Have we lost the ‘school curriculum’?

First published by ArtsProfessional, 4/9/2018.  www.artsprofessional.co.uk

The battle for subjects to gain ‘curriculum share’ is a tough one. My time at Arts Council England in the early 1990s, as Director of Education and Training, taught me that special interest groups, subject associations and lobbies are desperate to maintain their place ‘on the curriculum’ because, beyond the subject itself, there are jobs for teachers, and income for publishers and awarding bodies.

A lot of us campaigned hard for the arts to be on the National Curriculum when it was introduced in 1988. There was a huge amount of debate at the time. Some people in the arts were anxious: if the arts are a compulsory part of the curriculum, they argued, wouldn’t we lose some of the sheer enjoyment of the subjects? Linking the arts to examinations would reduce music, art, drama and dance to what could be tested. On the other side it was obvious at the time that some schools were exemplars in the arts, both in curriculum delivery and extra-curricular activities: youth orchestras, theatre trips, extraordinary projects with visiting artists or arts organisations. If some young people were getting these opportunities then why shouldn’t every child have the same?

Behind the shocking news of the plummeting numbers of arts teachers in English secondary schools is the equally troubling reality of how few arts teachers there are in total. We are all, of course, concerned to see the number of music teachers, for example, move from 8,000 to 6,500, but may miss the fact that there are 34,000 Maths teachers, 37,000 English and 40,000 teaching Science.  Put this way we can see the numbers that would be needed for the arts to reach all students in years 7-13.

It’s true that across Drama (9,000), Art and Design (11,800) and Music there are 27,300 secondary school teachers but it’s clear that the distribution is uneven, and some schools retain thriving arts departments whilst others have little provision. If this is the picture in secondary schools, one can only imagine that specialist staff are even thinner on the ground in primary schools. If so, how will young people become inspired to take arts subjects at secondary level?

I have long held the view that music education in primary schools in the 1960s and 1970s depended on the 1944 Education Act’s requirement for ‘a compulsory daily act of worship’. When I was hired to a village primary school in 1978 the headteacher advertised for a ‘piano-playing teacher’. As a class teacher, not a specialist, I had responsibility for music and not only were my duties to organise hymn practice and music for assembly, but also to run recorder and guitar clubs, to ensure the school acquitted itself well in county singing festivals and other music events, and with a colleague who had been an actor, to put on the annual school musical. Another of the six teachers at the school was a semi-professional ceramicist who ensured that art and design were well delivered.

All the teachers taught all subjects, including music, art, drama and dance, buoyed up by in-service courses provided by county arts advisers, and resources such as BBC television and radio programmes like Time and Tune, and Music, Movement and Mime (and if you remember Singing Together which ran for over fifty years, have a listen to Jarvis Cocker on Archive on 4.)

From numerous conversations with subject associations over the years, I know that they want to ensure that the arts are well-taught by specialist staff. But I also know that in times gone by, when the arts were thriving in schools, much depended on a far bigger number of non-specialist teachers and arts enthusiasts. At the Royal Opera House, where I was responsible for schools’ matinees in the 1980s and 1990s, it was always surprising to see how many of the teachers bringing groups to performances were not arts specialists – very often maths and science teachers who knew that they would be getting a top notch performance and wanted their students to share the experience. These teachers came to study days, and organised opera and ballet clubs and all sorts of other arts activities in their schools. We ran a programme with Bretton Hall College for primary school teachers who attended an eight-day course in August, and committed 120 hours to writing a script, score and putting on a production with their students.

The ‘generalist versus specialist’ issue has always been the subject of a great deal of academic debate, but in the arts the stakes are much higher than with subjects like maths, with its workforce of 34,000. More importantly, it’s in the ‘school curriculum versus National Curriculum’ debate where the battle has been lost.

In those 1980s consultations, we were reassured by policy makers that we should focus less on the National Curriculum, and concentrate on the school curriculum. The thought was that the National Curriculum would sit within a grander programme of education: everything else that went on in schools.

