How art in schools is being painted into a corner

23rd October 2015 at 00:00
EBac blamed as poll finds drop in lesson time and standards

Art is in “crisis” in England’s classrooms, with lesson time and pupil standards falling, teachers warned this week.

TES has seen initial findings of a survey of 853 secondary art teachers, in which 44 per cent report that lesson time allocated to art and design has been cut. And more than half (55 per cent) say that in the past five years the standard achieved by pupils when they enter secondary school has fallen.

The National Society for Education in Art and Design (NSEAD), which carried out the survey, said the subject was suffering because it was excluded from the government’s English Baccalaureate measure of core academic subjects.

The fall in standards at the start of key stage 3 has been ascribed to the greater focus on numeracy and literacy in primary schools.

Lesley Butterworth, general secretary of NSEAD, said: “We are very alarmed about the findings.

“The EBac is diminishing the value that schools put on the subject and the amount of time the subject has. Perhaps the government made the assumption that arts would be fine, but teachers say there is a lack of time for art and a lack of value.”

‘Squeezed out’ by core subjects

Peter Nutkins, headteacher of Humphrey Perkins School, a Loughborough secondary, told TES he was “not surprised” by the survey results. He suggested the “greater focus on numeracy and literacy at primary school” could be responsible for the drop in standards.

All Humphrey Perkins pupils must take a creative subject such as art through to the age of 16. But Mr Nutkins is concerned that the situation is reaching crisis point in other secondaries, particularly inner-city schools with deprived intakes.

“These are the schools that aren’t doing as much art, but they are the ones who need it most,” he said. “As long as key measures for secondary schools stick to academic subjects then art will be squeezed out.”

Concern about the place of the arts in schools has been increasing since the introduction of the EBac in 2010. The measure gives greater weight in the league tables to the core subjects of maths, English and science, as well as history or geography and a modern foreign language.

Now, education secretary Nicky Morgan has announced plans to make the EBac compulsory for all pupils, so students who began secondary school this September must study the required subjects until the age of 16.

A major report led by the University of Warwick, published in February (bit.ly/EnrichingBritain), shows that creativity and the arts are being “squeezed out” of schools, with pupils from low-income families the hardest hit.

Falling off the ‘carousel’

This week, Ms Butterworth said the impact of the EBac on GCSE take-up in art would “be seen in the years going forward”. She added that the “carousel” system in some schools, where art, drama, music and other cultural subjects were taught in blocks throughout the year rather than on a weekly basis, meant students lost momentum in their learning.

John Childs, a past president of NSEAD who recently retired as art college director at Chenderit School in Oxfordshire, said that some schools’ decision to shorten KS3 to two years also had an impact, reducing art by one-third.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The myth that our focus on the core academic subjects is having a negative impact on take-up of the arts was disproven by this summer’s GCSE results – the number of entries in art and design and music subjects are up by 4 per cent since last year.

“Over three-quarters of pupils entering art and design at GCSE continue to achieve a good pass in this subject, a similar level to previous years.

“At the heart of our commitment to extending opportunity is our belief that all pupils should have access to an excellent, well-rounded education – the arts are a key part of this.

“That is why art and design and music are compulsory subjects for five- to 14-year-olds, and why pupils also have to study drama as part of the English curriculum and dance as part of PE.”

Opening the window to arts appreciation

Responding to concerns that creative subjects could be sidelined, teachers at St Marylebone School in central London (pictured) have created a film promoting the arts.

Stephanie Cubbin and Pete Thomas, art teachers at the girls’ comprehensive – which specialises in the performing arts – worked with headteacher Kathryn Pugh on the film, called A Window to the World. The project aims to balance the increasingly strong message that schools should prioritise Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects.

“If schooling is built on an economy model then a school will begin to fail in its mission in creating interested and interesting people,” Ms Pugh says. “The arts have as much intrinsic value as other subjects.

“There is a misconception that the arts are not academic but there is a high amount of academic rigour in art subjects.

“There’s almost an unhelpful debate about EBac versus the arts. I don’t think they need to be opposed; they complement each other. It is important to have a broad, balanced curriculum.”

Watch the film at bit.ly/MaryleboneFilm

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