On 7 June 2021, the Earl of Clancarty (Crossbench) is due to ask the Government “what support they intend to provide for education in arts subjects in secondary schools”.

The Education Endowment Foundation defines arts subjects as “a broad range of subjects including the traditional fine arts (eg visual arts, music, dance, performing arts, theatre and dance) as well as modern dance and movement, hip hop, poetry and creative writing”. Pupils in secondary schools in England include:

  • Key stage 3: pupils aged 11–14 in years 7–9;
  • Key stage 4: pupils aged 14–16 in years 10–11; and
  • Key stage 5: pupils aged 16–18 in years 12–13.

How much arts education is there at secondary schools?

The most recent ‘School Workforce’ statistics from the Department for Education, published in June 2020, provide details of teaching hours for children at different stages of education, broken down by subject.

The statistics include English Baccalaureate (EBacc) subjects: mathematics; English; all sciences (including computer science); history; geography; and all modern languages, and non-EBacc subjects such as music and drama. The statistics show a decrease in the teaching of combined non-EBacc subjects:

In 2019, 35.3% of teaching hours at key stage 3 were spent teaching non EBacc subjects, including arts subjects, design and technology, religious education and physical education. At key stage 4 this decreased to 32.2%. These figures are slightly lower than in 2018.

The table below shows teaching hours broken down by subject for pupils in years 7 through 13 in state secondary schools in England. These show a decline in teaching hours for arts subjects when comparing 2016 to 2019. However, the most recent data suggests that the situation is improving for most arts subjects, with the exception of design and technology.

Teaching hours broken down by subject for years 7 through 13
November 2016 November 2017 November 2018 November 2019
English Baccalaureate 2,173,255.9 2,209,950.8 2,237,900.0 2,262,984.0
Art and design 136,451.0 133,570.0 133,713.0 134,985.0
Design and technology 86,451.5 76,269.2 68,126.0 63,056.0
Drama 82,872.6 80,832.0 80,819.0 81,068.0
Music 83,543.4 80,143.0 79,305.0 79,633.0

The table below shows the number of teachers by subject for state secondary pupils in years 7 through 13 in England. Again, compared to 2016 data, arts subjects have seen a decrease in the number of teachers. However, in the most recent year, teaching numbers have slightly increased, although they continue to decrease in design and technology.

Number of teachers by subject for years 7 through 13
November 2016 November 2017 November 2018 November 2019
English Baccalaureate 147,147.1 149,488.5 150,363.0 151,708.0
Art and design 11,952.1 11,772.3 11,874.0 12,112.0
Design and technology 11,330.8 10,186.5 9,010.0 8,312.0
Drama 9,206.5 8,961.5 8,899.0 8,963.0
Music 6,719.5 6,480.1 6,525.0 6,543.0

Commenting on the figures in October 2020, the Cultural Learning Alliance argued that the hours of arts teaching and number of arts teachers was “stable but not recovering after years of decline”. They pointed to increasing student numbers in schools within the same period and highlighted falls in both teaching hours and teacher numbers in design and technology in particular.

In August 2020, the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) published statistics showing declines in the number of candidates for A Levels in art and design subjects; there were small increases in the number of candidates in performing/expressive arts. The number of candidates for arts subjects at GCSE level saw an increase. There were small reductions in music, design and technology and performing/expressive arts.

Responding to the figures, the Cultural Learning Alliance stated that while GCSEs were “stable”, they were not recovering “after years of falling numbers”. A Levels “continue to decline”. Looking at the statistics over a longer period, they drew attention to:

  • -37% decline in arts GCSE entries 2010 to 2020.
  • +1% increase in arts GCSE entries 2019 to 2020, +3.1% increase in GCSE cohort number.
  • -30% decline in arts A Level entries 2010 to 2020, -2% decline 2019 to 2020.

Impact of Covid-19

A large part of the recent focus in education policy has been the question of how to alleviate and adapt to the short and long-term impacts of Covid-19. Schools and universities were forced to close and face-to-face learning restricted for most students for large parts of 2020 and early 2021. Key exams were cancelled in both 2020 and 2021.

However, several organisations have argued that the restrictions caused by responding to the Covid-19 pandemic were particularly detrimental to arts subjects. In late 2020, the Incorporated Society for Musicians carried out a survey of primary and secondary teachers. It found 39 percent of secondary school teachers reported a reduction in music provision as a direct result of the pandemic, with singing, practical music making, instrumental lessons and extra-curricular activities all affected. During the 2020/21 academic year, face-to-face musical lessons were not continuing in 28 percent of secondary schools they surveyed. The chief executive of UK Music, Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, has called on the Government to put music education “front and centre” of efforts to catch up after the pandemic.

Findings from recent Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) reports noted that although most pupils were studying all their usual subjects, secondary school leaders had adapted the content of their curriculum. Many key stage 3 pupils were doing less practical work, because leaders had prioritised key stage 4 and 5 to use, for example, the science, art and music rooms

The House of Commons Education Committee is currently examining the impact of the pandemic on education and children’s services. Taking evidence from several secondary school pupils in March 2021, the committee heard of difficulties undertaking practical subjects, such as music, remotely and the impact this had in stopping a number of extra-curricular activities, such as singing in choirs or making music with other pupils.

What has the Government said?

In its 2019 general election manifesto, the Conservative Party pledged that a Conservative government would: invest in schools; “level up Britain’s skills” by investing in more technical qualifications and apprenticeships; and maintain and strengthen the country’s “global position in higher education”. The manifesto included a pledge to invest in arts, music and sports through an “arts premium” for secondary schools. This would be used to fund “enriching activities” for all children.

In recent parliamentary questions the Government has reiterated its support for music and the arts. It noted that they are “vital parts of children and young people’s education”. The Government stated it had invested almost £500 million of central programme funding between 2016 and 2020 on “a diverse portfolio of music and arts education programmes”.

In January 2020, the Government announced a further £80 million investment in Music Education Hubs for financial year 2020–21 which it said “have transformed the teaching of music in schools through subsidised instrument lessons and ensembles”. Amy Gibbons, writing in the TES (Times Educational Supplement) noted that the announcement was “a relief to many working in the sector”.

On 3 February 2021, the prime minister appointed Sir Kevan Collins as the Government’s education recovery commissioner, saying he would “oversee a comprehensive programme of catch-up aimed at young people who have lost out on learning due to the pandemic”. Speaking to the BBC, Sir Kevan stated:

I think we need to think about the extra hours not only for learning, but for children to be together, to play, to engage in competitive sport, for music, for drama because these are critical areas which have been missed in their development.

Cover image by Vlad Vasnetsov on Pixabay.