The newly appointed National Lead for Visual and Performing Arts said she would wait to hear the views of inspectors from across the country before drawing conclusions about the national state of arts education.

Photo of Child arts

The new schools inspector tasked with raising the profile and importance of arts in the curriculum has distanced herself from widely-reported concerns that creative subjects are being squeezed out of schools.

Speaking exclusively to AP, senior Ofsted inspector Susan Aykin – who leads schools inspections across the East of England and has recently been appointed the National Lead for Visual and Performing Arts – stressed the importance of defending arts subjects as part of a robust and balanced education curriculum, given their academic value and potential to boost wellbeing.

But when asked about concerns that less teacher time, resources and curriculum space are now available for creative subjects, Aykin said it was not her place to comment on whether the arts are being squeezed out of schools.

The newly appointed National Lead for Visual and Performing Arts said she hadn’t yet received reports from inspectors in every region of the country but, based on inspections she has personally carried out, said she doesn’t believe there has been a general decline in arts provision.

“One of the reasons why I applied to do the job was because I could see how exciting and innovative many head teachers are in primary, secondary and teacher training level in embedding the arts in their curriculum.”

She continued: “There are cases in some areas where, for all sorts of different reasons, people say the arts have taken a backfoot, particularly in secondary schools, with the rising importance of the English Baccalaureate. That’s not the case in many schools.”

Growing concern

Her comments come as evidence grows of the negative effects that the Government’s English Baccalaureate (EBacc) policy is having on arts subjects in secondary schools.

Independent research has found GCSE entries into arts subjects were at their lowest for a decade in 2016, while earlier this year AP revealed lower attaining students and those from disadvantaged backgrounds are the most likely to miss out on studying the arts if the EBacc becomes compulsory. Concerns have also been raised from those working in primary schools that arts activities are being de-prioritised.

This week more than 100 of the UK’s leading artists published a joint letter citing “compelling evidence” that creative subjects are in decline in state schools and calling for the EBacc to be adapted to include more creative subjects.

Raising the profile

Aykin’s new role as National Lead covers all schools, including independents. She is responsible for raising the profile of creative arts within the curriculum, ensuring arts subjects are given equal value in school inspections, and using evidence from inspections across the country to draw conclusions about the current state of arts education.

Her work will sit alongside input from other national leads in the development of Ofsted’s new inspection framework, and an ongoing review of what a ‘good curriculum’ looks like.

Aykin is enthused about the potential for arts subjects to help pupils from all backgrounds access the entire curriculum by developing grammar and language skills, but dismissive of suggestions that the subjects must therefore become more ‘academic’.

“Art, music, and drama are discrete subjects in their own right,” she told AP. “They are academically rigorous, as they should be. It’s not that they have to serve the purposes of the ‘more academic’ subjects at all – it’s that they are empowering pupils to access the world around them and recognise the opportunities that those subjects give them.”

When presented with concerns from some in the primary sector that there is a lack of clarity from Ofsted on its expectations for the arts in schools and suggestions it should make the ‘outstanding’ designation for schools dependent on having a strong arts offer, Aykin re-affirmed the importance of a broad curriculum.

“A school that has all of its eggs in English and Maths would be unlikely to get an outstanding judgment because the wider curriculum is very important,” she said.  

“It would be difficult to be judged as an outstanding school if you did not pay heed to the importance of the arts in your curriculum.”

Turning to the upcoming inspection framework, she said that although the current document doesn’t explicitly mention the arts, there is a “very specific” reference to how the wider curriculum should be taught. “How that will change and how much more explicit that will become in the new framework – we will see.”