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Policy And Practice Round Up January 2024

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Policy and Practice Round-up January 2024

This month we bring you the National Education Union calling for a curriculum ‘revolution’; a new report on using arts enrichment to improve school attendance; updates on the plans of the new Chief of Ofsted; predictions for education policy and practice in 2024; troubling news of cultural funding cuts in Suffolk; and new funding streams for cultural events in the West Midlands. 

The National Education Union draw call for a ‘revolution’ to make the school curriculum arts-rich 

new article in ‘Educate’, the National Education Union’s (NEU) magazine of current affairs in the teaching profession, makes a powerful statement on the need for an arts-rich curriculum in schools. 

Written by Ken Jones, academic and head of policy at NEU, the article argues that the funding crisis has negatively affected the ability of schools to provide a high-quality arts education to young people. But the lack of value given to the arts runs through other policies and procedures in the education system – for example, Michael Gove’s 2014 guidance for school buildings states that dance and drama should be delivered in school halls ‘as much as possible’ rather than in specialised spaces. 

Drawing on a roundtable held by the NEU that included voices from the education sector, cultural industries and trade unions, the article concludes with a call for a ‘revolution’ in curriculum, pedagogy and assessment so that “the principles of creative education

can be realised across the whole experience of school.” The CLA is also delighted to see that the article profiles our advocacy work to make those principles of creative education a reality at the policy and practice level. 

New report calls for greater access to enrichment in schools to solve the attendance crisis

new report from The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) draws on polling and research to argue that improved access to extra-curricular activities (including arts enrichment) could be part of the solution to the current crisis of persistent pupil absence in schools. The report notes that extra-curricular activities are frequently the most attractive part of school life for many young people, especially those who are most marginalised and vulnerable to persistent absence. As a consequence, the report makes the case for a ‘Right to Sport’ in schools that would guarantee that all young people receive two hours of sports activity in any given week. In addition to improving attendance, this would further close the ‘enrichment gap’ between independent and state schools.

While the report primarily focuses on extra-curricular activities through the lens of sport, its fundamental argument extends to arts-based enrichment. Furthermore, analysis of DCMS’ ‘Taking Part’ survey between 2015 and 2017 has revealed that a strong arts offer in schools is one of the most effective ways of closing the enrichment gap between young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and their more advantaged peers (especially those attending private schools). 

New head of Ofsted sets out potential changes to the inspectorate 

On January 2nd, former academy trust leader Sir Martyn Oliver took over as chief inspector of Ofsted. He takes the reins of an organisation embroiled in even greater controversy than usual. The inquest into the suicide of Ruth Perry concluded that Ofsted’s negative judgment on Perry’s school had played a role in her suicide, with the chief coroner on the case giving Ofsted 56 days to respond to recommendations for reducing the likelihood of such tragedies in the future. With teachers’ and school leaders’ trust of Ofsted at a record low, Oliver has an enormous task ahead of him if he is to make the inspectorate a viable source of oversight for the education sector. 

Thus far, Oliver has trailed the following intended changes for Ofsted: 

  • Ending the ‘us and them’ perception that teachers have of Ofsted by making Ofsted “more part of the system”
  • Creating the conditions in which the parts of the education system are inspected by individuals who have expertise in those parts (e.g. primary schools to be overseen by inspectors with experience and expertise in primary education) 
  • More openness around the training process for Ofsted inspectors 
  • Mandatory mental health training for all Ofsted inspectors 

Otherwise, Oliver has stated broadly that he hopes to make Ofsted more ‘compassionate’ and ‘empathetic’ towards the teaching profession. Time will tell whether this becomes the case. 

Predictions for education policy and practice in 2024

Education policy commentator Sam Freedman has used an article in the Times Educational Supplement to set out his predictions for the education sector in 2024. Much of it is centred around the forthcoming General Election and how education will feature in campaigns and manifestos. Freedman’s predictions include:

  • The Conservative campaign will focus on “scaring people Labour with negative attacks”
  • Labour will “make the targets as small as possible” by avoiding big spending promises or radical policies 
  • Any substantive education proposals will focus on early years 
  • Schools will continue to grapple with the main crises in the sector – teacher recruitment and retention, the consequences of child poverty and poor mental health, damaged school buildings and persistent absence. Schools will have to deal with these issues in a climate of especially tight funding
  • Ofsted will delay making any major reforms until after the General Election 

Freedman’s article captures the general sense that there is likely to be a change of government after the election and predicts that Labour will use its first 100 days in power to announce a flurry of education policies, with a focus on reviews of current policy and practice. 

Shocking cuts to the cultural sector in Suffolk prompt responses from across the sector

The cultural sector was shocked to learn earlier this month that Suffolk County Council will cut £500,000 of funding to the arts and museums sector in the county. The cuts amount to almost entirely eliminating local government funding for the cultural sector. 

The Council has historically funded a wide range of organisations, including DanceEast, Eastern Angles Theatre Company and First Light Festival. This funding supported organisations to offer arts outreach and education to vulnerable people and young people. 

The cuts reflect the major funding pressures that local councils have experienced since 2010, with total cuts since then amounting to a staggering 40%. Suffolk County Council have briefed that they intend to redirect arts funding to improve children’s services and adult care over the next two years. While these services are undeniably important, the need for there to be a trade-off between funding these services and the cultural sector is a political choice shaped by underfunding from central government. 

The cuts have prompted opposition from across the cultural and education sectors. Trade union leader, Geoff Barton, described the news as “bleakly disspiriting” and emphasised the importance of funding for arts opportunities in rural areas such as Suffolk. Celebrities such as Dame Judi Dench have also responded, calling for the cuts to be reconsidered. 

The West Midlands establishes a new funding stream to support local cultural events

In some better funding related news, the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) announced this month that it would redirect £3 million of Commonwealth Games legacy funding towards cultural events in the region. Events to receive funding include a celebration of Caribbean culture, and the Godiva music festival. 

The cash injections come in the context of Birmingham County Council declaring bankruptcy in September, throwing local arts organisations into peril after the council had committed £3 million of annual funding earlier in the year. The move by the WMCA highlights the opportunities that metro mayors have to intervene in and drive policy change at the local level. 

Article on ITV drama Mr Bates serves as a reminder of the power of the arts to be a force for social change

ITV’s celebrated recent drama serial, Mr Bates, has been lauded by critics for its well crafted and sensitive exposition of the British Post Office scandal. As comedian and critic Stewart Lee noted in The Observer, “Mr Bates was a win for acting, writing, filming, recorded sound, design, costume and the arts generally, showing how the arts can excite the collective imagination and the national conscience, give voice to the voiceless and bring the whole country together by the power of storytelling”. 

In the context of the arts being squeezed out of the lives of young people, Mr Bates is a timely reminder of the fundamental social importance of the arts and the need for all young people to experience the opportunity to become participants in and creators of it.