The last five years: Cultural Learning and this Parliament

01 May 2015

As election day and the prospect of a new government grow closer and closer we wanted to take a moment to think about the last five years and the changes to the cultural learning landscape that have taken place over this parliament.

What have been some of the major milestones, opportunities and threats to our agenda? What have we done together? And what might we be facing over the next five years?

What happened in 2010?

As colleagues with excellent memories will know, the CLA came about in 2009 as the result of a recommendation from 'Get It: The Power of Cultural Learning': a research document commissioned by a group of non-governmental public bodies and philanthropists which set out a plan to bring the cultural and learning worlds closer together. Get It concluded that we needed a time-limited Alliance of colleagues to get together, build a common language and understanding and make a better joint case for every child and young person to have meaningful access to the arts in their daily lives.

Almost immediately after our launch came a general election that dramatically altered the policy and delivery landscape. In Austerity Britain, the first Comprehensive Spending Review delivered by the Coalition Government opened with a 25% cut to the DCMS and approximately 30% cuts to Arts Council England, English Heritage and the Department for Communities and Local Government. National cultural learning programmes like Find Your Talent, Creative Partnerships, and ‘A Night Less Ordinary’ disappeared almost overnight, and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, Film Council and Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) were abolished; with Arts Council England taking on responsibility for museums and libraries alongside its existing portfolio. The Institute of Fiscal Studies published a report on planned overall investment from government in 2011 that estimated that spending on education would fall by 13% in real terms between 2011-2015 – with deeper cuts for early years, school buildings and 16-19 provision. The BBC reported that education spend in the UK was falling at the fastest rate since the 1950s.

These first cuts were followed by an unprecedented number of policy changes, reviews and enquires to unfold over the next five years: the Department of Children, Schools and Families became the Department of Education overnight and we saw the launch of the Schools’ White Paper, the National Curriculum Review and the revision of GCSEs and A-levels, the Wolf Review of Vocational Education, two Reviews from Darren Henley (a National Plan for Music Education and a Review of Cultural Education), the introduction of the English Baccalaureate and of Teaching Schools, the introduction of the Pupil Premium, the expansion of the Academy and Free Schools programme, the introduction of the Big Society, £9,000 tuition fees for universities and the creation of a raft of new agencies and organisations, from the Education Funding Agency and the National College, to the Arts Council’s Bridge Organisation Network and the establishment of Music Education Hubs.


What did this mean for Cultural Learning?

In the first instance our landscape immediately became much more fragmented, with much of the middle tier of government, brokerage and training providers dramatically reducing or slimming down. Budgets that were once held by local authorities or other agencies were devolved straight to settings and schools (and tended to be overseen directly by the Department of Education or Executive Agencies). Although colleagues technically had more power to spend their money, the amount they had to spend was reduced. The Department of Education focussed almost exclusively on school-based reform (mirroring their ring-fencing of schools’ funding) and we began to see a huge decline in central interest and support for informal learning, youth arts, families and the early years. However, the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Programme and associated budgets, helped many organisations to keep investing in cultural learning, and the establishment of the ACE Bridges and Music Hubs ensured a skeleton infrastructure to support cultural learning delivery. (NB It is worth noting that there are 10 Bridge Organisations and 123 Music Education Hubs serving over 24,000 schools in England, and that the funding for Music Hubs represents a significant real-term cut to the 2010 levels.) The Henley Review of Cultural Education also resulted in funding for a number of key national programmes, including a Youth Dance Company and National Art and Design Saturday Clubs.


What did the CLA do?

Over the last five years the CLA’s membership has grown to almost 11,000 colleagues working in cultural learning, and the breakdown remains at almost 50/50 from each world (education/culture) – with many, many teachers, academics, practitioners and artists signing up to be a part of the Alliance. It continues to have a tiny core team of two Co-Directors working a combined total of 3.5 days a week, funded chiefly by the generosity of philanthropic trusts and foundations. Our aim is, as ever, to be a champion for young people – to add value to, and to turn up the volume of, the voices of the many fantastic organisations and people already working in this arena. We’ve worked in partnership with Arts Council England, What Next? the BBC, the DfE, Specialist Subject Associations, cultural organisations, schools and many other partners. It is great to be able to support and draw on the expert colleagues that make up the Alliance.

In the first year of the CLA we spent a great deal of time working together to build our relationships with one another, hone our arguments and analyse all the existing data and information about the value of cultural learning. We produced:

Since we launched we have contributed evidence and responses to more than 50 Government reviews and have run numerous round-tables across the country with hundreds of colleagues – to talk about shared priorities and to test and hone policy ideas for the new landscape. These we have presented relentlessly to decision makers, civil servants at the DCMS, DfE and to Treasury, to Ministers and Peers, to special advisers, to Shadow teams and to Manifesto authors. Much of this early CLA work paid dividends. For example, it was at one of these CLA sessions in 2011 that a colleague from the music sector suggested that ‘Ofsted should only be able to rate schools outstanding if they can demonstrate an outstanding cultural offer to young people’. The CLA picked this recommendation up and ran with it and it has now been broadly adopted across the sector: it was taken up by the Warwick Commission; was included in Ed Milliband’s recent speech on the Arts and in Labour’s newly published Arts Charter; and it has been proposed in the House of Lords, and by the Chair of Arts Council England.


