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Policy And Practice Round Up July 2023

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Policy and practice round-up July 2023

This month we bring you a new report on the state of the nation’s art education, an evaluation of how arts organisations have grown their civic impact, commentary on the growing ‘enrichment gap’ from the head of the V&A museum, new research on how cultural learning is associated with youth employability and the impact of funding cuts on the arts at The University of East Anglia. 

New NSEAD report on the state of the nation’s art education

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Art, Craft and Design has published the findings of its ‘Art Now’ inquiry. Drawing on three years of evidence collection, the report details how education policy is impacting the teaching of art, craft and design in schools. 

Key findings from the report include: 

  • Ofsted’s highlighting of the importance of a broad and balanced curriculum has resulted in renewed investment and interest in some subject-specialist training and resources among schools 
  • Primary school teachers only receive around 3-12 hours of art and design training and only 21% have attended CPD in the subject, limiting their ability to offer high-quality teaching in the subject
  • 67% of art and design teachers in a survey reported that they were thinking about leaving the profession. Four out of five art and design teacher respondents reported that wellbeing and workload were by far the two biggest disincentives to stay in teaching and that these had worsened since the pandemic

The report concludes with a call to action to the government to invest in subject-specific CPD, improving teaching wellbeing and reducing workload, as well as improving representation in art and design subjects. 

New report on the civic role of arts organisations

new report examines how the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s ‘Civic Role of Arts Organisations’ programme has worked since 2016 to help arts organisations fulfil their civic role, serving and working with their local communities in the UK and beyond.

The programme has been part of wider Foundation interest in the civic and social role of arts activities and has created opportunities for:

  • Knowledge exchange to support peer-to-peer learning on how arts organisations can understand and grow their civic impact
  • Creating networks for civic arts organisations to share practice and solidarity in action
  • The creation of tools to support organisations to introduce anti-racist practice and online skills development programmes 
  • The ‘Award for Civic Arts Organisations’ 

The evaluation concludes that there is a “growing movement” of civic arts organisations, who have achieved:

  • Impact in local communities, through building connections within the community and giving people the confidence to act creatively and develop wellbeing, skills and creativity
  • Sustained change, with the language and approach of arts organisations having meaningfully changed to become more civic in orientation 

‘Horrible’ disparity emerging in cultural education in schools, says V&A head

The director of the Victoria and Albert museum has described a “horrible disparity” emerging between state and private schools in the provision of cultural learning. Speaking at the launch of the Young V&A in East London, Tristram Hunt highlighted a 60% fall in the number of young people taking art and design subjects at GCSE and the overall downgrading and exclusion of arts education in state schools. 

New report argues that cultural learning can play a role in improving youth employability

A new report from Demos concludes that young people are “being let down by the education system” which leaves them lacking in key transferable skills that employers want. Based on surveys of employers, the report finds that: 

  • 50% of employers say they struggle to hire young people with sufficient transferable skills like leadership, teamwork and emotional resilience
  • 57% of employers told us they value transferable skills over technical skills, compared to just 10% who say they value technical skills more
  • Employers reported concerns that young people are not being given opportunities to undertake coursework that helps them develop speaking and listening skills

This conclusion is very much in line with the findings of Gulbenkian’s The Arts in Schools: Foundations for the Future report, which was published in March. The Demos report draws on wider survey data to argue for an important role for cultural learning in overcoming these skills gaps: 

  • 54% of employed young people state they have gained teamwork skills that have helped their career 
  • 42% state they gained emotional resilience that helped their careers
  • 43% gained leadership skills that have helped their careers 

The report concludes that extra-curricular activities should form a central part of any strategy to improving young people’s skills, employability and more broadly driving economic growth. Nevertheless, we should emphasise that the arts should not just be the preserve of extra-curricular engagement – they should also be accessed through appropriately structured and sequenced formal learning as well. 

Cash-strapped universities may start cutting humanities and creative courses

As part of their ongoing campaign to diminish creative arts subjects in Higher Education, the government announced this month that they would “wage a war” on what they consider to be “low-value degrees”. 

While the government has not defined low value degrees, it is likely they will adhere to the Office for Students’ new B3 framework that vouches degree quality on continuation and completion rates, but also graduate salaries. As we have explained previously, this framework selects against creative arts subjects. 

The effects of this pressure on the Higher Education system are already starting to be felt more intensely. The University of East Anglia (UEA) announced this month that it will cut 36 academic posts, with the majority of the losses falling in the Arts and Humanities school. A UEA spokesperson states that the university needs to make £30 million in savings by September, leading to general staffing cuts. 

UEA plans to maintain “all subject areas in the faculty of Arts and Humanities”, including their well-known creative writing programme. However, the university has not offered any proposals on how this will be possible with staffing cuts. There is risk of a vicious circle of reduced staff numbers leading to overworked and burned out staff leaving the university, forcing the removal of some subject areas. 

New Ofsted chief appointed

Martyn Oliver, leader of an academy trust renowned for high numbers of suspensions, has been nominated as Ofsted’s next chief inspector to oversee England’s inspectorate of schools, children’s services and prison education in the new year.

Oliver’s trust, Outwood Grange Academies Trust, is based primarily in the north and Midlands. The trust has been widely lauded by the Department for Education and other leaders in the sector for driving up standards in schools it oversees. However, the trust has also attracted scrutiny and criticism for its high rates of permanent exclusion, suspension and strong focus on pupil behaviour and discipline. 

While Oliver himself was formerly a portrait artist, his attitude towards the arts and cultural learning in his new post remains unclear. However, it is likely that the current low levels of trust in Ofsted among teachers and the tragedy of Ruth Perry’s suicide will place increased pressure on the inspectorate for reform to their processes.