What does CLA want to see in upcoming party manifestos? Our draft election Manifesto Asks for GE2024

20 September 2023

CLA works to collect and amplify the voice of the cultural learning sector to inform debate and push for change on education policy. With a General Election slated for the middle of 2024, we have been busy consulting with the sector to understand the challenges it currently faces and the policy change it wants to see in order to ensure all young people can access a high quality expressive arts education. 

Our consultation thus far has led to three sets of changes we want to see in policy, starting with three main foundational changes. Ahead of party conference season, we outline these in draft form below. Unlike in previous years, there is no specific ask for funding, but a call for major systemic changes. 

We emphasise that the calls below are in draft, and our consultation with the sector is ongoing. We will finalise these asks in October. With that in mind, we encourage you to read these asks and let us know your thoughts on them here


Expressive Arts subjects have an important, evidenced role in contributing to improving outcomes for children and young people, providing them with skills for life and skills for work. They provide memorable experiences and a vital creative outlet which can help in supporting their social, personal and creative wellbeing at a time when we know one in five children has a mental health problem. A rich arts education – as part of a genuinely broad and balanced schooling experience – supports the development of many desirable skills and capacities which are valued by young people and by employers, including teamwork, empathy, problem-solving, experimentation, self-confidence, imagination, innovation, and creativity. 

However, for more than a decade, increased accountability measures have focused on a narrow range of subject areas, which has led to a systemic downgrading or exclusion of arts subjects and experiences. Today’s curriculum is overly knowledge-centred and focused on what can be easily measured. A system that has the objective of creating the employees of the future has failed to embrace what employers say they want – or the value of the arts on a personal level to young people’s wellbeing – and has prioritised learning to count over learning to create. The arts are highly valued in independent schools, so access to the arts is not equitable – it is a social justice issue that we have a two-tier system. 

Investment in education and skills will be key to future productivity and economic growth. CLA proposes that the country’s future economic and industrial strategy should align with a new and ambitious national education and skills strategy, and that the Expressive Arts must be embedded into the foundations of our schooling system in order to address the needs of children and young people, and of the future workforce. We are in a time of crisis. The country is facing significant challenges, and short-term manifesto initiatives to boost arts learning will be inadequate to meet the necessary ambition. 

Our manifesto asks are as much about the wider context in which learning takes place as about the specific needs for arts education, and are presented in the context of widespread calls for education system change. In summary, the foundational changes we need to see are:

  1. New purposes for education – with the Expressive Arts as one of the core curriculum  areas mapped onto the new purposes
  2. Changes to the system of accountability and assessment
  3. A minimum arts entitlement within the school day, and extra-curricular arts as additional – and options for continued engagement outside of exams at Key Stage 4

Underpinning these system changes there will need to be:

  • A new commitment to arts teacher training and development
  • An emphasis on a rounded learning experience for the ‘whole child’ – for the present as well as the future – with all schools enabled to be active players in their local communities
  • A focus on representation and relevance across arts delivery in the curriculum
  • Strategic and collaborative cultural sector responsiveness to school needs 

Our detailed Manifesto Asks are set out below.

CLA Manifesto Asks 2023/4

  1. Three foundational requirements from the incoming government 

New purposes for schooling to inform a new vision and ambition: England requires a more rounded and ambitious set of purposes for schooling which are reflective of the world in which children live and will work, and which prepare them for healthy and fulfilling lives. Children and young people need a coherent vision for a balanced and modern curriculum which is relevant and inclusive, and in which the Expressive Arts are embedded in statute as a defined and equal curriculum area alongside other subject areas, all of which are mapped onto new purposes, as in other nations. The definition of Expressive Arts subjects should be expanded from Art and Design, Dance, Drama, and Music to include Digital Arts (including Film).

Changes to system of accountability and assessment: Expressive Arts subjects require an accountability, assessment and progression criteria-based system that is sensible, proportionate, and developed through consultation with teachers and practitioners. The current accountability framework is adversely impacting education and requires urgent reform. We recommend that Rethinking Assessment forms the basis for considering approaches to all assessment, across all subjects, reflecting the use of digital learner profiles, and achievements beyond exams. 

Creating an arts entitlement within the school day, and extra-curricular arts as additional: Because arts subjects and experiences have an evidence-based impact on outcomes for young people, we call for a weekly entitlement of a minimum number of curriculum hours for expressive arts subjects (to the end of Key Stage 3) so that all children and young people benefit from the social and learning development made possible by these disciplines. It is important that extra-curricular arts provision is not seen as a substitute for curriculum arts provision, but is available for young people to extend their in-school arts engagement to a deeper level, or to pursue interests and recreation beyond their qualifications choices in Key Stage 4. Opportunities should be made available for young people to continue with their arts interests outside of exam syllabuses at Key Stage 4 – as is the case with sport – and Key Stage 5. Outside school, all national/government-funded youth provision should embrace a range of quality Expressive Arts activities as a key enrichment strand, with opportunities for progression.