How hollow this sounds now with the focus on performance tables, the EBacc and year-on-year reductions in education budgets, and with schools and colleges struggling to fund even the basics. We have in all but the most courageous of state schools already lost the time when teachers from across the school provided a bedrock of ongoing opportunities for all young people to make art, perform, be creative and contribute to the wider culture in the school.

The small band of specialist arts teachers struggling to keep their subjects alive within the National Curriculum can’t do this alone. Lots of us working in the arts today are grateful that we experienced a broader school curriculum that went beyond the subjects we were examined in and opened our eyes to a world we had no inkling of. The independent sector knows the worth of these experiences and promotes them enthusiastically.

Current debates about social class in the arts miss a vital point. How are working class young people going to access the arts if they don’t experience them in school?

What can we learn from the past about arts education in England?

In the summer of 1983 I was invited, with the ten or so other newly appointed Education Officers in major arts organisations, to a meeting with the Arts Council of Great Britain’s (ACGB) Education Unit.  The Arts Council’s Education Unit set up by Irene Macdonald in 1978, and run by Sue Robertson from 1982, had just started to encourage its funded organisations to engage with education. Roy Shaw had joined ACGB as Director General in 1975. As an ex-grammar school boy who had worked for the Workers Education Association (WEA), university extra-mural departments and in adult education Shaw saw the importance of linking arts policy to education.

It’s not fair to say that education work by arts organisations – also then called outreach – started in the 1980s because like all initiatives, there were many pioneers. The archives of most major UK arts organisations will show initiatives such as school visits to plays, concerts, operas and galleries often instigated by teachers and sometimes related to ‘set texts’ or general studies. There were specific programmes like Opera for All and artists-in-education initiatives like Writers in Schools (both run or funded by ACGB), and animateur schemes.  Theatre-in education had been established in the 1960s by local authorities linked to regional theatres. The Royal Opera House, where I had just been appointed, had launched its schools’ matinee programme in 1976 and had been running Ballet for All since 1964.

Jennie Lee’s 1965 White Paper, A Policy for the Arts – First Steps [1] grouped support for the arts, then in its infancy as a government policy, under three headings: education, preservation and patronage. She saw the first as wholly the responsibility of the Department for Education and Science (DES), the second for HM Treasury and the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works, and the third, patronage, by which she meant supporting living artists, as the responsibility of the Arts Council. Inherent in the argument is an assumption that the country’s arts cannot thrive without major support from the education system and that the responsibility for embedding the arts within education was the job of the DES. The white paper also emphasises the importance of local authorities’ investment in the arts and culture. Local authorities were crucial both to establishing a new generation of arts buildings after the second world war (like Birmingham Rep and the Royal Festival Hall, for example), maintaining libraries and encouraging local engagement both directly and through support to regional arts associations where they existed.

Both Lee’s White Paper and the influential 1976 Gulbenkian Report by John Redcliffe-Maud, Support for the Arts in England and Wales [2], looked for more investment from the education sector but we can now see now that by 1983 when the funded organisations’ first education officers met we were already at the high-water mark in terms of education sector investment in the arts. Our group of Education officers took for granted that the arts were included in schools at both primary and secondary level –  not then the National Curriculum which wasn’t introduced until 1988 –embedded within set-texts in English and modern foreign languages, ‘O’ level and ‘A’ level courses in art and music, with some schools offering drama and dance. Surrounding class-based work was a tradition of school plays, orchestras, exhibitions and school trips. Beyond the school most local authorities had instrumental services and county orchestras as well as subject specialist advisors in most arts subjects providing a balance to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate and supporting teachers to improve their practice. Local Authorities awarded discretionary grants to young people accepted for vocational courses at dance and drama schools and Further Education provision included foundation courses in art and design. Redcliffe-Maud’s report points out that there was ‘a wide variation in the way different local authorities approach the arts’ – and it is certainly true that secondary modern schools did not, on the whole, fare as well as grammars and comprehensives and we, as education staff didn’t think enough was being done but, nevertheless, local authorities and schools were largely playing an important role.

