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Arts Council England has told Ofsted that schools without a strong arts offer should be classified as ‘requiring improvement’ or ‘inadequate’. 

Photo of child with art

Arts Council England (ACE) has urged government to restrict Ofsted ratings of ‘Good’ and ‘Outstanding’ to schools with a strong commitment to arts and culture. 

Its demands place the funding body ahead of many arts campaigners who’ve asked schools inspectors Ofsted to only reserve ‘Outstanding’ for arts-rich schools.

Responding to Ofsted’s consultation on a new inspection framework, ACE said that schools without a strong arts offer should be restricted to grade 3, ‘Requires Improvement’ or grade 4, ‘Inadequate’. 

Schools with successive low Ofsted ratings are forced to change their senior management.  

Proof of decline

In its response, ACE expresses concerns about the “substantial and growing evidence that the arts are in decline” within the state school system. It points to research from the Education Policy Institute showing that the proportion of pupils taking at least one arts subject was down from 57.1% in 2014 to 53.5% in 2016.

The national funder also flags evidence from Ofsted’s own research that some schools are shortening Key Stage 2 – thereby giving children access to fewer subjects, including arts subjects.

AP has long reported on the decline in take up of arts subjects at GCSE and A Level following the renewed focus on the EBacc education policy, and the disproportionate impact of this policy on access to the arts for children from higher-deprivation backgrounds.

A home-grown solution? 

ACE proposes that Ofsted definitions of “quality education” and a “broad and balanced curriculum” must specifically include reference to arts subjects. Its specific recommendations include:

  • for arts subjects to be inspected by well-trained inspectors
  • introducing a clear framework for inspection that covers curriculum design, diversity of  offer, teaching, learning, sequencing, assessment and continuous professional development
  • recognition for the contribution of professional artists and arts organisations in arts subjects
  • for cultural experiences and creativity to be recognised for their contribution to learners’ personal development and mental health

ACE also suggests that Ofsted should consider the Arts Council’s own evaluation standard, the Artsmark award, to support the inspection of quality arts provision. 

Whether Artsmark is the most effective evaluation tool for schools arts provision is up for debate. Despite over £10m of investment in the scheme since 2007 and a ‘refreshed articulation’ of its offer in 2015, there was only a 1% increase in the number of schools participating in it between 2005 and 2017.