What is the current state of the arts in schools?

23 April 2018

On 10 April Nick Gibb, Minster of State for School Standards, announced that there is now funding to the tune of £496 million for arts in schools. The Department for Education (DfE) news story stated:

‘Music, art and design, drama and dance are included in the national curriculum and compulsory in all maintained schools from the age of 5 to 14. The additional £96m takes the total level of support for music and arts programmes to £496 million since 2016.’

Given all this you would be forgiven for thinking the crisis in the arts in schools than much has been written on recently (see BBC, Daily Mail, Economist, Evening Standard and Guardian articles) has been averted. This is not the case.

It is good news that the Department for Education (DfE) is continuing to fund existing programmes that support talented young people to progress, and credit must be given to all the hard work of the funded organisations, Arts Council England, and colleagues at the DfE and DCMS – and to Nick Gibb himself for making the case for continued funding in an economic environment when every penny for education is precious, and there just isn’t enough to go around.

However, this money is not a fix for the arts in schools. As ever, the devil is in the detail (and more on the detail at the end of this piece) but all is not as it may first appear …

Funds for programmes already running

The funds are for programmes that are already running, and will not now have to close. They are for programmes:

to support talented music, drama and dance pupils to realise their potential and kick-start a career in the arts’.

For example, bursaries for dancers to attend advanced training; and Art and Design students to develop their skills outside of school. Removing funding would have decimated already precarious routes in to arts professions for young people.

A perfect storm

The bigger picture for the arts subjects in schools is one of a perfect storm of changes in school accountability, and cuts to funding in education and local authorities. These all used to support arts activities for children and young people in and out of school. Up and down the country these activities, including youth clubs, school trips to museums and theatres and summer art projects, can no longer be afforded.

Currently many schools are having to choose which subjects they can afford to run. Arts subjects are not included in league tables or performance measures so are less damaging to cut in accountability terms.

We are seeing a decline in the number of arts qualifications taken at GCSE level: the number of arts entries to GCSEs has fallen 28% since 2010; the number of hours arts subjects are taught in secondary schools has fallen 17% since 2010; and the number of arts teachers is down by 16%.

Loss of opportunity

This annual £124 million funding aimed at the most talented children cannot make up for the loss of opportunity to take part in the arts for every child in and out of school. It is a drop in the ocean compared to the losses to arts provision across the education system which is only just running on £42 billion a year.

Since 2010 local authorities have seen their education budgets slashed and schools are also experiencing a funding crisis. In 2016 the National Audit Office reported schools had to find £3 billion of efficiency savings by 2019 and various reports this year show schools are now resorting to cutting staff.

What was actually announced?

The £496 million covers funding for programmes over a four-year period, 2016-2020. It includes the £96 million announced on 10 April to pay for the following programmes which are already running, during the period 2018-2020:

  • £90 million of combined funding to the Music and Dance Scheme (MDS) and the Dance and Drama Awards (DaDa)
  • £2.4 million for the Museums and Schools
  • £1.23 million for Bridge Organisations to connect children, young people, schools and communities with arts and cultural experiences. Arts Council England also provides funding for Bridges.
  • £400,000 for the National Youth Dance Company to provide 30 new talented 16–19-year-old performers with intensive training. This is in addition to £500,000 from Arts Council England.
  • £260,000 National Art & Design Saturday Clubs this is in addition to £700,000 from Arts Council England.
  • £1 million for In Harmony. Arts Council England also provide £900,000 funding.

The announcement also included funding that had already been announced through to 2020:

In case any of you are doing the sums in your head to try and get to the £496 million – all of the above are the amounts for two years’ worth of funding, and if you multiply this by two it adds up to approximately 496.


Photo credit: Adults and children enjoying Family Dance Day at The Place, WC1H 9PY. Photo by Jalaikon

4 Replies to "What is the current state of the arts in schools?"

  1. What is tragic about the lack of funding described in your article and felt by schools across the land as well as by arts practitioners like myself is the inability of schools now to afford the special kinds of stimulus that can be given to pupils (and their teachers) by, in my case, occasional storytelling visits and also longer-term projects. I remember a Junior School teacher saying to me as she witnessed what I was doing with her pupils, ‘This is the kind of thing I came into teaching to do.’ She was finding little opportunity or support for doing that kind of thing herself. Now she must be feeling the lack of it even more – that is, if she has managed to stay in the profession.

  2. Isn’t it quite extraordinary that every time a new Secretary of State announces that there is to be a reduction in workload or paperwork, then Nick Gibb pronounces that there will be a further series of tests of grammar or tables, the purpose of which have never been determined by research ( often arrogantly rejected) or actual facts related to school improvement (where the arts have never figured as an essential part in contributing individual achievement).
    How have these interventions and additional tests, negating, denying or stultifying as they are about the real quality of education, emanating from just the one, so obviously prejudiced, source from a minister of state never been effectively challenged for the best part of a decade?

  3. There is also a major issue in funding arts at A level. My daughter’s school formerly had a “performing arts specialism” but next year will not run music or drama at A level despite students wishing to do theses subjects. Local authority cuts have drastically reduced budgets on top of overall funding cuts. There is already a shortage of opportunities for those in rural areas. We are depriving a whole generation and it is tragic for them and for us.

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