Policy & Practice round-up July 2021

22 July 2021

This month we bring you news of Ofsted research on teaching music; guidance from the DfE on teaching for education recovery; research from the Centre for Cultural Value demonstrating public belief in the power of the arts to improve wellbeing; a call for stories from Dance graduates from One Dance; and how to get involved in the social media campaign #ArtIsEssential.

Ofsted Research review series: music report

On 12 July Ofsted published a subject research review on music. The report is a readable, evidence-based, introduction for non-specialist teachers to planning and delivering a school music curriculum.

The report does three things:

  • Outlines the national context in relation to music
  • Summarises their review of research into factors that can affect the quality of music education
  • Considers curriculum progression, pedagogy, assessment and the impact of school leaders’ decisions on provision

Value of a music education

The report highlights the value of music to communities and our economy, noting that in 2019, the value of the music industry to the UK economy was £5.8 billion and that seven times this century, the top-selling album globally has been by a British artist.

The report also asserts the value of a music education in enabling pupils to become more musical, rather than music existing in service to other subjects for the far transfer benefits it confers.

‘Playing the piano is helpful for improving piano performance, singing in a choir supports becoming a good choral singer and writing lots of songs is a foundation for expertise in song-writing. These are wonderful things in and of themselves and need no further justification.’

Decline in music provision

The context section acknowledges ‘The trajectory of recent years, however, has been one in which pupil numbers at key stages 4 and 5 have steadily declined, key stage 3 provision has been reduced and trainee primary teachers have been offered shrinking amounts of musical training.’ They also highlight the declining numbers of Music GCSE and A Level entries that we also cover in our August blogs, although the report stops short of suggesting a reason for the decline which we believe is a combination of the school accountability system, EBacc and funding.

The report notes that the typical time allocations for music over a child’s education is ‘short’ and might result in:

  • Between 90 and 120 hours of music at primary school, on the basis of 30 minutes per week throughout Years 1 to 6 – that is, between 15 and 20 hours a year
  • Between 60 and 120 hours of music at secondary school in key stage 3, on the basis of an hour a week throughout Years 7 to 9 – that is, between 20 and 40 hours a year

Knowledge and skills are both essential

‘The central finding of this review is that, to become successful musicians, pupils must use both their conscious and unconscious minds, with the latter being developed by learning and experience.’

The report is clear that acquiring knowledge and developing skills are both needed; when ‘knowledge’ or ‘curriculum content’ are mentioned, they mean not just the facts of declarative knowledge. This is important given the recent debates over a knowledge-rich curriculum which has been set up in opposition to a skills-rich curriculum. Ofsted is saying that in order to learn, children of course need both.

Read the full report.

Guidance from the DfE on teaching for education recovery

On 2 July the Department for Education (DfE) published Teaching a broad and balanced curriculum for education recovery for schools. The non-statutory guidance covers each of the National Curriculum subjects, so Art & Design, Design & Technology and Music are covered. Elements of Dance are included within PE and elements of Drama within English. Recommendations for focus in each curriculum area are followed by case studies.

The guidance ‘offers suggestions to help schools decide how to prioritise elements within their curriculum for education recovery’ and the Guiding Principles section opens with a statement that emphasises schools need to teach a broad curriculum, including offering education visits and visitors to school:

‘You should continue to teach a broad and balanced curriculum in all subjects. This includes what pupils learn from wider experiences such as educational visits and visitors to the school.’

In the Art & Design section the advice on curriculum planning is that ‘Schools should make strategic decisions about what practical knowledge is core to their curriculum’ and we were pleased to read the emphasis on music-making in the music section:

‘A key priority in all key stages is a curriculum which allows a return to practical music-making through singing and playing instruments.’

However, what is lacking is an overall sense of how schools should be aiming to plan a whole school curriculum over the coming year that considers children’s educational and social wellbeing and what they have experienced over the pandemic. Instead the guidance reads as a series of disparate sets of advice, each in their own subject silo.

Research shows the public believe that the arts improve wellbeing

The Centre for Cultural Value has published research based on the third wave of the nationwide Covid-19 Cultural Participation Monitor. This had had 2002 responses, with fieldwork taking place online from 4 to 10 June 2021.

One of the report findings is that people believed the arts improved their wellbeing. When asked what events they had attended and if they believed they had improved their wellbeing, 68% of ratings for arts activities were ‘yes’ (with only 21% ‘no’), and 79% of ratings for heritage activities were ‘yes’ (with only 12% ‘no’).

When asked if various cultural activities were important to their wellbeing, 43% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that live events including music and theatre were important; 45% that indoor galleries, museums heritage places were important; and 53% that outdoor historic parks, gardens and heritage places were important.

The report includes also evidence that:

  • People are feeling more lonely and less satisfied with their lives than before the pandemic
  • Audiences are proving slow to want to return, citing concern about the health of themselves and others
  • Audiences are showing signs that they may stay more local to attend various types of arts and culture
  • Of those audiences digitally engaging in culture during the pandemic, substantial proportions are happy for this to become the norm even after Covid-19

Read the full report and do sign up for updates from the Centre so that you hear about research as soon as it is published.

One Dance UK HE Case Studies

One Dance UK, the subject specialist association for dance, wants to champion the value of studying dance in Higher Education. One Dance is asking dance graduates – both those working in dance and those whose career has taken them elsewhere – to share their stories to celebrate the breadth of career options and pathways available to those who study a degree in dance.

Responses can be from graduates who completed their studies at any time – they do not have to be recent graduates. Case studies will be used as a part of their celebration of Dance HE across One Dance UK social media platforms and publications in Autumn 2021.

Upload a case study.


Spearheaded by the Contemporary Visual Arts Network (CVAN), #ArtIsEssential is a social media campaign to show the far-reaching impact of the visual arts. They are asking you to ‘Shout loudly on social media about why #ArtIsEssential to you, your organisation, your network, your health, your identity, your income, your sense of self. Share your story, include the facts and figures, add an image that helps tell your story, and show the impact of art in your life.’

To encourage others to get involved you can tag individuals, organisations and networks, (the CLA twitter handle is @culturelearning) into your posts to encourage others to get involved in the campaign and be part of making the visual arts sector more visible.