Charting the Decline of Arts in Schools – Looking Ahead

31 Jan 2018

U.Dance 2017. Image: Brian Slater

One Dance UK’s Head of Children and Young People’s Dance, Claire Somerville, reports on the decline of arts provision in secondary schools.

The continuing decline in creative arts subjects in secondary schools made it into the news on 30 January, when the BBC published findings from a survey of 1,200 schools (40% of all secondary schools in England).

In their article, the BBC stated that:

· Nine in every 10 schools had cut back on lesson time, staff or facilities in at least one creative arts subject

· Four in every 10 schools were spending less on facilities

· More than three in 10 schools had reduced timetabled lessons

These new figures correlate to data on subject entries from the Education Policy Institute, the Department for Education’s (DfE) own figures on the decline of specialist arts teachers and teaching time and the cold hard numbers released by the GCSE and A-Level Awarding bodies which show a 28% decline in arts subjects since 2010.

In the BBC article, Amanda Spielman (Chief Inspector of Schools at Ofsted) was quoted as both championing core academic subjects and a broad education including the arts. This is in fact a viewpoint we find when we talk to head teachers. They tell us that, when faced with performance measures and funding issues that encourage them to focus on a narrow ‘academic’ curriculum, they either have to make cuts to their arts curriculum or take a rebellious stance.

Most people would agree that English, maths, science etc are important areas of study for all young people. Those opposed to the EBacc are not saying that these ‘core academic subjects’ should be side-lined to make space for arts subjects. However, whether intentionally or not, the combination of performance measures, pressures on school funding and the continued emphasis on a narrow range of subjects as being more useful and important than others, there are diminishing opportunities for young people to study the arts in school. Arguably if this trend continues we will have a society where there are those who can afford to develop their knowledge and talents in creative arts outside of school and those that cannot.

We feel that regardless of whether the EBacc measure is here to stay, it’s time for the government to be more vocal in their support of the arts as part of a broad and balanced curriculum. Ofsted have voiced their concerns over the narrowing of the curriculum and the shrinking of Key Stage 3, which limits young people’s access to the arts and there is a wealth of evidence to show how important the arts are to young people’s development.

Head teachers, school governors and trustees should feel empowered to put the needs of their students first, ensuring that they have the opportunity to study a genuinely rich and varied curriculum. All subjects can be creative, rigorous, challenging and full of their own body of knowledge. What we also see in the creative subjects is the wider benefits of improved communication skills, the development of greater physical literacy, personal, social and cultural understanding and improved mental and physical wellbeing. Young people themselves also regularly tell us that the arts help them understand themselves and express who they are. We believe all children and young people should have this opportunity at school.

For further information, see our Guide for Governors and Trustees.