A landmark research project outlines the overwhelmingly positive benefits of arts and cultural education on the lives of young people.
The research, undertaken by experts from the School of Education at the University of Nottingham, has led to calls for urgent change, as thousands of young people and teachers express concern over the impact that declining arts and cultural provision in schools will have on future generations.
The project was commissioned by Arts Council England - and involved schools and teachers who work with either the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) or Tate.
Time to Listen,
the first and most comprehensive survey of its kind, shows what students themselves say about the value of arts and cultural education. Researchers gathered 6,000 responses from students aged 11-18 and their teachers over three years.
The findings show the ways in which arts and cultural learning in the classroom opens doors to creative activities outside school hours. More than a third of the students said school is the only opportunity they have to engage in arts activities.
The survey was carried out against a background of funding cuts and a rapid decline in the number of arts teachers and hours spent on arts subjects in state-funded schools. There is now a growing gap in arts provision between state-maintained schools and the independent sector.
One clear and consistent message comes from the thousands of students who took part: arts and cultural learning taps into their imagination, creative instincts and self-worth in ways that other lessons do not. With no definitive right or wrong answers, arts subjects are shown to significantly help young people develop their own opinions as rounded individuals ready to contribute to their community and the wider world. The research focusses on the positive impact that arts-rich schools have on fostering independent thinking and creativity, confidence, well-being and empathy.
Researchers Professor Christine Hall and Professor Pat Thomson, from the School of Education, at the University of Nottingham, said: “We researched in thirty schools across England where, despite a hostile policy environment, students were engaged in a rich and exciting arts and cultural education. Students told us that their arts subjects helped them to understand themselves, their everyday lives, and the world around them.
“The evidence from our study shows the importance of schools and teachers in making sure that all young people have the opportunity to experience what the arts have to offer. The publicly funded school system in England has some way to go to make this a reality.”
Talking about Time to Listen, Erica Whyman, RSC Deputy Artistic Director, said: “The strong, consistent and thoughtful message from the young people in this study is that arts and cultural subjects are uniquely important in equipping them for both academic and employment success.
“If we want this generation to have the key skills required to thrive in the workplace of the future, we need to listen to them now.”
Maria Balshaw, Director of Tate added: “We cannot overstate the case for an arts and cultural education for all. Arts subjects must be at the core of education provision in the UK in our schools, be they state-funded or independent, and in our universities. We must listen to the reverberating sound of the 6,000 voices that are part of this important piece of research and act now. Otherwise, we will be failing the children and students who are the creative future of the UK.”
As a result of the research, and the growing body of evidence, the RSC and Tate are calling for five changes to support schools and ensure that arts and culture education features in all young people’s education:
- All secondary schools should be able to:
a) ensure that at key stage 3 the arts have parity with other subjects
b) Offer a full range of arts subjects at key stage 4 (GSCE)
c) Confidently talk to students and their families about the value of studying arts subjects
- The Ofsted process should ensure the breadth and balance of the school curriculum by specifying in the inspection framework the minimum proportion of curriculum time to be spent studying arts subjects at key stage 3, and the range of arts subjects offered at key stage 4.1
- There should be an Arts and Culture Premium for all children in schools2.
- 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.
- There should be acknowledgement and appropriate reward in both pay scale and job title for the work of teachers who take on the role of ‘arts broker’.
One teacher who participated in the study 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…”
Students’ comments included,
“In arts subjects there’s no such thing as perfection……It’s interpretation. Everyone will have a different opinion and you have to take it on board and reflect upon it”.
“I don’t think I’ve ever felt this motivated to want to do work.”
Students and teachers highlighted the key benefits of studying arts and culture subjects including:
- building self-belief, risk taking, and confidence
- providing an important release valve amidst growing pressure on young people at school
- developing empathy and tolerance; appreciating difference and diversity
To coincide with the launch of the research, Tate has released a film Why Study Art? in which a wide range of cultural figures give their views on why an arts and cultural education is vital. To view the film visit the website.
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