There were shining lights including (to cite some with whom I worked) Birmingham, Wigan, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire. The Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) had teams of staff supporting music (including provision of out-of-school courses, summer schools and the London Schools’ Symphony Orchestra), the visual arts (with teaching staff seconded to the Hayward Gallery and the Dulwich Picture Gallery for a year at a time), drama including opera and theatre-in-education companies based at the Cockpit Theatre in Gateforth Street, NW8, and an educational broadcasting service providing teaching and classroom resources which was rumoured to be the biggest Closed Circuit Television system in the world! Students were offered free tickets to the concerts. For example the ILEA funded the Royal Opera to work in schools with George Benjamin, Jonathan Dove, Harrison Birtwistle and Karlheinz Stockhausen all collaborating with teachers, in-school projects and attendance at evening performances. ILEA music staff were passionate about bringing the ‘best to the most’ young people and disapproved of segregating young audiences within schools’ matinees.

For numbers of reasons the education sector’s funding and support started to dwindle from then on: local management of schools reduced local authorities’ central services that had been vital to providing extra-curricular opportunities to young people, to almost nothing over time. By 1998 when I joined Arts Council England (ACE) as Director of Education and Training local authority music services were in meltdown, discretionary grants for students of dance and drama had all but stopped and the arts were losing their place in the curriculum. When ACE starts to consider its 25-year talent strategy it first has to consider this: how can the arts sector whose role is still to focus on patronage of living artists and companies possibly compensate for the hundreds of millions of pounds of investment it has lost from the education sector?

[1] A Policy for the Arts – First Steps Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (1965)

[2] Redcliffe-Maud (1976) Support for the Arts in England and Wales. London: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

The arts and cultural sector needs to think more about employment

My contribution to NESTA’s publication for Arts Council England, The view to 2030.

Arts and cultural organisations need to think about workforce issues if they are to stay relevant. This is an obvious point. We focus on what’s on stage or on the gallery walls but we think less about the people we employ, the skills and qualifications they need, and how to be good employers.

It’s a paradox in the sector that labour market data says that more people are being employed year-on-year but young graduates can’t find jobs. It’s harder still for young people who haven’t been to university. One reason for the labour market paradox is that growth is in freelancing, project work or startup companies. It’s also that the available jobs are hidden: administration, backstage, customer services and technical roles.

Ours is an attractive sector. Sadly this has meant that employers don’t have to try very hard to attract talent. Worse, some employers exploit young people’s eagerness to join the industry by taking on unpaid interns rather than paying staff in entry-level jobs. Unless it’s a genuine internship (as part of a formal programme of study) this is not legal: all workers are entitled to the National Minimum Wage. Many creative industries adopt lazy recruitment practices: they use qualifications to screen out candidates, rather than putting in place sensible job descriptions and seeking the talent they need.

We could increase our sector’s relevance, improve its productivity and gain wider credibility with the public if we could start to improve our sector’s approach to employment

Not all arts jobs are graduate jobs, yet the sector hardly recruits under 23s, let alone younger people who are not graduates. This makes for a lack of diversity in the sector which is becoming even more – if that’s possible –  white and middle-class. As a result the sector doesn’t reflect society as a whole. Who wants to attend an event when no one there is like them?

Other sectors work more closely with the education and training sector. They engage with apprenticeships, for example, and they use qualifications as a passport into specific employment areas. This makes for better productivity. It’s obvious, isn’t it, that if employers are more precise about the job roles they have, then new recruits have a better chance of making a positive contribution. Often in the cultural sector it’s a ‘sink or swim’ scenario with incoming staff expected to make up the job as best they can or turn their hand to things they’ve never had training in.

If we thought more precisely about our employment needs we’d be more open to young people coming in to employment through apprenticeships and technical courses. We know from work at Creative & Cultural Skills that we can attract candidates from a wider demographic this way. We also know that a lot of energy goes into cultural organisations’ education programmes but without the crucial link between the participants and employment opportunities. It’s as if we want more young people from different backgrounds to experience the arts but not to work in them.

