In fact, the Government managed to recruit just 216 teachers of its 780 teacher target. For drama, the figures are slightly better, with the Government recruiting 79% of its target, or 280 teachers, although these figures are still significantly down on previous years. 

The bleakness of these figures emphasises the urgent need for a new approach from the government towards teacher recruitment. As bursaries are a well-evidenced method of improving teacher recruitment, the introduction of a bursary for trainee music teachers in the 2024/2025 academic year is a welcome start –  but this bursary should be extended to other arts subjects.

APPG on Arts, Health, and Wellbeing publishes new Creative Health Review

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing has published its new Creative Health Review, looking at the impact of arts participation on health and wellbeing outcomes. As part of the review, the APPG looks at the impact of arts education on children’s health and wellbeing. It argues that creative activity in education settings can play an important role in shaping educational outcomes, improving mental health for pupils, and in reducing healthcare burdens in the NHS. 

The review begins by outlining the ongoing mental health crisis amongst children and young people. One in six 15-16 year olds have a diagnosable mental health disorder, and 75% of them are unable to access NHS support due to long waiting times and a lack of local provision. This situation has been exacerbated by the pandemic, with an increase in feelings of worry, grief, and hopelessness reported by young people alongside increased rates of depression, self-harm, anxiety, and PTSD. This crisis impacts some groups more than others: children from ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ young people, young people with long-term health conditions or disabilities, and those from poorer backgrounds are all disproportionately affected by this crisis.

The relationship between high-quality early years provision and good mental health is well observed. Roughly half of all mental health issues begin by age 14. The importance of cultural and creative learning is also well documented, and unequal access to creative experiences in childhood plays a part in shaping later socio-economic inequality. Schools have an important role to play in offering creative provision both within and outside of the curriculum, and shaping access to the arts as a vital constituent part of what the review calls the ‘creative health ecosystem.’

Next, the review places the relationship between creative education and good mental health within the context of declining arts provision, reductions in funding, and reductions in equitable access to the creative industries covered in other reports.

Finally, the review introduces the concept of ‘creative health’ in educational settings. Applied in school settings, ‘creative health’ can be used to improve health and wellbeing outcomes and address the needs of pupils. As such, it represents an important part of the curriculum throughout school by aiding educational development, regardless of whether students take, or plan to take, arts subjects as part of their formal qualifications. It can also have wider applicability, as part of wider community efforts to shape arts access and utilise resources to improve the accessibility of cultural experiences for pupils and other local people. The Department for Education, therefore, has an important role in shaping health and wellbeing outcomes for children and young people.

New report by the House of Lords Education for 11 – 16 Year Olds Committee

The House of Lords Education for 11 to 16 Year Olds Committee has published a new report, Requires Improvement: urgent change for 11 – 16 education. This report presents the results of a review of the 11 to 16 education system in England, based on evidence gathered from pupils, teachers, school leaders, academics, exam boards, and trade unions. It calls for urgent action to revise the curriculum and place more emphasis on creative, digital, and technical areas of study while reducing the assessment burden on pupils.

The report finds that the need for creative and collaborative thinking will be heightened by the 2030s, when the current cohort of 11 to 16 year olds will be entering the labour market. The current system of ‘knowledge-rich education’ places undue emphasis on rote learning and exam cramming over more practical and applicable skills for the future. Creativity is increasingly valued by employers and the UK’s creative industries are growing quickly: under current assessments they will account for 900,000 additional jobs over the next 10 years.

However, this industrial growth is taking place alongside access challenges to creative subjects and an ongoing decline in creative subject take-up in the 11-16 phase. The number of pupils taking music, drama, and performing/expressive arts GCSEs in 2023 was five, eight, and one percent respectively. This is a sharp decline from 2010, with music GCSE take-up falling by 35 percent, drama by 40 percent, and performing/expressive arts by 69 percent.

What is behind this decline? The Lords report outlines a number of factors, including school accountability measures that place greater emphasis on academic than creative study, reduced funding for arts subjects, and the undue emphasis on knowledge-rich, rote learning for exams. As such, the report recommends that ‘pupils must have genuine, substantive opportunities to study creative and artistic subjects at key stages 3 and 4.’ To that end, it argues that school accountability measures should be adjusted to help facilitate this. This aligns with the findings of the Gulbenkian The Arts in Schools report, published in March. 

