The long tail of the pandemic continued to affect education and employment in 2023. High levels of persistent absence from school and poor mental health continue to affect young people. However, challenges that pre-date 2020 have been brought into sharper focus by the end of the pandemic. Teacher recruitment and retention in the arts, having improved between 2020 and 2022, returned to worryingly poor pre-pandemic levels. The government’s systems of curriculum standardisation and accountability continued to squeeze arts to the corner of school life, as shown by the low levels of entry to Arts GCSEs and A-levels. At a more macroeconomic level, while the government praises the importance of creative industries for the UK economy it continues to stifle the skills pipeline required for these industries to thrive.
Amid these challenges, we see it as a CLA responsibility to defend arts education by amplifying the voices of the sector – especially those that often go unheard. This is particularly vital as we approach a General Election when there is a widespread appetite for change to our country’s system of cultural learning.
Reporting on the state of arts education
Throughout 2023 we continued to provide monthly updates on the state of arts education in schools. This included reporting on the latest arts teacher recruitment and retention data, Ofsted’s subject reviews of Dance, Music and Art & Design, the state of schools buildings and facilities for arts education, the state of spending on arts education in schools and GCSE/A-level arts subjects entries for the 2022/23 academic year.
2023 saw the launch of the seminal ‘Arts in Schools’ report, co-authored by CLA co-chair, Sally Bacon OBE, together with Pauline Tambling CBE. ‘Arts in Schools’ brought together literature and expert roundtable evidence to present a comprehensive picture of how arts education in schools has changed over recent decades, its current state, and set out ambitious but practical recommendations on the policy change needed to ensure every young person receives the high-quality arts education they are entitled to. The report, and all its associated assets, will soon be taken on by the CLA and be hosted on our new, updated website from early in 2024.
We also launched and now host the ‘Bridge Network 2012-2023’ report. Commissioned by the ten former Bridge organisations and authored by Dr David Parker, the report provides a rapid summary of the Bridge organisations, what they achieved and how they are continuing to provide value to the cultural learning sector.
We also spent the final months of 2023 working on our forthcoming ‘CLA Annual Report Card’ (working title) which will synthesise 13 years of data on how government policy choices have affected young people’s access to arts education. We look forward to sharing these findings with you very soon in 2024!
Updates and analysis of government policy and funding
2022 saw four different Secretaries of State for Education over the course of the year. With a lack of ministerial churn in 2023, the Department for Education (DfE) and Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) were able to focus on pushing through policies they have long been preparing.
Over the year, we analysed and provided briefings on the government’s proposal for compulsory maths up to the age of 18, the Spring Budget, the proposed Advanced British Standard qualification, new bursaries for Music Initial Teacher Training and the pilot of the government’s ‘Enrichment leads’ programme. We also covered parliamentary outputs such as the latest reports from the APPG on Arts, Health and Wellbeing, the APPG on Art, Craft and Design in Education and The House of Lords Education for 11-16 Year Olds Committee.
We also covered updates to the government’s delayed Cultural Education Plan, a previous CLA policy recommendation. We also engaged with policy proposals from opposition parties, including The Labour Party and Liberal Democrats.
Supporting engagement in the policymaking process
Throughout 2023, we created opportunities to engage our CLA members in the policymaking process. In the summer, we hosted a roundtable consultation for DCMS, with experts from across the sector in attendance to discuss the Cultural Education Plan. We also drew on our members’ experiences and views to make submissions to the Labour Party’s National Policy Forum and the government’s evidence submission requests for the 2023 Spring Budget.
We also worked closely with our Advisory Group members and voices from across the cultural learning sector (including trade unions and subject associations, policy experts, researchers and practitioners) to shape our nearly finalised manifesto asks for the 2024 General Election. We held two consensus workshops to identify the key asks, one online and one in person at Roundhouse Works, taking the Gulbenkian ‘Arts in Schools’ report recommendations as a starting point.
Platforming great practice from across the sector
Despite the challenging policy environment, schools and cultural organisations continue to work tirelessly and creatively to give young people a high-quality arts education. CLA works to identify and amplify this practice to inspire other education settings and organisations and offer guidance on how they can improve their own cultural learning. This year, we platformed effective long-term engagement between cultural sector and education partners, and practice in making primary schools ‘arts rich’.
Organisational changes to CLA
In 2023 CLA finally became a charity, having operated as a formal alliance since 2010. We advertised for four new Trustees late in 2023 and started to put all the requisite policies and procedures in place. We are pleased to have our status formalised and look forward to growing our board in 2024.
The year ahead
We wish you, and all the children and young people you work with, a healthy and happy 2024!
We want to thank our funders, Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Esmee Fairbairn Foundation for their continued support. This will be an exciting and important year for CLA, as we release new outputs, such as our forthcoming ‘Annual Report Card’ discussed above, bring you news about our evidence work, and new website and campaign advocating for major policy change after the next General Election. We need your support to do this! Please tell your colleagues and friends about the Cultural Learning Alliance and encourage them to join. Every member adds weight to our call for children and young people to have access to high quality arts and culture in their lives.