High-quality arts education

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By Lindsay Thomas
on 17 February, 2017

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The importance of high-quality arts education

At the end of last week, I attended the Music and Drama Education Expo 2017 held at the Olympia Exhibition Centre in London as part of my own CPD.

Nick Gibb, Minister of State at the Department for Education, spoke to a lively audience of arts practitioners to address current policy in performing arts education. Much of his speech outlined how the Department for Education is supporting the arts through continued investment in music education hubs, the Music and Dance Scheme, the Dance and Drama Award scheme, national youth music ensembles and In Harmony. 

Nick Gibb The importance of high-quality arts education

These specialist schemes are vital, but they do not reach everyone, which is why the government has focused on improving the quality of arts education in schools. Music and art and design are compulsory in the national curriculum from the age of 5 to 14. Dance is a compulsory part of the PE curriculum for 5- to 14-year-olds. And drama is a compulsory part of the English curriculum for 5- to 16-year-olds.

He then referred to the self-fulfilling prophecy of practitioners making claims that the EBacc had reduced pupil access and participation to arts education in schools. This was in relation to the publication of a new report by the New Schools Network (NSN), a Department for Education-supported charity, claiming that the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) policy does not undermine the arts in schools.

The report looked at an analysis of trends in GCSE entries in the arts over the last five years. The findings show that, contrary to popular belief, the introduction of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) has had no discernible impact on the popularity of the arts at GCSE. The number of arts GCSEs being taken in 2015/16 was, in fact, higher than in 2011/12 when the EBacc had only just been announced.

The questions from the floor represented the mood of disbelief in the room; questioning how a compulsory, quality arts curriculum could not be delivered in two weeks which is the curriculum time allocation in some secondary schools and academies.

An Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) article gives an excellent overview and summary of what the NSN report fails to mention:

  • For the first time since 2012 there has been a decline in percentage of pupils taking at least one arts subject (DfE figures)
  • From 2015-2016 there was an 8% decline in uptake of creative subjects (arts and D&T) the largest year on year decline in a decade
  • Teacher numbers are declining faster in the arts, either by 10.67% (including D&T) or 8.42% (not including D&T), than overall (2.41%)
  • Teaching hours are declining faster in the arts, either by 10.03% (including D&T) or 8.02% (not including D&T), than overall (4.03%).

Dr Alison Daubney, teaching fellow at the University of Sussex, offered a passionate challenge to the minister’s comments and asked why the government was ignoring its own data, which was followed by cheers from onlookers. Teachers in some schools start the GCSE syllabus in year nine, highlighting the fact that not all key stage 3 pupils access any music curriculum.

I am a staunch supporter of a broad and balanced curriculum and schools do have a critical role to ensure this. If only legislation would support all establishments to have both excellent arts curriculum entitlement and rich extra-curricular opportunities.


One Education Music can support your school / academy in a range of ways, from providing high-quality curriculum or instrumental music lessons and whole school singing, to delivering bespoke enrichment projects and creative curriculum inspiration.

We also offer exciting opportunities for pupils to perform in school and at prestigious venues.

For more information about our range of support, or to discuss how we may be able to assist children in your school or academy, contact Lindsay Thomas on 0844 967 1116.

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