Could a recommended daily allowance for the arts work?

Sky Arts has recommended that every primary school spend 65 minutes a week on arts education – but how realistic is this for schools? Kate Parker finds out
29th July 2022, 5:47pm
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Could a recommended daily allowance for the arts work?

https://www.tes.com/magazine/teaching-learning/primary/could-recommended-daily-allowance-arts-work

How many minutes a week do you spend teaching dance to your primary class? What about drama or music? Is this something you actively measure? 

According to new research published by Sky Arts, not only should you measure the duration of teaching these activities, you should be meeting a “recommended daily allowance” (RDA).   

Around 500 primary school teachers across the UK were surveyed and asked how much time they dedicated to the arts subjects in their schools - and how much time they thought should be dedicated both to the arts overall and subjects individually.  

Those answers were combined and the RDA was set at “an average of 65 minutes a day dedicated to the arts, including reading, painting and dance”.  

When broken down into subjects, it is recommended that, per day, 17 minutes should be dedicated to literature, 14 minutes to art, 12 minutes to music, 11 minutes to drama and 11 minutes to dance. 

Most primary teachers would agree that more time for the arts is a good thing. But is a prescribed daily allowance really necessary? And is it realistic for primary schools to meet?  

Laverne Antrobus, a former primary school teacher and child psychologist, led on the research and says the RDA is not intended to be a “rigid” measure but rather a “good reminder that being able to offer the arts as a whole is a really helpful concept”.  

“We’re not saying you need to have this nailed on - it’s a guide. We hope that it will help teachers to reflect at the end of the week and ask: ‘how much time did we spend doing that?’,” she says. 

“Some of the core subjects are so clearly demarcated in the curriculum but the arts aren’t. It’s like your five-a-day of fruit and vegetables: we want schools to think about how they support every child to have access to the arts.” 

Curriculum capacity, resources and funding

However, headteachers warn that, even as a guide, the RDA is not realistic, owing to three key barriers: curriculum capacity, resources and funding.  

Tom Shrimpling is the headteacher at Brooklands School in Manchester. He says his school meets the target for literature, music and art. However, when it comes to dance and drama, it’s a different story.   

“In an already crowded curriculum, I don’t see where the additional time needed to do more dance, drama or music fits in. Other subject areas are vying for that space as well,” he says.  

The intention of an RDA for the arts should be applauded, he says, but it’s just not viable.  

“We can’t do everything. If you start to have designated times for the arts, then others, like STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) and sports groups, would want recommended times for those subjects and, ultimately, there’s not enough hours in the day to fulfil that,” he adds. 


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Daniel Woodrow, headteacher at St Gregory CEVC Primary School in Suffolk, agrees.  

“Having a focus on the arts is no bad thing,” he says. “But I think that anything that recommends an amount of time creates logistical problems and challenges. It’s nice that it’s there as guidance but it will only ever be guidance because of the realities of school.”  

Woodrow, too, says that the literature target is met consistently - and art and music are embedded throughout school life. But, again, it’s dance and drama that struggle to have that allotted time.  

This comes as no surprise to Tim Arthur, chief executive of the Royal Academy of Dance. Although dance is on the primary PE curriculum, he suggests that a lack of expertise is one of the reasons it doesn’t receive more dedicated time in the school day.  

“We genuinely feel that the quality of teaching in dance is being devalued,” he says. “You wouldn’t ask a science teacher to teach Shakespeare. You’d want someone who has studied it for years, who knows how to teach and who is an expert in that field. That would be the best way to inspire a child and help them understand why it’s relevant to them.” 

Woodrow recognises that staff confidence is a barrier to being able to offer more arts provision but says that resourcing and funding also play a major part.  

“Within school, you’ve got staff confidence, especially in the first instance, but, for us, it’s about resourcing, too. We don’t have any money to be able to buy what’s needed, whether that’s just the scheme of work or the practical resources,” he says. 

“We need space, as well. We have one hall which is hotly contested during the week for PE, assemblies and lunchtimes, so the teaching space is a challenge.”  

Shrimpling stresses that more funding for the arts is needed but he believes that if it were provided, it would need to go towards extracurricular activities rather than timetabled provision. If it was the latter, there’s a risk the school day would need to be lengthened to fit everything in. That, he says, is not a good idea.  

“The afternoons in the classroom can be challenging in terms of learning, especially with younger children, without making the day longer. And some parents wouldn’t want their children to spend extra hours a day in school,” he says.  

Arts as a vehicle to teach other subjects

However, Paige Hurley, an arts lead at New Bewerley School in Yorkshire, says that the targets are achievable if teachers use the arts as a vehicle to teach other subjects.  

Drama, for example, can be used in PSHE, and she recommends using forum theatre techniques, which allow children to change the narrative and problem solve. She also works with a local theatre company, Wrongsemble, to help Year 5 to get to grips with Shakespeare in English lessons.

Drama can be used as a transition aid, she adds: if you make links with local secondary schools, you can take Year 6s to watch school productions for free, giving them the experience of watching live performance while also helping them to get used to the school they will be moving to in Year 7.  

These sorts of activities, she says, are key to ensuring every child has access to arts provision.  

“It’s not about extra work or time, it’s just thinking about how you can incorporate it and bring it into the curriculum,” she says.  

New Bewerley is an Artsmark-rated gold standard school; the arts is at the heart of everything it does, which, in turn, means it has the expertise, funding and resources needed to hit these targets.  

Others, however, aren’t so lucky. 

So, while there are schools that a recommended daily allowance for arts might work for without additional funding and resources, it is not - as Shrimpling and Woodrow argue - something that every school can stick to. 

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