How can we build strong foundations for the future of the Arts in schools?

Today saw the release of a new report The Arts in Schools: Foundations for the Future, published by A New Direction and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK Branch), authored by Pauline Tambling & Sally Bacon.

Forty years on from the influential The Arts in Schools: Principles, practice and provision, the writers of today’s report The Arts in Schools: Foundations for the Future reflect on what we have learnt and what we need to consider for the future of the arts in schools. Listen to what they had to say at the report’s launch here.

The 1982 report was a vision for the four nations of what could be achieved if the arts and creativity had a central place in the education of children and young people and it also laid out clear recommendations for achieving that vision. There have been many changes in the educational landscape since the 1980’s, and whilst today’s report shows some evidence of ‘inspirational practice’, it is also clear that progress has often been uneven and short-lived, and that the recommendations in the original report must be championed again. 

The findings and recommendations of Foundations for the Future are based upon an intensive consultation process involving more than 300 experts from the education and arts sectors, and young people themselves. Key themes form the original report were revisited and three central themes emerged, as discussed in the Executive Summary, presented here:

‘Firstly, the role of the arts in human experience – in what makes us whole and healthy and happy human beings – is even clearer than it was in the 1980s, as is its contribution to productivity and the economy, and to community development and social cohesion. Among many other benefits, the power of creative exploration and expression through the arts could – and arguably should – be central in helping to address the crisis in mental health we find in young people today. 

Secondly, making the case for the value of the arts in schools, particularly in England, is harder to do without a broader consensus on the purpose of education. What do we think school is for and how does the curriculum then deliver on this? The report argues that schools should be about the ‘whole person’ and provide a balanced education which values young people’s present experience as well as their future employability. Here we can build on approaches taken in Scotland and Wales, where the Expressive Arts are now clustered into a curriculum group which has equal status with other subjects and a more valued place in the school timetable. 

Thirdly, access to the arts in schools is inequitable, and has become more so in recent years. Young people in the most disadvantaged areas are least likely to be able to access cultural activity through school, reinforcing cycles of exclusion and deprivation.’

NSEAD general secretary, Michele Gregson said: 

"We can only feel strengthened by this robust addition to the evidence base which consistently advocates for greater equity of access to and equal footing of arts education in schools. The challenges identified by the report are the driving force of NSEAD members and remain a call to action for all of us.”

You can download the full report, executive summary and other project outcomes here.