  1. Three guiding principles to underpin the foundational changes 

Workforce and learner empowerment: If Expressive Arts subjects are part of all young people’s entitlement, a parity of subject status in access to arts teacher training and CPD will be required. There is a significant issue in lack of parity of experience for early career teachers and trainees in their exposure to high quality arts practice. Confidence to teach the arts, and upskilling and gaining confidence throughout a teaching career are vital, and teacher agency in the classroom is important for boosting creativity and raising professional status. It is essential that primary teachers receive a minimum level of training in arts teaching. Arts teaching should be a formal part of Initial Teacher Education provision, with a minimum time allotted to this. Expressive Arts teaching bursaries should be made available to boost the number of secondary arts teachers after more than a decade of decline. The voices of children and young people are also important. They should contribute to the arts offer in all schools through whole-school commitment to listening to their views and experiences, and to a national policy consultation about system change. 

A rounded ‘whole child’ and community approach: We believe that education should serve the whole child rather than be narrowly defined by academic outcomes determined centrally by the DfE. Education is about personal development and wellbeing, not just academic attainment, and is important for the present, as well as for the future. We value the five principles of Every Child Matters because they acknowledge that health, enjoyment, safety and achievement contribute to successful learning and life chances – and to making a positive contribution – in the present and the future. We would like to see all schools enabled to be active players in their local communities, and benefiting from wider community arts partnerships.

Representation and relevance: Representation in schools must be considered across the diversity of genres, course materials, texts chosen, artists studied, composers selected, and performances, stories and histories experienced, and in the syllabuses followed towards public examinations. This breadth and relevance is important in ensuring that schooling reflects the lives, identities and cultures of our changing society, both through contemporary work, and in making links between work that is considered part of a ‘traditional’ canon, and contemporary culture. 

  1. Ensuring culture sector responsiveness to school needs

The cultural sector has a responsibility to ensure that it has a dialogue with schools in order to contribute to improving outcomes for children and young people. It can provide schools with additional specialism relating to specific artforms or employment arenas. In order for this to happen the sector must prioritise its learning and participation teams. In addition to the professionalisation of the arts educator workforce through training and CPD, we would like to see more collaboration between education and arts policy makers and funders to ensure that the resources of the professional arts sector can be made easily available and relevant to schools (including, importantly, online), and responsive to their needs. We see the need for three key functions/approaches to support delivery:

  • Brokerage: Recognition by policy makers and funders that if schools are to access programmes, projects and resources from the professional arts sector, they require consistent support and funded, active brokerage work in order to do so. There should be recognition of the role teachers play in that brokerage through one teacher in every primary, secondary and SEND school or Trust (ideally a member of the Senior Leadership Team) being identified as Expressive Arts Lead, and a governor in every school being given responsibility for promoting and monitoring Expressive Arts partnerships with external arts organisations and artists. 
  • Validation schemes: Continued support and proper resourcing for arts-sector schemes that validate and encourage best practice in school arts provision and young people’s engagement, such as Artsmark and Arts Award.
  • A focus on careers advice, entry and progression routes: The sector needs to see itself as providing education for employment, removing barriers and creating opportunities in order to build a trained workforce for a thriving and diverse creative industries sector. The pipeline starts in schools. The sector needs to be relevant to national education and skills and industrial strategies, and to work with school careers programmes, connecting with post-16 education, offering work experience and entry-level jobs through apprenticeships.
  1. What we’ll be asking our members and the wider sector to do

We’ll be calling on the sector to support and join us as we call for political parties to commit to giving young people an entitlement to a broad, balanced, modern and arts-rich education. We will be sharing these manifesto asks with all political parties, and will be raising awareness across our communication channels. 

Meanwhile we know that we need improved and evidence-based case-making. CLA is now tackling this through its new Evidence and Value Narrative Working Group, with its findings and recommendations to be shared to inform evidence-based policy making and practice.

Following the publication of party manifestos we will publish detailed analysis of any education and culture pledges, and whether they address CLA’s manifesto asks and are likely to positively impact the arts in schools.

Here are some of examples of what we’ll be asking the sector to do to support us:

  • Tell their local candidates what changes are needed
  • Ask them to pledge support for an arts-rich education for every child as part of wider education system change
  • Ask candidates to publicly recognise their support for the value of the Expressive Arts in schools
  • Back our asks on social media – tag CLA in your posts and link to the document when these manifesto asks are finalised


Thanks for reading our draft manifesto asks. We invite collegial and constructive feedback here. We are working to assemble a finalised pre-manifesto document for the middle of October, which will then be circulated to key decision and policymakers as part of our advocacy work. Please do get in touch to share your thoughts!