Ofsted’s subject reviews highlight strengths and weaknesses in arts teaching in England
Ofsted’s subject reviews are high-level evaluations of the trends in, and quality of, the teaching of particular subjects in schools in England. In September 2023, Ofsted published reviews of Music and Physical Education, with the latter including findings on the teaching of Dance. Findings from the reviews include:
- Music is generally well taught in Early Years and Key Stage 1, with a high level of access to opportunities to learn about music. This declines slightly at Key Stage 2.
- By contrast, music teaching at Key Stage 3 is much more variable. Inspectors report that Music is given insufficient curriculum time in half the schools they visited.
- The approach to Music teaching, between Key Stage 1 and 3, often underestimates the importance of developing disciplinary knowledge in Music and key skills (e.g. composition).
- Schools with the best Music teaching have experts in Music leading the teaching of the subject.
- Many Music teachers at the secondary level are “left isolated or were given in-school support from non-music specialists. Consequently, they often had too few opportunities to develop their understanding of effective curriculum design in music and their knowledge of music pedagogy.”
- In two thirds of the schools, dance is not taught to all pupils, or the dance content being taught is not well organised.
Ofsted concludes with recommendations for improving teaching in Music and Dance, focussing on the need for schools to invest in ensuring they have high-quality staff with the right professional development opportunities to confidently teach subjects. They also recommend schools guard curriculum time for the teaching of both subjects.
We asked Laura Nicholson, Head of Children and Young People’s Dance at One Dance, for comment on Ofsted’s findings:
“Ofsted’s recent report ‘Levelling the playing field: the physical education subject report’, highlights the dramatic inequalities and injustices that exist around access to high-quality dance education. The report finds that in over a third of schools, dance is either not taught to all pupils or not at all. It further highlights that pupils regularly experience dance activities where learning is not clear or well-organised and where staff lack confidence and subject-specific knowledge.
These findings echo and amplify One Dance UK’s grave concerns that - despite being a compulsory feature of the English National Curriculum – dance as an educational subject has been marginalised and attacked at every turn in recent decades. Shifting educational priorities, a focus on a narrow ‘knowledge based’ curriculum, punitive school accountability measures and funding challenges have all played their part. The damage has been further exacerbated by a negative rhetoric around dance and other arts-based subjects being ‘non-priority’, ‘low value’ and ‘Mickey Mouse subjects’, used at government level and through the media.
The creative industries contribute significantly to the UK economy and are demonstrating enormous growth. Furthermore, the UK is facing both a mental health pandemic and an obesity crisis amongst its children and young people. Given this context, it is nonsensical that a subject like dance, which is proven to contribute positively to physical fitness, mental wellbeing and creative learning, is not a national priority. Dance must be protected and celebrated as an educational subject area, through appropriate ringfenced funding, a review and reform of school accountability measures and through public recognition of its positive contribution to society, health and the economy.”
The Advanced British Standard: a new post-16 qualification for pupils in England?
Announced during the 2023 Conservative Party Conference, the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak set out plans to gradually reform A Levels and T Levels over the next 10 years to become a new qualification: The Advanced British Standard (ABS). The ABS will include:
- A minimum of five subjects, organised into ‘majors’ and ‘minors’ with a maths and English qualification as compulsory
- A range of both vocational and academic subjects
- An increase in contact time between teachers and students as part of post-16 education
The introduction of the ABS would also be supported by bonuses for teachers in certain STEM subjects to improve their recruitment and retention.
The ABS offers little for arts subjects. This is peculiar, given that the introduction of the ABS is motivated by creating the supply of skills that are required to maintain and grow British industry. Employers routinely report that the main skills new entrants to the labour market are deficient in are skills related to communication, teamwork and creativity, and these are just some of the evidenced benefits of studying arts subjects. As such, the new qualification misses an opportunity to align with the needs of the group it is designed for.
The government has stated that it will initiate consultation for the ABS this Autumn, creating an opportunity for creative learning professionals to lobby for better representation of Expressive Arts subjects in the new qualification. We’ll keep you updated as to when this consultation will go live.
Government announces new arts bursaries for Initial Teacher Training
The government has stated its aim to introduce several new bursaries for Initial Teacher Training (ITT) for the academic year 2024/25. Among these new bursaries are £10,000 grants to prospective teachers of Music and Art & Design.
The news is welcome as the impact of bursaries on improved teacher recruitment are evident. However, for comparison, bursaries in the 2024/25 academic year will stand at £28,000 for chemistry, computing, mathematics and physics despite Music having a comparable recruitment deficit. If the government believes these financial incentives are sufficient to plug recruitment gaps for STEM subjects then the same principle should surely be extended to the arts if we want to overcome the recruitment crisis in teaching.
Youth Sports Trust
CLA has recently been working with the School Sport & Activity Sector Partnership (SSAS). Led by the Youth Sport Trust, its purpose is to unite and amplify the voice of the sector, fostering collaboration and driving collective action to shape the future of PE, school sport and physical activity, while engaging with government stakeholders for positive changes.
The SSAS welcomed its partners to Villa Park for their annual summit at the end of September and invited Sally Bacon, CLA Co-Chair, to deliver a keynote about creating and sustaining a sector support organisation in a context of education system challenges. Other event partners were the DfE, DCMS and the FA. CLA welcomes the opportunity to work with the youth sport sector, not least as we all share an interest in Dance, and in representing the aspects of schooling which provide some young people with their most enriching, and memorable school experiences. We look forward to continuing to work with our school sport colleagues into the future.
The CLA is changing
Look out for some CLA changes this autumn. We are launching two important new initiatives relating to evidence gathering, and we will be sharing our new identity, new website, and some new features and reports very soon. As part of the establishment of CLA as a new charity, following more than a decade of operation as an informal alliance, we will also be seeking to appoint new trustees. We will have more information in our next newsletter - so if you are passionate about the value of arts education and think that you have the skills, qualities or experience to help us deliver our mission on behalf of all children and young people, then look out for more details in our next newsletter.