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Regardless of the setting, every school deserves a teacher who is afforded the space and professional trust to teach an inspiring arts curriculum, writes Steven Berryman.

Schoolchildren playing musical instruments


When I was a child, there was no doubt that I would become a music educator. I loved my music lessons and seeing the musicianship and skill of those who taught me was inspirational. Twenty years in the teaching profession, I continue to marvel at the work of arts educators who inspire and enrich children and young people in distinctive and creative ways. 

Arts subjects offer a counterpoint to much of the school curriculum. Children can discover, imagine and foster the creativity often squeezed out of the rest of the curriculum. When I interviewed students across a family of schools about why the arts mattered to them, many cited it as the only place they had to express themselves, to be who they really are and to support their mental wellbeing. 

Ways of knowing

Curriculum became a hot topic when Ofsted (under a previous Chief Inspector’s leadership) made it a priority for their inspection framework. Curriculum conversations erupted. A huge body of teacher-developed work now exists that seeks to understand and further a conversation around curricula that are knowledge-rich. This knowledge richness caused some challenges for the ways of knowing in the arts. 

Arts subjects offer a spectrum of what it is to know something. In fact, probably all subjects have ways of knowing beyond what could be deemed facts and information that can be written down. The embodied knowledge and experience of the arts became difficult to justify amid a pursuit of the knowledge rich, though many of us have attempted to shape an argument where the ways of knowing in the arts can be valued. 

I think, increasingly, they are. But this battle has not been won by all. There are schools and trusts that rate the idiosyncratic ways of knowing (and being) in the arts lower than the ways of knowing in other subjects. 

A model curriculum

A positive for this curriculum obsession has been a plethora of teacher-written books and blogs showing that many care about the construction and sequencing of their curriculum. Arts subjects typically have shorter teaching time than other curriculum areas and this adds even more pressure on arts subject leaders to make the best choices. 

The best work is done when teachers embrace the unique context of their children, making the best of their community and relationships with partners. A Model Music Curriculum, published in 2021, interestingly is the first model curriculum for any school subject in England. It perhaps reveals how important music is to the schools minister at the time of its creation. 

Yet attempts to press ahead with a curriculum model - that many felt did not cooperate with their model of curriculum design - have not been successful. Since publication, though, this model has gradually been sneaking into music education expectations. 

Professional bodies for educators

The National Society for Educators of Art and Design, a society I’m proud to be Vice-President of, has done brilliant work capturing curriculum design. Their Big Landscape reveals what can be achieved through collaborative effort by arts teachers to create a curriculum framework that captures the important components of the subject while leaving space for teacher agency to bring it to life. 

The Chartered College of Teaching, the professional body for teaching, seeks to empower a knowledgeable and respected profession through membership and accreditation, to help raise the status of the profession. In May, we published a report on teacher professionalism; what it means, why it matters and how we can support it. 

In our learning community, we have over 45,000 members, with 95% currently teaching in schools, and nearly 1,500 achieving fellowship status. 68% of our members say their Chartered College of Teaching membership makes them feel more motivated to support others in their professional development, with 65% saying membership better equips them to support others in their professional development. 

Through our members, our influence reaches 3.6m children every year. Over 650 teachers have now achieved Chartered Status through our three pathways: Chartered Teacher Status, Chartered Teacher Status (Leadership) and Chartered Teacher Status (Mentor). A further 700 teachers are currently working their way to achieving Chartered Status.  

Cognitive turn in pedagogy

Beyond curriculum, the processes of teaching and learning in classrooms has equally erupted into often vociferous debates around the most effective approaches for student success. Teach Like a Champion has become a dominant text on how we approach the mechanics of classroom pedagogy, with schools adopting routines and processes that seem to be effective. 

A cognitive turn in pedagogy has seen a growing interest in the science of learning and, with a huge volume of conferences and events making these areas a priority, reveals the appetite for how teaching and learning can be enhanced for all students. 

The arts have a rich array of research that permeates the cognitive science domains. We perhaps have more to do to show that our approach in our subjects is indeed research-informed and impactful. But there is no doubt more work for us to do. 

Teachers need agency

With the evolution of multi-academy trusts comes the need to consider how teaching and learning function effectively at scale, across multiple schools serving different communities with different challenges. Such alignment poses challenges for the idiosyncrasies of arts subjects, when executive leaders may be less informed about the beauty and distinctiveness of the arts. 

Regardless of the setting - mainstream school, alternative provision, hospital school or an academy - every school deserves a teacher who is afforded the space and professional trust to teach an inspiring arts curriculum. Such teachers need to be given the agency to continue their development through connection with their subject associations and the resource to innovate and be curious through their teaching. 

Whatever happens in England, the government must champion teacher professionalism and enable arts educators to find joy in the work in a sector that has suffered for too long with arts educators seemingly relegated to the least important. Now more than ever they deserve to be taking a leading role in every school. 

Dr Steven Berryman is President of the Chartered College of Teaching.
 chartered.college/ | steven-berryman.com
@CharteredColl | @steven_berryman

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