Tate warning over decline in arts education

Written by: Chris Parr | Published:
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Why are the literary arts given a place at the 'top table' whilst visual and performing arts have ...

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The debate about the decline in music and arts education rages on. Education ministers are under fire once again despite having announced a £5m investment. Chris Parr reports

It may be a new year, but some education issues are so long-standing that they come around as regularly and reliably as auld lang syne – and one of these is the perceived decline of arts study.

The topic is in the news again after the Tate Group of museums and galleries – backed by an Oscar-winning film director – criticised the government for its lack of investment in arts subjects.

The latest Tate Britain exhibition by Steve McQueen – the London artist who directed the Academy Award-winning 12 Years a Slave – is entitled the “Year 3” project, and it depicts 3,128 class photographs of seven and eight-year-olds.

According to the Tate (2019), if the decline in secondary school arts provision continues, many of these children may have little opportunity to take arts subjects by the time they enter key stage 3.

The numbers back up the Tate’s concerns – to an extent. Between 2016 and 2019, the number of pupils entered for GCSE drama declined by 15 percentage points – from 68,171 to 57,704. The decline in entries for music was 16 per cent – although the number of art and design students bucked the trend, jumping seven percentage points to 182,204.

Meanwhile, A level entries for dance and music fell by 42 per cent and 38 per cent respectively between 2010 and 2018, and according to a 2018 BBC survey, nine out of 10 secondary schools say they have cut back on staff, facilities or lesson time in one or more creative arts subjects (Jeffreys, 2018).

Maria Balshaw, director of Tate, said: “Access to the visual arts in this country must not depend on social and economic advantage. Private schools place a premium on a rich cultural education for their pupils while many state schools are starved of the resources to support access to culture and creativity for their pupils.

“We need a level cultural playing field for all children because we want and need visually literate adults. There should be fair access to arts in line with the offer to pupils in Scotland and Wales where the arts are already a core commitment.”

Mr McQueen believes that the opportunity to study art is transformative: “When I was a kid, I remember my first trip to Tate,” he said. “It was a real eye-opener. It was wonderful to see an explosion of ideas and creativity, visual creativity. It gave me an understanding that anything is possible.

“The curriculum needs to be big enough to include all subjects and be for all children. Art and creativity are so important to science, to maths, or to any other academic venture. Cutting arts education means you cut off inventiveness which impacts on being creative. We have many great artists, great thinkers and inventors in the UK and this has come through a sense of possibility. Arts education gives that sense of possibility.”

Overall, according to figures from the Cultural Learning Alliance, there has been a 10 per cent decline in pupils taking arts subjects at GCSE between 2017 and 2018, and since 2010 numbers are down 35 per cent. There has also been a continuing decline in uptake of arts A levels in England – down 24 per cent since 2010.

Plans to get 75 per cent of pupils taking EBacc by 2022, which excludes creative, artistic and technical subjects from school league tables, has further undermined creativity in schools, the Tate group claims. Music, art and design, drama and dance are included in the national curriculum and are compulsory in all maintained schools from the age of five to 14, but not beyond.

In response to the Tate, the government said that it will have provided “£500 million to music and the arts between 2016 and 2020, making it the second highest funded element of the curriculum behind PE”.

A Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson added: “The proportion of young people taking at least one arts GCSE since 2010 has remained broadly stable, with a small increase between 2018 and 2019. We want young people to learn creative skills and widen their horizons, so we will also be offering an arts premium to secondary schools to fund enriching activities for all pupils.”

In its general election manifesto, the Conservative Party made no specific targets or financial pledges in relation to artistic study, but it did promise to “invest in arts, music and sport” and stated that they “also want young people to learn creative skills and widen their horizons, so we will offer an ‘arts premium’ to secondary schools to fund enriching activities for all pupils”.

While full details of this arts premium have not been announced, ministers confirmed this month that they have allocated £5 million to expand schemes that aim to get more school pupils to play a musical instrument, explore museums, or learn about film-making (DfE, 2020). Most of the money – £4 million – will be spent on encouraging young people’s participation in the arts, while £1 million will go to charities that help young people to learn about different styles of music.

Nick Gibb, the schools minister, said: “Music, arts and culture play an essential role in enriching pupils’ education, and we want to give as many young people as possible the opportunity to learn an instrument or perform in a choir or a band.

“Our continued investment will play an important role in helping young people widen their horizons and access all the opportunities that learning a musical instrument can provide – whether that be playing for pleasure or performing.”

The DfE also confirmed that there will be an additional £80 million investment in “music hubs”, which are organisations that give pupils access to instruments and support whole classes to play together. The funding boost was first mooted in November, and means the hubs have now been allocated £300 million between 2016 and 2020.

Hannah Fouracre, director of music education at Arts Council England, said she was “delighted that this funding from the DfE has been confirmed”.

She added: “These programmes support a creative, diverse and inclusive music education for children and young people across England.”

Further information

  • Arts rich curriculum must be lasting legacy for McQueen’s Year 3 project, Tate, December 2019: http://bit.ly/2tJE2K0
  • Creative subjects being squeezed, schools tell BBC, Jeffreys/BBC, January 2018: https://bbc.in/37BiTAD
  • Press release: Multi-million-pound culture boost for children in schools, DfE, January 2020: http://bit.ly/2tzQoEw

Why are the literary arts given a place at the 'top table' whilst visual and performing arts have to battle for attention?
Is there anything inherent in the literary arts that means they should be cherished and prioritised in this way?

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