The arts must be at the heart of Covid recovery

Written by: Dr Patrick Roach | Published:
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As ministers think about what the framework of the education recovery will look like, it is vital that pupils are able to access a broad, balanced and rich curriculum, says Dr Patrick Roach


As we think about how to recover the “lost learning” of children who have spent a substantial period of their lives out of school, creativity and the arts must be at the core.

In other words, there must be an entitlement for all pupils to well-rounded learning opportunities which incorporate curriculum time for subjects including drama, art, music and design and technology.

It would be retrograde for any recovery programme to frame such entitlements as optional or of lesser status to the so-called “core” subjects.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic we saw mounting evidence that the creative and arts subjects were being squeezed out of the curriculum.

There has been a decline in the number of teachers teaching creative and arts subjects in secondary schools (DfE, 2018a) and a decline in the number of hours of teaching creative subjects in secondary schools (DfE, 2018b).

Teachers have lost jobs and pupils’ learning entitlements have become increasingly precarious. Teaching hours for music continue to decline in many secondary schools and more than half of primary schools in England are not meeting their curriculum obligations in year 6 (APPG, 2019).

There are also significant disparities between the percentage of pupils from poorer backgrounds taking music at GCSE compared with their peers (APPG, 2019).

So, how will this figure in the plans being developed by Sir Kevan Collins, the new education recovery commissioner? We are clear that a national framework for education recovery will have the backing of the profession if it enables a recovery and renewal that has teachers and the arts and creativity at its core.

Any programme for recovery and renewal must be capable of guaranteeing entitlements for all children, especially those who are most disadvantaged, to progress and achieve. And we know that teachers will be critical to its success.

It cannot be stressed enough the tremendous efforts made by the profession over the course of the last 12-plus months.

Across the length and breadth of the country we have again and again seen the capacity of teachers to step-up to deliver the best possible opportunities for pupils, especially where their working conditions, jobs and professionalism are secure and where teachers’ innate professionalism is given the opportunity to flourish.

But to sustain the high-quality of teaching our children receive relies on the ability of the education system as a whole to recruit and retain teachers, to provide excellent training and develop throughout their career and enable working conditions in schools that let them focus on teaching and on pupils’ learning.

As the government considers how to provide more time for learning, they must also accept that this cannot be secured by expecting teachers, who are already under considerable workload pressures, to do even more.
The capacity within the system for teaching must therefore be considered to be central to any plans for education recovery and renewal. That capacity will in part be contingent on the quantity of teachers but it will also rely on creating better conditions that let teachers teach.

The Department for Education must also take steps to tackle workload, not just talk about the problem, and incentivise best practice through the use of funding levers, school accreditation programmes and changes to the accountability framework.

Critically, an effective education recovery programme must place the work of teachers and schools within a national framework of entitlement for pupils and for their teachers.

Schools cannot be left to pick up the pieces after the pandemic. Joined-up solutions will be needed together with significant additional investment in pedagogy, IT, teachers’ CPD and in improving working and learning conditions overall if recovery is to be meaningful and inclusive.

The NASUWT and a number of other organisations are planning a Festival of School and College Arts (#EduArtsFest) on Friday, May 28, to celebrate the vital role of the arts in our schools and colleges, and the fantastic work done by children and young people.

It will be a festival in which every school and college can take part, showcasing the creativity – paintings, drawings, poems, music, dance, and drama – of young people. But we need more than this important one-off initiative. We need a sustained commitment to the arts and creativity as part of our ambition to be the best country for children and young people to grow up in.

Recognising and celebrating the creativity of children and young people is key not only to our education recovery, but to our national recovery too. The arts must be at the heart of building back better for all children and young people.

  • Dr Patrick Roach is general secretary of the NASUWT.


Further information & resources

  • APPG for Music Education, University of Sussex and ISM: Music Education: State of the Nation, January 2019: https://bit.ly/3u3H1HC
  • DfE: ITT census for the academic year 2018 to 2019, England, November 2018a: https://bit.ly/2QGcu4h
  • DfE: National Statistics: School workforce in England: November 2017, June 2018b: http://bit.ly/2KwCJVV


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