2019 Spring Term 1


  • Funding crisis: Crunch time
    This year will be particularly significant in terms of school and college funding, says Geoff Barton. With the government due to undertake its spending review, surely it is crunch time for education funding? More
  • Time to listen
    Findings of a new report highlight the role arts and culture education plays in realising potential in all young people. Here, Jacqui O'Hanlon from the Royal Shakespeare Company, explains why it's time to listen to what young people are telling us. More
  • The forgotten
    Chair of ASCL's Commission of Inquiry on The Forgotten Third, Roy Blatchford CBE, looks at why many of Britain's 16 year-olds leave school without a 'worthwhile pass' and the detrimental effects this is having on their life chances. More
  • Going further
    PPC General Secretary Dr Anne Murdoch OBE, a former college principal, highlights some of the challenges facing further education (FE) leaders and celebrates their successes. More
  • First steps
    How can schools best support early career teachers? Matt Walker from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) looks at the training and support early career teachers say they need, and considers the implications for schools and policy. More
  • Gold standard
    Epsom and Ewell High School is the first secondary school in the UK to achieve a gold award for its outstanding mental health provision. Assistant Head Chris Goodall explains how they approach health and wellbeing across the school. More
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Findings of a new report highlight the role arts and culture education plays in realising potential in all young people. Here, Jacqui O’Hanlon from the Royal Shakespeare Company, explains why it’s time to listen to what young people are telling us.

Time to listen

In October 2018, the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), Tate and the University of Nottingham published a summary report entitled Time to Listen – the first comprehensive study on why arts and cultural education matters to young people. The report analysed around 6,000 responses from young people aged 14–18, bringing to light the voices and opinions of students across England on why studying arts and cultural subjects at school or college is important to them. 

In 2016, an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) working paper looked at the impact of different kinds of teaching approaches globally and highlighted the need to nurture more creative and collaborative future generations (https://bit.ly/2EjJEhn). The study showed that the UK tops the table for characteristics like memorisation, drill and repetition, but revealed that our education system was much lower in things like elaboration, deep learning, creativity and critical thinking. Governments worldwide acknowledge that creative and critical thinking will be at a premium in the future with many boosting their role within their own education systems.

Schools and colleges are key

As other countries seek to boost creativity, one of the most revealing and concerning aspects of the Time to Listen report’s findings was the consistency with which young people told us that arts lessons and subjects, taught in school or college, are the only places where they feel able to think creatively and explore their own thoughts, opinions and ideas – the very competencies the OECD findings had highlighted. With no definitive right or wrong answers, arts subjects allow children and young people the freedom to develop their identities, consider ideas and alternative points of view, as well as formulate arguments of their own. Often referred to as ‘soft skills’, these are arguably some of the most important tools in any young person’s armoury, preparing them for life beyond school and encouraging them to contribute to their communities as well as to the wider world. 

We also know that teachers, and school and college leaders, see the importance of arts education. One teacher said, “Sometimes you take these children out to see a cultural event and that can be a turning point for these students in terms of where they go in their life.” Another said, “The biggest value of creative work for the students is working independently and solving problems and being given responsibility, because ultimately that is what life is about.”

Links to wellbeing

The report also highlighted the relationship between arts subjects and student wellbeing. Many young people spoke overwhelmingly about how they see the arts as a way for them to release some of the pressures they experience at school or college and at home, and a way for them to process some of the difficult emotions they experience as teenagers. One student said, “My way to escape from my learning difficulties is through the arts,” while another commented, “Without the arts subjects you’d get a lot of people feeling unhappy because it’s a way to gain more confidence and more self-esteem.” Another said, “Music is therapeutic. When you’re feeling sad and depressed, you can use music to alleviate the emotions you’re going through.”

Unintended consequences

However, we are also aware that it is becoming increasingly difficult for schools and colleges to deliver arts education due in part to a lack of funding and constraints within the accountability system. Several factors have led to this situation, including: 

  • an emphasis on the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects over arts-based subjects 
  • focusing school performance measures around progress in some subjects and not others 
  • significant real-term reductions in school and college budgets 
  • some universities placing more emphasis on facilitating subjects in their admissions and less so on arts-based subjects 

The unintended consequence of these factors is that young people often feel that an arts and cultural education is less valued and therefore less valuable. One Year 12 student said, “It’s about statistics as well cos it’s not just in our school it’s in every school. English and maths, history and science – those are the subjects that will get you into university,” while another said, “When I was doing some research about going to uni, it was like arts are not really subjects so don’t do them. It’s a whole cultural thing.” In practical terms, the result is a sharp decline in the number of arts teachers and hours spent teaching arts subjects in state-funded schools (https://tinyurl.com/y7b996b6) and a shift in the choices that young people are making about which subjects will benefit them in the long-term (https://tinyurl.com/y9fyfscb). Finally, the report found that schools and colleges are critical in brokering these experiences in young people, with over a third of students stating that school is the only place where they access the arts. As the gap continues to grow between the opportunities that students in state-funded schools receive as opposed to those in independent schools, this has also become a matter of social justice.

Shifting attitudes

The report was launched at the Houses of Parliament in October 2018. It made five recommendations to the government, Ofsted, schools, colleges and universities to encourage a shift in attitudes and a change in practice: 

  1. All secondary schools should be able to ensure that at Key Stage 3, the arts have parity with other subjects; offer a full range of arts subjects at Key Stage 4; and, confidently talk to students and their families about the value of studying arts subjects. 
  2. The Ofsted process should ensure the breadth and balance of the school curriculum by specifying in the current inspection framework, the minimum proportion of curriculum time to be spent studying arts subjects at Key Stage 3, and the range of arts subjects which should be offered at Key Stage 4. 
  3. There should be an Arts and Culture Premium for all children in schools. 
  4. Russell Group universities should review their approach to facilitating subjects, recognising that studying arts subjects can provide young people with an essential foundation for further study. 
  5. There should be acknowledgement and appropriate reward in both pay scale and job title for the work of teachers who take on the essential role of ‘arts broker’. 

There are changing and challenging times ahead, but one thing is certain: we owe it to future generations to listen and to give them every chance to experience the arts.

Find out more

Time to Listen is the summary report of a three-year research study called Tracking Arts Learning and Engagement (Tale). Read the full Time to Listen report online at www.taleresearch.net

Jacqui O'Hanlon
Director of Education, Royal Shakespeare Company

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