English Baccalaureate and accountability

As the new policies started to crystalise, the CLA heard from colleagues across the country grappling with the intended and unintended impact of new priorities and accountability measures. The English Baccalaureate’s exclusion of the arts led to a sharp fall in the uptake of arts subjects in secondary schools – particularly in areas of deprivation. The colleagues of the CLA worked to make this visible and public, briefing journalists, boards and cultural leaders to articulate the issues. It is worth noting that although there as been a slight improvement to these numbers they are still very much on the decline, with an overall fall of 13% in students taking arts GCSEs since 2010. It’s also important to bear in mind that despite reports of a U-turn, the EBacc was not abandoned. It is very much still in play and affecting secondary schools (who have to report against it twice in their accountability measurement).

As a sector we have had some notable successes in moving accountability policy in schools: for example, many of the ‘Discount Codes’ that ruled that different GCSE arts subjects were too similar to count in league tables were abolished.


A New National Curriculum and new GCSEs

In 2013 the new National Curriculum was published – a ‘slimmed-down’ document that aims to introduce young people to ‘the best that has been thought and said’. It focuses strongly on knowledge and emphasises the need for young people to demonstrate their learning of key facts. The CLA ran round-tables with the DfE officials drafting the new arts and cultural sections, working with experts to pull together evidence and ideas for new document. As a sector we did make some headway – bringing Drama back to the English Curriculum when it had disappeared, and influencing the language and content of the Art and Design, Music and History curricula. Unfortunately DfE officials chose to ignore our evidence on Dance (which remains as one-line in the PE and Sport Curriculum); on making Drama a subject in its own right; and on including Film and Digital Media across all subjects.

The CLA also worked closely with the DfE and with the Arts Council to influence the structure and content of the new GCSEs – hosting expert discussions and drafting recommendations for each arts subject.



STEM to STEAM – the articulation of the need for the arts to be studied alongside Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths – is not a new idea and has been developing for a number of years, particularly in America. However, the CLA has been at the forefront of a national drive to influence the government’s prioritisation of STEAM, working on this alongside NESTA and Arts Council England.

We commissioned and produced a research paper to highlight the main activity and drivers for STEAM in the UK and are building plans now to articulate the benefits of and opportunities to invest in STEAM to whichever new government takes office.


What does the picture look like now?

This recent note from the House of Commons Library shows actual and forecasted spending on Education in the UK and indicates a cut of around 2.2% to total education and training spend between 2011 and 2014. 

The recently published NCA Arts Index shows that local government arts funding has been cut by 19% in the last three years, that Treasury Funds for the arts have fallen significantly, that trusts and foundations are giving more, and that lottery funding is up.

Whatever the make-up of the next government, it is likely that cuts will continue – to DCMS, to local authorities and to education – with the schools budget seriously at risk for the first time (both Conservative and Labour plan for a significant cut, with only the Lib Dems looking to protect funding – see the CLA’s Manifestos post for more detail).

The Warwick Commission has reported significant drops in young people’s participation in cultural activity, and we know the number of young people choosing to study the arts at GCSE is down. There has been a really welcome rise in the number of teacher training places for cultural subjects – reversing a worrying trend – but opening up some questions about the quality of training for our subjects.

The National Curriculum has now been set and it is almost certain that it will remain in its current guise for some time – it is very unlikely that any government will go through such a lengthy change process and risk further disruption to teachers and young people.

The mechanisms for school accountability and for calculating young people’s grades have become so complex they almost need a logarithm table (see our crib sheet on Progress 8 as an example!), and in this convoluted environment it is increasingly hard for headteachers to innovate or to consider allocating their shrinking resources to cultural learning. They need as much support as possible from colleagues working in the sector.

The schools landscape will probably continue to fragment, with any Conservative-led coalition looking to expand the Free Schools and Academy programmes, and any Labour-led Coalition looking to continue to allow parents and entrepreneurs to set up new schools – although Labour is pledging to set up a new tier of local Directors of School Standards.


What will be needed in the future?

As we set out in our CLA Manifesto Document: A right to Culture for Every Child, there are a number of things that we think will continue to be major issues over the next five years: the crisis facing Early Years and the Youth Arts Sector; the importance of STEAM; Careers Advice for young people; and the quality of teacher training. We also think that the flag for serious, quality media education for young people needs to be waved again as social media and technology increasingly dominate our communication.

Once the election is over and we have a new government in place they will need to hear all over again about the power of cultural learning and about how important it is to people in this country. What the last five years has taught us is that the single most important ingredient to excellent cultural learning is strong relationships – built on trust, conversation and shared understanding. As the landscape shifts again, we’ll all need to renegotiate it, and spend more time investing in these alliances and discussions.


Cultural Learning Alliance, April 2015