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“The arts in English public schools are in extreme danger”

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Last year marked 40 years since the publication of Ken Robinson’s hugely influential book The arts at school—a report by the Gulbenkian Foundation that had an immediate impact on local education authorities and arts educators in England. It sparked wide debate on the importance of arts education and paved the way for the inclusion of the arts in the first national curriculum. The arts at school: foundations for the futurethat we have just published, takes stock 40 years later.

Our report gives a grim reading. The high-level finding is the lack of value attributed to the arts within the public education system in England, with the arts being disadvantaged at every stage, and therefore access to the arts can no longer be assumed in either the primary or secondary system. Evidence was found of an inspiring practice, but also of a deep concern for the arts in schools today. It’s still possible for confident arts school leaders and multi-academy trusts to deliver a solid arts education, but the odds are stacked against them as they struggle with a focus on grades. review, inspection and accountability measures that do not value the arts. And access to the arts is not equitable: we have a two-tier system, with highly valued and well-funded arts in independent schools.

There is currently no systemic rationale for what is taught in schools, and no coherent and ambitious vision of education in relation to the economy, society, community or individual. As a result, we have a system that prioritizes academic performance based on test scores in defined subjects, and in which measures of achievement do not value the child as a whole. In the absence of consensus around the goal, and in the context of increased accountability focused on a narrow range of topics, combined with acute financial pressures, there has been a systematic downgrading or exclusion of subjects and artistic experiments (while the British Prime Minister chose to put all his weight behind maths). The system has all the wrong drivers and a radical overhaul is needed, starting with a real questioning of the purposes of schooling. As one of our roundtable participants told us, “We’re too used to taking leftovers from the table when we need to change the shape of the table. »

The true form of the school

Our consultation process looked at new goals for the school and identified the importance of active citizenship for democracy and society; empathy and respect for self, others, community, society and the world; agency and self-efficacy; preparation for the world of work and a meaningful life; learn from the past and present; environmental understanding and responsibility; navigating social media and critical media literacy; creativity and self-expression; develop a love of learning; and appreciating and appreciating the present while anticipating the future. Wales and Scotland both have clear and ambitious schooling targets.

The prioritization of EBacc subjects (English Language and Literature, Mathematics, Science, History, Geography and Languages) in secondary accountability measures has led to a reduction in the level of arts teachers, resources and attendance at GCSE and A-Level. A. The GCSE Art and Design data should be seen as an indicator of the challenges since the introduction of the EBacc in 2010. At first glance, Art and Design would appear to be an exception, with a 11% increase (to 191,852 admissions in 2022), compared to a 71% drop in design and technology admissions (down to 77,531). However, in truth, this reflects the diversion of design and technology students towards lower cost art and design options such as textiles and 3D studies. Taken together, the two subjects reflect a 60% decline over the past 12 years. It should also not be forgotten that cinema and digital media are excluded from the national school curriculum.

Since 1982, we have accumulated much more evidence of how arts subjects and experiences help improve outcomes for children and young people. When he was President of the UK Arts and Design Institutions Association, Professor John Last wrote: “There is a flaw in the logic that to count is to become productive, but to create is not. There is no doubt that arts subjects have become strategically irrelevant to policy makers in England in recent years. Our report does not single out the arts, but calls for a new public conversation about education in England, as has happened in Scotland and Wales, where the expressive arts have separate curricular status and equal. We urgently need a broader and more balanced curriculum that prepares young people for the present and the future. In the past, major changes in educational policy, such as in 1944, emerged from periods of crisis. We conclude by asking if the present moment could be just such a moment?

• Sally Bacon has worked for many years in the arts and culture sector as a funder, practitioner, program developer and administrator, with a particular interest in education

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