Policy and Practice Round-up September 2023

20 September 2023

This month we bring you news from the government on their ‘Enrichment Partnerships’ pilot; new research on how the cost of living crisis is affecting young people’s access to arts education; findings on the amount of arts teaching in schools delivered by non-experts; a new campaign to change policy on young people’s access to theatre; a mass survey of young people for the policy changes they want to see; and reporting on the widespread closure of art colleges across England. 

Government launched new £2.7 million pilot to create ‘enrichment leads’ in target areas 

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has joined up with the Department of Education (DfE) to launch a £2.7 million fund a delivery partner to pilot their ‘Enrichment Partnerships’ programme. 

The programme follows on from the government’s 2018-19 ‘Essential Life Skills’ policy, which increased access to enrichment activities in areas of low social mobility and deprivation across the country. Evaluation of the policy found that access to enrichment could be improved through having key local organisations and figures who “harness local provision and coordinate across clusters of schools”. 

The new Enrichment Partnerships pilot will fund a small number of staff in local organisations – including local authorities, voluntary and community sector organisations or multi-academy trusts – to provide the exact kind of services discussed above for schools. This will include:  

  • Developing local partnerships to deliver enrichment activities as part of the designed offer
  • Facilitating collaboration between schools to offer an enhanced enrichment offer
  • Identifying efficiencies across schools and access additional funding streams and support

The project’s ostensive aim is to “test whether greater coordination locally can enhance school enrichment offers and remove barriers to participation”. As the delivery of the project takes shape, the interesting question will be how this specification will make these kinds of ‘enrichment lead’ organisations and individuals distinctive from the role the former Bridge organisations played over the last eleven years (until March this year). A role that is too similar would be a mark of policy ‘deadweight’ – the creation of a programme that needlessly reproduces a programme that is already essentially in existence (or in this case has only just ceased to exist). 

New research emphasises the negative impact of the cost of living crisis on young people’s mental health and access to the arts 

A new survey-based study from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has drawn out the negative impact that the cost of living crisis is having on young people’s development and education. Based on surveys of 1,354 senior leaders and 1,317 teachers in mainstream schools, as well as 87 senior leaders and 41 teachers in special schools, the study finds that:

  • 84% of school leaders report that cost-of-living pressures have increased both the numbers of pupils requiring additional support and the level of need, particularly in the most disadvantaged schools
  • Senior leaders report that over a quarter of pupils in mainstream schools currently require additional support for mental health and well-being, which is significantly higher than in 2022
  • Nearly all schools (at least 90%) are subsidising extra-curricular activities for some pupils. This subsidising is the most common type of support taken up by pupils and families in both primary and secondary schools. Uptake for these subsidies is highest in the North of England 

While ‘extra-curricular activities’ include enrichment opportunities outside of the arts, the impact of the cost of living crisis on arts education is made clearer by these findings. The report concludes with calls for further funding for schools and ‘cost of living payments’ to target families to help them meet the needs of their children, including paying for their access to extra-curricular activities. 

Labour Party analysis shows the number of hours of arts teaching provided by non-specialist teachers

Examining school workforce census figures, a new release from the Labour Party has found an alarmingly high percentage of hours in some secondary subjects that are taught by those without a relevant degree in the subject they are teaching. 

While 80% of lessons in engineering and citizenship are taught by non-experts, data for arts subjects for this academic year varies:

  • 21.3% of hours of Design and Technology lessons were taught by non-specialist teachers, a 5% rise compared to 2016
  • 5.3% of Music hours were taught by non-specialists, a 1.7% increase compared to five years ago
  • 3.7% of Art and Design hours were taught by non-specialists, a fall of 0.3% compared to five years ago
  • 18.3% of Drama hours were taught by non-specialists, a fall of 1.5% compared to five years ago 
  • 59.3% of Media Studies hours were taught by non-specialists, a fall of 1.6% compared to five years ago 

These figures compare relatively positively to some subjects. For example, even subjects such as Computing that have been the target for major recruitment and upskilling investment still have nearly 50% of hours taught by non-experts. 

Society of London Theatre launch their ‘Theatre for Every Child' campaign

The Society of London Theatre (SOLT) announced the Autumn launch of their campaign to ensure every child goes to the theatre by the time they leave school.

The campaign will be targeted at politicians, with the aim of building consensus and gathering buy-in for widening access to children’s access to the theatre. Drawing on research on the positive impact of access to the theatre on young people, and the fall in the number of school trips to the theatre, the campaign aims to encourage major political parties to include a commitment to every child attending the theatre in their manifestos ahead of a General Election in 2024. 

SOLT is calling on the cultural learning community to share any evidence or insights you have on the importance of school trips with their Policy, Research and Advocacy team via email.

Children’s Commissioner launches mass consultation of young people on what policies they want to see from government 

The Children’s Commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza, has launched The Big Ambition, a national survey of children and young people across England.

The survey aims to hear from children across England on what they think is important in the lead up to the next General Election. The Children’s Commissioner intends to use findings from the survey to influence key decision makers to select policies and election manifesto commitments that reflect the change young people want to see. 

The survey can be found here, takes around 10 minutes to complete, and can be completed on mobile phones, tablets, laptops and computers. Responses must be submitted by December 15th. 

Widespread closures of art colleges

A recent article in The Observer documents the quiet disappearance of art colleges around the country and the founding of the Art School Project in response. 

The Art School Project is a grassroots effort to document all the art colleges in the country and their current status. Thus far, the project has found that:

  • Art colleges have historically been a pathway for young people from working class backgrounds to access the level and quality of arts education to become arts professionals
  • They have similarly also frequently been a source of part-time work for local artists, allowing them to support themselves to pursue their primary artistic interests
  • Art college buildings were constructed in the 19th century and were sources of local civic pride for generations
  • Most strikingly, the article reports that England “once had more art schools per capita than any country in Europe”

The team behind the Art School Project also note that art colleges often reflect how quickly cultural education policy changes in England, with colleges frequently having their names changed every 10 years to reflect shifting purposes. The article concludes with the project’s founders lamenting how the loss of art colleges may have contributed to the paucity of creative workers who come from working class backgrounds.