The proportion of schools involved in the arts council’s scheme has increased by just 1% over the past 12 years, despite over £10m of investment since 2006/07.

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Questions have been raised about Artsmark, Arts Council England (ACE)’s flagship scheme promoting creative learning in schools, following stagnating engagement figures.

The proportion of schools engaged in the scheme increased by just 1% between 2005 and 2017, despite a major overhaul of the project in 2015 and over £10m of investment since 2006/07.

In addition, new research shows the majority of schools that have either applied for or held the award in the past have decided not to re-engage in the scheme.

Stagnating progress

According to analysis by ACE, there are over 24,000 schools in England eligible to hold Artsmark, comprising primary, secondary, independent, special schools and pupil referral units.

Artsmark is awarded to schools that undergo a process of improving their arts and cultural provision. It can take up to around two and half years for a school to achieve the award, which is then valid for two years.

In June 2005, 3,067 (13%) of these schools held Artsmark. By January 2018, this number had increased to 3,378 (14%), representing schools that either currently hold or are working towards an award.

Although it is difficult to make direct comparisons between schools over time – institutions close, change names, and merge – ACE calculates that over 9,000 schools in total (37%) have engaged with Artsmark at some time. As different schools may now be involved in the scheme, this means at least around 6,000 schools used to participate but are no longer involved.

ACE said the historical re-registration rate for Artsmark was 70%, and that it was too early to tell the rate from the new data, but the figures suggest most schools are choosing not to re-engage.

Shifting goalposts

Artsmark was ‘refreshed’ in 2015, following an unsuccessful period of outsourcing to Trinity College London between 2012 and 2014, in which applications for the award fell drastically. In 2011, 1,750 schools applied for the award; in 2012, just 692 applied.

The refresh also changed the process of awarding Artsmark from a retrospective audit of provision, to achieving a set of “stretching development objectives” for arts and culture.

Alongside the refresh, ACE set out an aim for 50% of schools to sign up for the award by 2020. But this changed with ACE’s 2018-22 investment plan. Instead, ACE intends to register 20% of schools in England by 2022 and “engage more broadly with 50% of schools”.

“Our ambitions for Artsmark were rearticulated as part of our planning for the 2018-22 investment round,” a spokesperson explained. “This included fostering a more focused approach to school engagement (namely with schools in areas of disadvantage and/or low arts and cultural engagement) in order to achieve more accurate business and project planning, allowing us to monitor progression more strategically.”

The data also suggests a stuttering application rate: in 2017 there were 918 applicants – down from 972 applications in 2015, and a high of 1,512 applications in 2016.