More than 40% of schools not entering any pupils for arts subjects

A new ‘report card’ from the Cultural Learning Alliance (CLA), supported by the Centre for Education and Youth, has found that since the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) was introduced to schools in 2010, there has been an overall decline of 42% in arts GCSE entries and a 21% decrease in arts entries at A-level. 

Additionally, more than 40% of schools no longer enter any pupils for music (42%) and drama (41%) GCSEs, while the number of hours teaching arts subjects decreased by 21%.

CLA is therefore calling for widespread and systemic change to make the expressive arts a core and equal curriculum area and ensure all young people have access to an arts-rich education that will empower them with the skills to thrive in life.

This decline of in-school opportunities for art and design, dance, drama and music – collectively known as the ‘expressive arts’ – has created a crisis in cultural education, according to CLA. 

This is in comparison to the number of hours teaching core and EBacc subjects – which have increased (by 14% and 15% in maths at Key Stages 3 and 4 respectively; and by 35% and 44% in history, also at Key Stages 3 and 4) over the last decade.

Compiling this report, the charity, which champions the rights of all young people to have access to an arts-rich education, found the systemic deprioritisation of Expressive Arts has also created an ‘enrichment gap’. 

This has resulted in young people from wealthier backgrounds having much greater participation in the arts – in and out of school – compared to their peers from lower-income backgrounds, something which is exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis. 

For example, previous research from The Sutton Trust found that cuts to enrichment and school trips have more than doubled over the past year, a figure that rises to 68% in schools with the most disadvantaged intakes.

As well as being valuable for children’s wellbeing, the capacities, confidence, creativity and skills gained through the expressive arts are being increasingly prioritised by employers. This emphasises the need to address the enrichment gap if future generations are to be properly supported during their education, and in successfully progressing with their next steps in education and work.

Sally Bacon OBE, co-chair of the Cultural Learning Alliance, said: “This report card paints a stark picture of erosion and inequality, making clear that over the past 14 years there has been a lack of value ascribed to the expressive arts while the school accountability system has prioritised learning to count over learning to create.

“The expressive arts have an important and evidenced role to play in improving outcomes for young people – supporting their personal, social and creative development and equipping them with skills for life and skills for work. 

“Presenting a clear picture of how these subjects have been deprioritised in state schools, our hope is that this report provides valuable insights for education leaders and policymakers, helping them to introduce more holistic and meaningful educational policies and opportunities that also help close the enrichment gap.”

Additionally, the report gathered findings from the lockdown period which highlight that families in poverty were more dependent on support from schools for accessing the arts than those living outside of poverty, and were more likely to stop arts activities. 

Since the pandemic, despite the ongoing mental health crisis, reduced engagement from young people from disadvantaged backgrounds has persisted, with data indicating these children are 40% less likely to participate in performing arts activities outside of school compared to children from higher socio-economic status families.

Other notable findings from the report card include:

·       In 2009/2010, 14% of all GCSE entries were in arts subjects; by 2022/2023, this figure had halved (7%)

·       84% of schools no longer enter any pupils for dance GCSE

·       Children living in the least deprived areas of the country are twice as likely to engage in performing arts outside school, compared to peers living in the most deprived areas. However, the likelihood of engagement in-school is largely the same for all young people, regardless of their socio-economic background

  • Independent schools in London alone have 59 theatres between them, many of which are state-of-the-art. By contrast, the internationally renowned West End has just 42 theatres

·       Arts teacher recruitment in music has fallen by 56%

·       In total, there are 15,030 fewer full or part-time teachers of Expressive Arts subjects in England’s schools in 2022/2023 compared to 2011/2012

·       The number of unfilled teaching vacancies in Expressive Arts subjects has increased over the last 14 years

Andy Moor, CEO of Holy Family Catholic Multi Academy Trust (HFCMAT), responded to the report, saying: “The drop in students taking expressive arts at GCSE over the past 14 years has been shocking and deeply saddening. To experience the arts through music, drama or dance should be a human right for all, however, the number of schools no longer offering these as options limits that opportunity for so many young people. 

“Our work as C Change, one of eight Creativity Collaboratives across the country, has sought to explore innovative models where creativity and cultural education sit at the heart of the educational experience for all pupils. We have seen the transformative power of this at a time when poverty and the mental health of many in our schools remain such a challenge. 

HFCMAT is also the lead organisation for Liverpool and Wirral teaching school hub, Inspire Learning. Andy said: “Through Inspire Learning Teaching School Hub too, we have seen a drop in applicants for arts-based subjects and recognise the difficulties recruiting in the current climate. The challenge is very real and one that we must address if all our young people are to thrive in our schools. 

“This report outlines the challenge at hand but provides tangible solutions to bring back what should be an entitlement for all. I welcome the proposals that lie within it and hope that educators and policymakers take note to give our young people the education and experiences that they deserve.”

Addressing these findings, CLA has proposed a blueprint to re-introduce and sustain a more equitable and inclusive arts-rich education. This includes:

1.      Setting new purposes for education – going beyond a curriculum review with the Expressive Arts as core and equal curriculum areas mapped onto the new purposes.

2.      Ensuring a minimum four-hour arts entitlement within the school week – to the end of Key Stage 3, enabling high-quality, progressive learning experiences, and provision at Key Stages 4 and 5 outside of exam syllabuses. In addition, there should be extra-curricular Expressive Arts opportunities at all stages and phases of schooling.

3.      Implementing changes to the school accountability system – ensuring it no longer adversely impacts Expressive Arts subjects and changes to student assessment aligned with the recommendations of ‘Rethinking Assessment.’

  1. Introducing an entitlement to teacher training and teacher development – ensuring CPD opportunities for Expressive Arts subjects.

Derri Burdon, co-chair of the Cultural Learning Alliance and CEO of Curious Minds, said: “In the face of the cost-of-living crisis, creativity stands as a powerful source of hope and happiness in the lives of children and young people. An arts rich education opens young minds and allows talent to shine, skills to be mastered and dreams to be kindled. 

“Yet as our report card highlights, it is the poorest children who are getting the rawest deal when it comes to arts and culture. Without urgent intervention they will continue to miss out on opportunities that will enable them to meet their potential and help shape and more vibrant and equitable world.”

“Within this report card, the Cultural Learning Alliance has proposed foundational changes to education policy to halt and reverse the decline of the expressive arts in our schools. 

“However, meaningful change will require collaboration and wider systemic changes that prioritise a rounded learning experience for the ‘whole child’; greater representation and breadth across the expressive arts curriculum, resource and practice; and a commitment to greater support for the cultural sector so that it can effectively respond to the needs of young people in schools and their communities. 

“Only then will we be providing all our young people with the educational experience and enrichment opportunities that they rightly deserve.”

You may also like...