Policy and Practice round-up February 2023

20 February 2023

This month’s round-up includes the government’s annual report on young people’s wellbeing and mental health; a report on creativity in STEM subjects; a new campaign to broaden the secondary curriculum; the CLA’s submission for the government’s spring budget; a report on how schools responded to the second year of the pandemic; and an editorial in The Guardian on the need for greater investment in arts education. 

Government’s 2023 Annual Report on Young People’s Wellbeing and Mental Health

The government’s annual report on young people’s wellbeing was published this month, with a particular focus on how the government’s educational recovery programmes impacted mental health. 

Drawing on a wide range of surveys, the report finds that: 

  • Young people’s mental wellbeing in 2022 was close to pre-pandemic levels, recovering from the significant dips experienced in 2020 and 2021. However, some groups especially pupils with SEND, or those who are towards the end of secondary education continue to have lower wellbeing than peers
  • However, rates of probably mental disorders remain at a higher level than they were pre-pandemic. Young people towards the end of their teenage years are more likely to have sought support for their mental health needs. This is worrying as early intervention is critical in the treatment and management of mental disorders
  • The percentage of pupils reporting ‘low happiness’ with school has increased in recent years, with particularly high rates among pupils with SEND
  • The percentage of young people who report low levels of happiness remains higher than it was before the pandemic 
  • Rates of participation in extracurricular and physical activity have increased since the 2020/21 academic year however most of these data seems to be about participation in sports and outdoor activities.

The report concludes by emphasising the uneven recovery of young people’s mental health after the pandemic and the need for more concerted action to drive this recovery. 

What do young people think about creativity in STEM subjects?

A new report from the British Science Association (BSA) investigates young people’s views on creativity in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects. Using a poll of 1,000 14-18 year olds conducted between 2020 and 2021 and focus groups with the same age range, the report finds the following: 

  • Young people are most passionate about using knowledge to overcome the climate emergency, the cost of living crisis, and challenges with young people’s mental health
  • While 80% of young people believe creativity is vital to overcoming these major societal challenges, they also have a limited understanding of how STEM and creativity can work together as part of overcoming these problems 
  • Young people want to see more integration between STEM and arts subjects. At present, they feel that the education system makes them choose between being “creative” or “technically minded”. Over a third of young people reported feeling that they do not get enough opportunities to exercise their creativity in school (despite wanting to) 

The report concludes by recommending that the forthcoming Cultural Education Plan should include plans for integrating STEM and arts subject teaching, while also calling for science and arts engagement organisations to further young people’s understanding of the relationship between both areas. 

The Save our Subjects campaign 

A new campaign from the Independent Society of Musicians (with a wide range of partners) makes the case for broadening the curriculum, with a particular emphasis on arts. 

The campaign argues that school accountability measures have undermined schools’ ability to offer arts provision, with a lot of blame being laid at the doorsteps of the EBacc (which excludes arts subjects), and the use of ‘Progress 8’ (which draws on EBacc subjects) as a measure of tracking school performance. 

In order to improve access to the arts as part of the formal school curriculum, the campaign calls for:

  • A review of the impact of accountability measures (such as EBacc and Progress 8) on arts subjects
  • Reform of Progress 8 accountability measures to give pupils more freedom of choice in subjects 
  • Commit to the Arts Premium, a policy long argued for by the CLA, promised for secondary schools in the Conservative (and Labour) 2019 manifesto and in the 2020 Budget at a level of £90 million a year, averaging out at an extra £25,000 a year per secondary school for three years. However, plans were jettisoned in the aftermath of the pandemic

The campaign is actively seeking participants and supports you can get involved here 

CLA submission for the government’s spring budget

The government’s next budget will be announced on 15 March. The budget will set out the government’s agenda for spending, investment and taxation for the remainder of the year. 

As part of the process of developing the spring budget, the Treasury invites submissions from individuals and organisations to make the case for investment in particular areas. The CLA submitted a proposal making the case for the government to deliver on its 2019 manifesto commitment of an arts premium for schools. 

The case for an arts premium will be familiar to much of our membership and is laid out here. Our budget submission updates the overall case by pointing out that: 

  • The pandemic has worsened the mental health of many young people and cultural learning is an evidence-based approach to improving wellbeing 
  • According to employers, the workforce in England is blighted by serious skills shortages e.g. skills in communication and creativity that can be plugged by greater access to arts learning at school 
  • The per-recipient funding of the arts premium must be increased to reflect the rise in prices from inflation 

School Recovery Strategies: Year 2 findings

A new report from the Department for Education captures how schools responded to the second year of the pandemic and what further support they need to support young people’s recovery. Produced by The Centre for Education and Youth, Ipsos Mori and Sheffield Hallam University, the report touches on many issues related to cultural learning: 

  • School leaders, especially at primary level, reported that pupil progress in the arts was inhibited by the pandemic
  • The focus of school ‘recovery’ expenditure in the second year of the pandemic was focused on interventions that would improve pupils’ social and emotional learning and mental health. These interventions included a broader curriculum involving arts and music
  • School leaders want more funding and support from government to continue to offer these kinds of interventions, including arts and cultural learning 

The Guardian view on arts education: a creativity crisis

An editorial in The Guardian details the disparity in access to arts education between the private and state sector. The article makes many familiar arguments with clarity and force. In particular, the piece emphasises that participation in the arts has fallen in state schools in the last decade, with policies such as EBacc, Progress 8 and austerity lying at the root of the problem. 

The piece concludes by arguing for the government to deliver on its promise of an arts premium as part of creating the labour supply of creative and arts professionals that the country’s growing creative industries require.