We could increase our sector’s relevance, improve its productivity and gain wider credibility with the public if we could start to improve our sector’s approach to employment.

What’s happening with national careers policy?

A major reason why arts organisations, museums and libraries fail to impact on education policy and practice is because we don’t always engage with the mainstream of what’s going on in schools and colleges. We sometimes put on activities that teachers and tutors want to engage with but can’t justify to their management teams. It is increasingly hard for teachers to make the case for taking students out of schools to events, or to engage with some of the excellent projects on offer.

There’s a lot of debate currently about the need for young people to know about the careers available in the creative industries but less debate about how we ensure that the creative industries feature within mainstream careers advice in schools, colleges and universities. We’ll make most impact if we ensure that educators are promoting the arts and culture in what they have to do. If we can help all young people to find out about our sector then the arts education activities we do run can build on some basic understanding.

In December 2017 the Department for Education launched its new strategy, Making the most of everyone’s talents. The Government wants all young people from all backgrounds to understand the range of opportunities open to them and to learn from employers about work and skills. Those of us who work in the arts and cultural sector want that too.

Schools and colleges are responsible for providing independent careers advice to their students with an indicative budget of £11,000 p.a. per institution. They are being encouraged to work with qualified careers professionals, employers and training providers to do this. Ofsted will continue to hold schools and colleges to account for the quality of careers provision. This includes a new requirement for Ofsted to comment in college inspection reports on the careers guidance provided to students from 2018.

The Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC) was established in 2014 to be the body that provides coordination for employers, schools, colleges, funders and training providers. It works with Local Enterprise Partnerships and will co-fund a national network of Enterprise coordinators who are trained to work with clusters of 20 schools and colleges through their leadership teams to build Careers and Employer engagement plans. Each school or college will also have access to an Enterprise Adviser who is a senior volunteer from the business community who ensures local businesses engage. We need some volunteers from the creative industries in each locality to ensure that our sector features in the advice young people get.

Enterprise Advisers will use their knowledge of local businesses to support a nominated Careers Leader (or the headteacher) in every school or college to develop and implement a sound careers strategy for its students, ensuring the institution can meet the Eight Gatsby Benchmarks which are principles developed by The Gatsby Foundation.

Careers Leaders in schools and colleges will need to have the appropriate skills and experience, be sufficiently senior to lead the implementation of all eight of the Gatsby Benchmarks and have buy-in from the Governors and the Senior Leadership team, work with subject teachers across the school so that careers provision is embedded within the curriculum.

The Gatsby Benchmarks
The Gatsby Foundation has produced Good Career Guidance and a careers website with helpful information for anyone providing careers advice.  The Department for Education encourages all schools and colleges to meet the Gatsby Foundation’s Eight Benchmarks of good careers guidance that set the standard for excellence in careers provision.

Quality in Careers Standard
The Creative and Enterprise Company and the Gatsby Charitable Foundation have also developed the Compass self-assessment tool, so schools can assess how their careers support compares against the Benchmarks. The CEC is considering how to extend Compass to provide equal support to colleges.

Schools and colleges can gain formal accreditation of their careers programme through the Quality in Careers Standard – the national quality award for careers education, information, advice and guidance. The Standard offers an opportunity for providers to undergo an external evaluation of their careers programme and so is distinct from the Compass self-assessment.

The National Careers Service will be the single service that provides careers information, advice and guidance. Young people and adults will be able to access this online via a new, improved National Careers Service website which is currently in development but expected to launch shortly, alongside a range of tools that individuals, parents and schools can use. It is important that creative careers feature on the site.

Destination data and lifelong learning
As part of the careers strategy the Department for Education plans to make destinations and outcomes data more accessible to people, to help them compare opportunities and make informed decisions on education, training and employment options. They will also look into ways to improve the long-term tracking of student outcomes, including the extent to which young people go on to apprenticeships and other technical routes such as the ‘T’ levels (the qualification which will sit alongside ‘A’ levels from 2020).