EPI publishes new report outlining ’11 key facts’ about the education system in England

The Education Policy Institute has published a new report detailing what it claims are the ’11 key facts’ about the current state of the education system in England. The report forms part of Nesta’s UK 2040 Options Project, which explores policy options for children born today who will become adults in the 2040s. 

The 11 facts are:

  1. England performs well academically against international comparators
  2. Around 40% of the disadvantage gap at age 16 is already evident by age five
  3. Quality early years education and care leads to better outcomes but, for the average family, costs can amount to a quarter of their income
  4. Today’s geographic attainment inequalities will become tomorrow’s disparities in earnings and quality of life
  5. While the overall population is set to increase, the number of children in the UK will fall by 1.5 million by 2040
  6.  Many more children are missing school, with one in five pupils now persistently absent and vulnerable children amongst the worst affected
  7. Rising demand and an unresponsive funding system have meant that the school system is struggling to support some of our most vulnerable children
  8. Spending on education is above the OECD average, but schools and colleges have faced a funding squeeze that now looks set to continue
  9. The government is recruiting fewer than two-thirds of the secondary teachers it needs, and a third of teachers leave within five years
  10. England is home to world-class universities, but challenges remain around financial sustainability
  11. Closing the gap between skill supply and employer demand could increase national productivity by 5%

PISA findings and Scottish curriculum

This month saw the release of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report for 2022, offering a comparative assessment of skills in mathematics, reading and science for 15-year-old students in 81 countries across the world.

The report suggests that average performance in mathematics and reading has declined in England since the 2018 report; however scores remain significantly above the OECD average. The decline in mathematics and reading skills was seen across the OECD sample of countries, and has been provisionally linked to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

However, the PISA 2022 report also surfaced concerns beyond the three familiar skills measures. The results indicate that one in ten students said that they had skipped a meal in the week prior to responding to the PISA survey, well above the OECD average. It is also reported that students in England are twice as likely to have witnessed fights, threats, and vandalism in school. On average in the OECD sample, 75% of students feel a sense of belonging within their school – in England this is only 63%. This trend continues in students’ reported overall life satisfaction: in England, the average score out of ten was 6.01, while the OECD average was 6.75.

In the rest of the UK, it is worth highlighting that Scotland’s PISA figures show a marked decline in reading, mathematics and science compared to the OECD average. Historically, Scotland has outperformed England on many key education metrics. However,  there has been a decline in some academic attainment and performance and PISA since the introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) in 2010.

While Scotland’s changing outcomes might be interpreted as an indictment on Scotland’s CfE and the greater degree of focus it places on skills-based and creative learning, there are a few important issues to consider: 

  • A comprehensive assessment of a curriculum’s impact requires testing the curriculum on the measures it set out to impact. The Scottish CfE aims to impact a specific set of students’ skills and dispositions related to their preparedness for the world of work and citizenship in the 21st century. As such, assessing the CfE’s impact requires a set of assessment measures related to these skills.
  • The introduction of a new curriculum typically involves start-up and delivery challenges (such as teacher reskilling or upskilling)  that mean the potential impact of the curriculum cannot be initially perceived. As such, the CfE’s real impact – positive or negative – may only be perceptible after more time has elapsed.

All of us at The Cultural Learning Alliance would like to wish you a happy, safe and peaceful festive period. We want to thank all of you for your hard work this year in bringing the arts in the lives of young people, and remind you of the profound value of your work with a quote from Andreas Schleicher: 

“‘Our agenda has never been more important than it is today. These days education is no longer about teaching children something but about helping them develop a reliable compass, and the tools to navigate with confidence through this world that is increasingly complex … ambiguous. Success in education today is about building curiosity, opening minds. It’s about compassion, opening hearts. And it’s about courage, being able to mobilise our cognitive, social and emotional resources to do something. And it’s also going to be one of our best weapons against the biggest threat of our time: ignorance, the closed mind; hate, the closed heart; of fear, the enemy of agency.”

-Andreas Schleicher, Director, Directorate of Education and Skills, OECD, CLA Advisory Panel 2021