The result: funding is diverted away from non-EBacc subjects, fewer teachers are recruited and there is less student uptake. Statistics published in August 2018 by the Cultural Learning Alliance show that the total number of children studying an arts subject to GCSE in England was down 35% since 2010. There have been decreases in every area – art and design, dance, performing arts, music and media. Teacher numbers have fallen for these subjects, while the numbers of EBacc-valid geography and history teachers have increased over the same period. The number of hours that art and design are taught in state schools decreased by 16.5% between 2012 and 2017, according to analysis by the National Society for Education in Art and Design.
The benefits of an arts education to the wellbeing of the individual, and its role in social mobility, are manifold. Drawing on research done by the Cultural Learning Alliance and others, the Bacc for the Future campaign, one of the EBacc’s most active and vocal opponents, has assembled an advocacy pack that includes statistics to prove their point. For instance, students from low-income families who take part in arts activities at school are three times more likely to get a degree, twice as likely to volunteer and 20% more likely to vote as young adults; children who take part in arts activities in the home during their early years are ahead in reading and maths at age nine; and people who take part in the arts are 38% more likely to report good health.
Ideally, of course, a diverse and stimulating arts education would sit alongside and enrich the study of core “academic” subjects, with neither at the expense of the other – and, in the highest attaining schools, this is often the case. However, the Government has systematically failed to promote the benefits and possibilities of arts study. “We’re not showcasing well enough how valuable the arts are,” Andria Zafirakou points out. “We are on the brink of deskilling our students on a massive scale.” Zafirakou, who won the 2018 Global Teacher award, teaches art and textiles at Alperton Community School in Brent. Her classrooms include some of the most disadvantaged and ethnically diverse children in the country. “I can see from the work I do in my school that the arts are a lifeline,” she says. She is using her $1million winnings from the award to fund a charity, Artists in Residence, which will bring professional artists to lead workshops in schools in which more than 20% of students are on free school meals. For students unlikely to have arts professionals in their circles, the hope is that this can open a door into a world in which the arts are a viable career, as well as a source of personal development.
Beth Schneider, Head of Learning at the RA, similarly laments the dismissive tone towards the arts coming from the current government. Writing off creative subjects as “soft”, she stresses, overlooks the fact that “to face a blank nothing and make something out of it involves a process of thinking and decision-making and evaluation: it’s an intellectual activity”. The fundamental question, she asks, is "What do you want people to learn? Skills and competencies, but applied to what?“
As might be expected from an institution with pedagogy as part of its DNA, the RA has an extensive Learning Department. In addition to life-drawing workshops, it runs creative and networking sessions for art teachers, an A-level mentoring programme, school workshops, including those for special educational needs students, and exhibition tours on site. It has also recently launched the Young Artists’ Summer Show, inviting primary and secondary students to submit work for an exhibition at the Academy. Zarifakou sits on the judging panel for the 2019 inaugural edition.
Museum and gallery education departments cannot replace arts teachers, but are well placed to complement the classroom. AttRAct, a long-term further education project, brings together a group of A-level students from 25 state schools in north London boroughs for dedicated workshops, studio visits and careers advice sessions, pairing them with mentors within the RA Schools. Sitting outside of a formal assessment system, attRAct creates a platform for students at a critical juncture in their education to ask big questions about the (often opaque) machinations of the art world and how to make a future within it.
Accessibility is a word that comes up time and again when discussing arts education. The arts are a question not just of capital but of what Pierre Bourdieu called cultural capital: the knowledge, often unconsciously received, that allows you to walk, without thinking, into a museum or gallery because you understand its codes. Fostering this sense of belonging sits at the core of what Schneider and her colleagues do. "It’s about saying to students, ‘You’re part of this larger art world and you have a place within it. An artist isn’t someone else – it’s you.’”