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Policy and Practice Round-up March 2024

This month we bring new announcements on the Labour Party’s position on Expressive Arts in schools; warnings from the NAHT on the role of arts in schools; teacher labour market data shows worrying trends in relation to the arts; the Runnymede Trust/Freelands Foundation report on race and the visual arts in schools; the percentage of UK arts award nominees who are privately educated; the power of the arts to heal children’s trauma; more on the value of school trips; and a new government review of Arts Council England. 

Shadow position on Expressive Arts subjects in schools

Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme on 11 March, where she committed to delivering a broad and balanced curriculum, including through improving access to creative and vocational subjects such as music, sport and drama. 

Visiting a school alongside the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer later that day, Phillipson said that creative subjects have increasingly become the preserve of children whose parents can afford extra-curricular activities and insisted that she would ensure more young people have access to a broader range of subjects that they “love and enjoy”. To that end, Phillipson recommitted to launching an “expert-led review” of the school curriculum which promises to deliver a curriculum that is “rich and broad, inclusive and innovative”. Asked how she intends to fund a broadening of the curriculum, Phillipson insisted that education would be a “big priority” for an incoming Labour government. 

From a CLA perspective, this clearly aligns with our Manifesto Asks and it is encouraging to see Phillipson committed to ensuring a curriculum that encompasses cultural learning. However, we are keen to see more than a curriculum review: we know that we need a review of the purposes of schooling to precede any review of the curriculum, after which we hope to see the Expressive Arts identified as an equal curriculum area, alongside other curriculum areas such as STEM, given their evidenced benefits in providing children and young people with skills for life and skills for work. You can listen to Phillipson’s comments here (they begin approximately 52 minutes into the programme). 

Headteachers’ Union warns about the “naive” undervaluing of arts in schools 

The National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) union has warned of the “naive undervaluing” of arts in the education system as creative subjects are “squeezed out” of the school timetable. Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, expressed concerns that current accountability systems are diminishing the role of the arts in schools and ignore the employment potential that the arts bring to young people. 

The warning came amid intimations by the Labour Party (discussed above) that they would expand access to the arts in schools if elected to government. As the article suggests, this expansion may be supported by immediate changes to the Progress 8 accountability measure. The warning also comes amid an assertion from the current government that they would not explore curriculum reform or expansion of access to arts in schools. 

Latest teacher labour market data shows a worrying lack of improvement in arts teacher recruitment and retention

The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has published its latest review of the teacher workforce in England. The figures show that the worrying trends in teacher recruitment and retention of the last decade show no signs of disappearing: 

  • The government has missed its own Initial Teacher Training (ITT) targets for secondary teachers by 50%
  • Working hours for teachers have increased significantly in 2022/23, with NFER attributing this to worsening pupil behaviour since the pandemic
  • Forecasting for ITT recruitment for the 2024/25 academic year suggests that shortages in Arts subjects will worsen, with the government predicted to miss its targets for Art & Design (by 57%), Music (by 73%), Design & Technology (by 63%) and Drama (by 43%)
  • Teacher leaving rates continue to rise following the pandemic 

The NFER report also notes the positive impact of bursaries on improving ITT recruitment, underscoring CLA’s manifesto ask to introduce bursaries for arts subjects in order to remove one of the key barriers to entry for prospective arts teachers. 

New research from Runnymede Trust highlights challenges around race and inclusion in visual arts education 

New research from the Runnymede Trust is detailed in one of our articles this month. The research recommends that visual arts education can be made more inclusive and representative if exam boards introduce new parameters around the diversity of visual artists taught and the government collects better data on participation in visual arts subjects in school based on ethnicity. This aligns with calls from CLA in our forthcoming Manifesto Asks and Report Card on a focus on representation, breadth and relevance across the Arts curriculum, as well as plugging key gaps that exist in routine Department for Education data collection. 

Latest data shows increase in child poverty 

The Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) has published its latest data on household poverty, showing that 4.3 million children are growing up in poverty. This number represents an increase of more than 100,000 children from between 2022 and 2023.

The alarming figures indicate the fastest rise in child poverty in the UK in 30 years and leaves 25% of children in the country living in absolute poverty. The figures are also expected to rise as an increasing number of families are affected by the two-child benefits cap which applies to children born after 2017. 

The figures reflect that an increasing number of families lack the income to be able to support their child with accessing the arts and cultural learning outside of school, perhaps broadening the ‘enrichment gap’ between children from poorer and wealthier families.  In line with other research discussed in our forthcoming Report Card, this places a greater emphasis on the need for a strong arts offer in schools to prevent the widening of this gap.

Nearly half of UK nominees for major cultural prizes in the last decade were privately educated

Given CLA’s focus on social justice, we were delighted to see analysis of the disproportionate allocation of awards and award nominations to individuals who have been privately educated. 

In research conducted by the Labour Party and reported in The Guardian, analysts found that 40% of British artists nominated for main prizes at major cultural awards went to artists who went to private school. By contrast, only around 6% of British people are privately educated.  The analysis draws on 130 Britons nominated for the main prizes at the Oscars, Baftas and Mercury Prize over the last 10 years. 

The analysis mirrors previous findings from The Sutton Trust that 40% of Bafta winners were privately educated, as well as findings in our forthcoming Report Card on the difference in arts provision between private and state schools. 

Experts weigh in on the power of arts to help children heal from trauma

new article in Ed Source describes how Northern California’s Butte County responded to the trauma brought on by a wildfire in 2018 by deploying arts educators into schools to help students cope with their fear, grief and loss. The article reviews stories of the impact of this arts-based approach to dealing with trauma, with a particularly key quote from US Surgeon General, Dr Vivek Murthy, who states that “Music can, in a matter of seconds, make me feel better … I’ve prescribed lots of medicines as a doctor of the year. There are few I’ve seen that can have that kind of extraordinary, instantaneous effect.” 

With 2 in 5 young people in England having a probable mental health disorder, it’s always valuable to remember the important role of the arts as a scalable, cost-effective and impactful pathway for overcoming the country’s mental health crisis. 

Public Body review of Arts Council England announced

The government has announced the second stage of a Public Body Review into Arts Council England (ACE). Public Bodies Reviews aim to understand whether public bodies are delivering against their goals, as well as monitoring their efficiency, efficacy, accountability and governance. The government has appointed a Review Team comprising officials from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport as well as an expert advisory team that can be found here

The case for cultural capital as part of driving social mobility 

new article in TeachWire makes the case for why the education system must aim to develop cultural capital among young people in order to support their social mobility. The article draws on CLA research and argues that improving young people’s access to school trips to cultural experiences will play a key role in supporting this cultivation of cultural capital. 

We want to hear from you!

We are commissioning articles from our members for all our 2024 newsletters so if you have a project you want to share as a Case Study, have information to share for our upcoming ‘Council Cuts Watch’ section, or are interested in commenting in depth on any of our Manifesto Asks, let us know by email.