Delivering a new National Careers Strategy will be challenging for teachers, employers and training providers. It will be recognised as a key government priority so delivery will be prioritised by governing bodies and school managements over other activities. Arts and cultural organisations that work with the strategy and in so doing help schools and colleges to achieve partnerships with employers in our sector will be greatly welcomed by the education sector. If as a sector we are able to offer some of the opportunities together we will be able to provide a very rich source of local information and opportunities.



What do we think about ‘T’ levels?

First published by the Cultural Learning Alliance on 17 January 2018

With so much Brexit news a key piece of post-16 education reform, to be live by 2020, may have been missed. The Westminster Government will be introducing new technical qualifications in England for those over 16 called ‘T’ levels. (Different policies operate in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.)

‘T’ (technical) levels will sit alongside and complement the new apprenticeship standards offering an alternative to ‘A’ (academic). This is a good development because it could mean that, for the first time, there’ll be parity of esteem between academic and technical routes into employment.

Technical education will be underpinned by 15 new occupational ‘routes’ that are currently being developed. There is one for Creative and Design which is good news.

The route includes pathways to cover occupations from blacksmith, designer to production manager, and everything in between. Some occupations will only be accessed through apprenticeships, but there will also be two-year taught courses in colleges leading to the achievement of a ‘T’ level.

There will be Industry Route Panels to oversee each of the 15 technical routes. It is important for employers in the creative industries to put themselves forward for this to ensure that technical education suits our sector’s needs.

At Creative & Cultural Skills we are positive about the prospect of highly-valued technical education routes into employment in the creative industries. Sixty per cent of workers in our sector are graduates and all not the available jobs are genuinely graduate jobs requiring degrees. This cuts out a lot of talent and makes the sector much less socially diverse than it needs to be.

There are some proposals that concern us:

  1. We want to ensure that applied general courses such as foundation courses in art and design don’t get downgraded or lost altogether in the changes. Our sector relies on such courses to provide a strong foundation for Higher Education applied arts courses and we wouldn’t want them to be a casualty of an otherwise good reform.
  2. Examinations are not the best way to test technical knowledge. In their enthusiasm to ensure that the ‘T’ levels are rigorous and hold their own with ‘A’ levels the temptation is to test elements of them in the same way. We would like to see appropriate assessments for technical courses like an ‘end-point assessment’.
  3. There’s a proposal that ‘T’ level courses include a minimum of 40 days industry-based work experience in the occupational area related to the T-Level. We think this will be impossible to deliver. The creative industries are not evenly distributed across the country so how would students in rural areas access this much work experience and how much travel time and cost will it involve? How many small creative businesses could provide meaningful work experience at scale? There’s a view that only actual work placements are valuable but there are many other ways of providing work experience: professional challenges involving industry experts, project working, bringing creative people into colleges to set challenging tasks. Anyone who remembers the 14-19 Creative & Media Diploma will recall that the Diploma was sound but an arbitrary requirement for schools to teach as consortia made it undeliverable. Nor can we see how colleges could cope with the administration, or how employers will deal with the paperwork (students will need to be given feedback on their work experience), health and safety issues or the need to make access adjustments.
  4. The idea is that students taking ‘T’ levels can go straight into employment, including through apprenticeships, or indeed on to Higher Education (including degree apprenticeships). For this reason we don’t want ‘T’ levels to be too narrow. Our industry thrives on people moving from job to job in a general way rather than getting more and more specialised. It would be a pity if ‘T’ levels are so specific that flexibility, creativity and problem-solving are missed out.
  5. We want training providers to be able to deliver ‘T’ levels for our sector. This will be a challenge as there’s a strong need for up-to-date industry experience to ensure relevance. We’ll need more engagement between the post-16 education sector and our industry to make this work. Some colleges will conclude that there’s no mileage in offering courses within the Creative and Design route if they don’t have live links with industry; if so, students in their areas will miss out.