Art attack: the fight to make art a larger part of the curriculum

Tate has said that many state schools are starved of the resources that would allow them to access arts education, and film-maker Steve McQueen agrees. They are campaigning to make the arts a more fundamental part of the curriculum

The decline of arts education in England’s schools is seen by many as one of the most urgent of all cultural issues. Figures from the Cultural Learning Alliance show a 10% decline in pupils taking arts subjects at GCSE between 2017 and 2018. Since 2010 there has been a 35% drop in take-up of arts GCSE subjects.

Maria Balshaw, the director of Tate, and Steve McQueen, the director of 12 Years a Slave, have said that access to the visual arts will be a preserve of privately educated children unless the government takes urgent action to improve the school curriculum.

McQueen and Tate have collaborated with 35 museums and galleries across the country to draw attention to the fact that the curriculum in England is failing children by allowing the arts to become increasingly less important; together, they are campaigning for an ‘arts-rich curriculum’.

[su_note] Tate is an executive non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), and an exempt charity, and is regulated by DCMS in accordance with a management agreement agreed by the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for charity law purposes. Its mission is to increase the public’s enjoyment and understanding of British art from the sixteenth century to the present day and of international modern and contemporary art. [/su_note]

Discussing why it is important for state schools to make the arts more of priority, Maria Balshaw said, “Private schools place a premium on a rich cultural education for their pupils whilst many state schools are starved of the resources to support access to culture and creativity for their pupils.

“We need a level cultural playing field for all children because we want and need visually literate adults. There should be fair access to arts in line with the offer to pupils in Scotland and Wales where the arts are already a core commitment.”

She said teachers were, too often, thwarted in their aspiration to provide an arts-rich education by “…the restriction of the curriculum and the dire lack of resources”.

McQueen said his success as a director was, in part, due to the opportunity to study the arts at school. “When I was a kid, I remember my first trip to Tate. It was a real eye-opener. It was wonderful to see an explosion of ideas and creativity, visual creativity. It gave me an understanding that anything was possible,” he said.

“The curriculum needs to be big enough to include all subjects and be for all children. Art and creativity are so important to science, to maths or to any other academic venture. Cutting arts education means you cut off inventiveness, which impacts on being creative.

“We have many great artists, great thinkers and inventors in the UK and this has come through a sense of possibility. Arts education gives that sense of possibility.”

Martin Clark, the director of Camden Arts Centre – one of the 35 museums and galleries taking part in the campaign – agrees. “In a climate where visual literacy, creative thinking and innovation are going to be key to the future of our country, millions of children are being failed by an education system not fit-for-purpose or for the new realities of the 21st century.”

It is yet to be seen what the Conservative government will do about the claims that children are being failed due to the lack of art in the curriculum, but in their manifesto they pledged to ‘Maintain support for the arts and culture’, with promises to introduce a pupil premium for the arts. The party said it wants young people to ‘learn creative skills and widen their horizons’, stating that it would introduce an arts premium to secondary schools ‘to fund enriching activities for all pupils’.

Whether these promises will be put into practice will be a matter of wait and see, but it is clear that the drive to push the arts forward, and increase their importance in the curriculum, is one shared by many people.

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