A new report calls for an arts education premium for every primary school to address worsening lesson quality and offer opportunities for more cultural trips.

Photo of art supplies

Arts education in primary schools is in “dramatic decline” in terms of both quality and quantity, new Fabian Society research reveals

A survey of 350 primary school teachers found two-thirds (68%) believe there is less arts provision than in 2010, and half (49%) say that the quality of the remaining offer has got worse.

Furthermore, 56% said they did not have access to the necessary resources for a high-quality arts education, and 58% believe there are fewer out of school arts trips than at the start of the decade. 

In response, the report’s authors – which also include charity Children & the Arts and the Musicians’ Union – call for a ringfenced budget of £150m for arts education in English primary schools, and an arts education premium for every primary school. 

The decline has occurred “in both the quantity and quality of arts education in primary schools in England,” the report authors write. “Teachers believe they do not have the resources and skills to deliver lessons containing art and design, music, drama and dance, and they feel that their school does not prioritise learning in these areas.”

They continue: “This narrowing of access risks widening existing inequality in access to the arts and limits the horizons of young people.”

Broad research

The research also gathered qualitative responses from 53 arts providers across England, to understand why they believe arts education to be important, the challenges of delivering it, and how they think access to the arts can be improved.

This revealed four key arguments for delivering arts in primary schools: cognitive development; overcoming inequalities; building confidence; and social cohesion. Respondents said creative subjects support children to express themselves, develop self-confidence, and experience culture on an equal footing.

One arts provider told researchers that early access to arts education helps “cement the idea that art is for everyone and not just those with a disposable income”.

Another expressed concern at schools’ current priorities, saying they “often encounter resistance from teachers and headteachers, who see our work as a distraction from the English and maths lessons which are teaching exam material”.

Recommendations

The report calls for an arts specialist for every primary school and increased arts training for all teachers – including the establishment of programmes to help artists become specialist arts teachers in disadvantaged schools. 

It also recommends that:

  • The arts become a greater priority in the national curriculum, to address the fact that ‘core’ subjects are often prioritised to the exclusion of everything else
  • Schools are prevented from receiving Ofsted’s ‘outstanding’ classification unless they offer high-quality art education as part of a broad and balanced curriculum
  • Free music or singing lessons for every primary school child who wants to learn – including their own musical instrument, if desired
  • At least one free visit every year to a local arts organisation for each primary school child 
  • Additional funding for cultural education partnerships to support local and accessible arts education in every community - including a list of trusted artists to work in schools.

The report estimates the recommendations would cost a total of £590m, or 1.4% of the English schools budget. This includes £220m for free music lessons, and £220m for the free cultural visits.

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