Arts survive threat posed by Dearing

Diane Spencer

Fears that the arts would be badly affected by the constraints of the national curriculum appear, so far, to be unfounded.

A report out this week by the Secondary Heads Association shows that provision has remained stable since 1990 in the majority of schools surveyed. A third showed an increase in the time allocated for the arts, particularly in boys' schools.

But 27 per cent of schools reported damaging effects of budget cuts on staffing, class size and choice of subjects. And more than a third lacked proper facilities for dance and drama. As more school building now depends on targeted and utilitarian sources, "accommodation for the arts is in danger of becoming the Cinderella of capital expenditure", says SHA.

The report, Whither the Arts? The state of the expressive arts in secondary schools, is the result of a survey of some 600 schools, including 100 in the independent sector, which was funded by the Gulbenkian Foundation.

Peter Downes, ex-president of SHA, said members had feared that the arts for the older age group were threatened by the Dearing review as no attempt was made to give the arts a definite status. "I was depressed by the general gloom two years ago."

He hoped that the "significant number " of schools who had not yet decided to make an arts experience compulsory for older pupils would study the report and decide to do so.

At key stage 3, the survey showed that drama had not fared too well with 30 per cent of schools failing to give it a distinct place. Half made dance compulsory throughout the key stage, but boys missed out in single-sex schools. Ceramics was provided in only 13 per cent of schools. Combined courses for expressive or performing arts were rare and usually confined to mixed comprehensives. Girls in independent schools spent more time on the arts than boys. There was generally more variety of arts courses in girls' and mixed schools which, says SHA, begged the question: is it a self-fulfilling prophecy to say that schools which educate girls find a greater demand for the arts?

At key stage 4, the number of pupils taking GCSE music was low and failed to appear in the curriculum in many schools, especially in boys' comprehensives. Drama was less popular in grant-maintained than in local authority schools which might be a reflection of parental influence: "Parents might think that the arts are not value for money," said John Horn, one of the authors of the report and a former SHA president.

Whither the arts? is available from SHA, 130 Regent Road, Leicester LE1 7PG, price Pounds 7.50

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