Primary school-aged children in England have been suffering a shocking decline in the arts education they receive since 2010, according to a new survey of teachers and arts organisations published by the Fabian Society.
The research, funded in part by the author and actor Ben Elton, found that a narrowing curriculum, pressure on school budgets and the demands of national tests were all contributing to the decline, leaving schools with few resources and little time to introduce their pupils to drama, music and art galleries.
“It is so very sad that there has been such a shocking decline in arts education in our primary schools. The arts open minds, broaden horizons and help children to learn. They also make a huge contribution to the economy,” said Elton
“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.”
Rosie Millard, chief executive of Children & the Arts that also supported the research along with the Musicians’ Union and the Dartmouth Street Trust, said the findings were shocking.
“If you do not open out the arts to children, they will not think it is for them. We cannot allow the arts and culture of this country, which is subsidised by everyone, to be accessed and enjoyed by a tiny elite. That would be ruinous,” Millard said.
The report Primary Colours, to be published on Friday, sets out steps to halt the decline, and suggests that government should support funding through an “arts premium” similar to that for PE, while Ofsted inspectors should grade each school’s arts education.
The poll of primary teachers by YouGov found that two-thirds of the nearly 400 surveyed said there was less arts provision now than in 2010, when the coalition government took office, while just 7% said there was more.
Similarly, 49% said the quality of arts provision in the primary schools they had worked in had worsened since 2010, compared with 14% who said it had improved.
More than half of the teachers also said they did not have the resources or support to deliver “high quality” arts education, with a higher proportion among teachers in the north of England, while just 20% said they had the resources they required.
Teachers reported having to “fight for every penny of funding,” with one teacher telling the authors: “There is little money in school for glue, paper and clay. I have to ration my resources extremely tightly and it limits what I can offer. For years we’ve only had a set of dirty, broken and worn-out box of mismatched musical instruments.”
Olivia Bailey, deputy general secretary of the Fabian Society, said: “The survey suggests that there is an appetite among teachers for their pupils to spend more time experiencing the arts.
“But it is clear that budgets and staff are under pressure generally, and that is why this report calls for more resources. Access to the arts helps children enjoy and get the most out of their education, and ensuring provision of the arts through school is the best way to ensure all children benefit. That would be time and money well spent.”
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said in response to the report: “Here, as in many other ways, the government is lowering, not raising, the quality of education. It is betraying a generation of pupils.”
The report was published as the Department for Education announced a new model music curriculum to be created by an independent panel of experts.
“We want all pupils to have the opportunity to study the arts, which is why music and art and design are compulsory in the national curriculum up to the age of 14, and why we are putting nearly half a billion pounds into a range of music and cultural programmes between 2016 and 2020 – more than any other subject except PE,” said Nick Gibb, the school standards minister.
Gibb said that the government’s music hubs programme had seen more than 700,000 children taught to play instruments in class in 2016/17 alone.