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We need to halt the decline in arts education

Updated: Sep 13, 2019

As the new school year begins is it time for a rethink to ensure we don’t lose creativity within the classroom altogether?

According to a survey of teachers published by the Fabian Society, primary school children in England have been suffering a shocking decline in the arts education they receive since 2010.

The research, part-funded by author and actor Ben Elton, found that a narrowing curriculum, pressure on school budgets and the demands of national tests are all contributing to the decline, leaving schools with few resources and little time to introduce their pupils to drama, music and the arts.

He said: “Our creative talent is a precious national resource, it shouldn’t be only the private schools producing the next generation of actors, musicians, writers and designers. The government must act to ensure that the arts are at the heart of every child’s education.”

The Fabian/YouGov poll of primary school teachers in England showed:

  • A decline in quantity: Two-thirds of teachers (68%) say arts provision in their primary school has decreased since 2010, with just 7% saying there is more

  • A decline in quality: Almost half (49%) of surveyed teachers say the quality of arts provision in their primary school has worsened since 2010, with just 13% believing it has improved

  • A lack of support and resources: A majority of teachers (56%) do not believe they have access to the resources and support to deliver a high-quality arts education

  • A lack of skills and experience: Nearly half of teachers (45%) also believe they do not have the skills and experience needed to provide a high-quality arts education, compared to 32% who say they do

The report concludes that the government must take immediate steps to reverse this worrying decline, making eight recommendations for reform including £150m ring-fenced funding for the arts in schools, greater emphasis on the arts in the national curriculum, free music or singing lessons for every child and a free school trip for every year to a local cultural institution.

But it’s not just primary school teachers who are concerned. This worrying trend was echoed in a recent survey of 13 leaders from the UK’s major regional theatres who said the biggest factor impacting their ability to work effectively with secondary schools has been arts education budget cuts.

All the theatres felt that cuts to funding for creative subjects had detrimentally affected their work. 11 of the 13 said the narrowing of the curriculum was damaging their ability to engage with schools, and 10 said they had witnessed ‘significant’, ‘major’ or ‘fundamental’ cuts to school arts budgets.

James Brining, Leeds Playhouse Artistic Director called the cuts ‘deeply worrying’, and said: “The weakening of the formal education sector’s ability to deliver [cultural participation] makes our own contribution even more important.

The findings are part of a larger survey regarding the recent performance of English producing theatres that will be published in December.

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