GOOD PRACTICE GUIDE RSC/Barbican see new hope for arts in Ofsted move

Figures show that arts subjects in schools are still declining but, following the announcement of their joint conference series starting in January, Jacqui O’Hanlon of the RSC and Jenny Mollica of the Barbican show a new Ofsted framework offers renewed hope

The unintended consequences of the Ebacc, austerity measures and a focus on STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics - have been to push arts subjects and cultural learning further down the priority list. At the same time, leading educators and employers warn us that the attributes we know cultural learning can uniquely help to foster – creativity, empathy, tolerance and interpersonal skills – are precisely the ones our children will need for future success.

But conversations with schools across the country reveal that there are rays of hope in the new Ofsted education inspection framework (EIF) 

Those conversations prompted Barbican Guildhall Creative Learning and RSC Education to join forces to create a conference series celebrating the role that arts subjects and experiences can play in developing a truly creative curriculum. It can also provide a platform for the best examples we could find of embedded arts experiences in schools across the country. We framed the Towards A Creative Curriculumconference around the new Ofsted criteria to demonstrate how clearly arts subjects can contribute to it.

The main areas identified for future inspections are: quality of education; behaviour and attitudes; personal development: and leadership and management.

Ofsted’s focus on quality of education will scrutinise the intent, implementation and impact of a schools’ curriculum. Schools looking to be categorised as “outstanding” must demonstrate a rich and varied curriculum, explain how that curriculum is taught and, crucially, what impact it is having on students. This is about young people taking deep dives into a broad range of subjects, and arguably about opening up options and keeping them open for as long as possible.

The EIF goes further to acknowledge a clear link between teachers with strong subject and pedagogic knowledge and better curriculum quality scores.  The hope for the cultural sector is that motivating schools to offer a broader curriculum and promoting specialist subject knowledge will provide an opportunity for arts subjects and teachers.

The new framework also requires schools to develop their pupils’ cultural capital:

As part of making the judgement about the quality of education, inspectors will consider the extent to which schools are equipping pupils with the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life. Our understanding of ‘knowledge and cultural capital’ is derived from the following wording in the national curriculum:  

‘It is the essential knowledge that pupils need to be educated citizens, introducing them to the best that has been thought and said and helping to engender an appreciation of human creativity and achievement.’  - Ofsted School Inspection Handbook 2019

The Cultural Learning Alliance (CLA) has written a helpful summary of the backstory and definitions of this key term. In it, Sam Cairns (co-director of the CLA) says: The CLA believes that this new Ofsted requirement constitutes an opportunity for schools to define the cultural capital that their children need.”

Developing that idea, Barbican Guildhall and the RSC were interested in how schools across the country are defining the cultural capital needs of their children, and using the arts to support their development.

The RSC was commissioned earlier this year by Arts Council England (ACE) to undertake a national research study into arts and cultural education in outstanding schools, to understand the role that arts subjects and experiences play in school and curriculum development. Some of the top line findings are compelling in terms of what they tell us about how outstanding schools nationally view arts subjects:

  • 98% of schools surveyed promote the arts through performances, events and celebrations
  • 98% believe that the arts make a positive difference to the well-being and happiness of their children and young people
  • 95% say that the greatest impact of the arts is on developing children’s creativity
  • 94% cite arts subjects and experiences as having a positive impact on the overall engagement of children and young people
  • 5% recognise the impact of arts and cultural learning on overall school improvement

All of the children and young people interviewed for the ACE research talked with visible enthusiasm and pride about their schools’ arts provision. Many talked about how engagement with arts subjects had increased their enjoyment of school, and staff recognised that arts experiences provided some of the strongest and happiest memories of children and young peoples’ time at school.

This correlates strongly with findings from last year’s Time to Listenstudy which analysed over 6,000 responses from young people in schools across England. When asked what they value about arts and creative subjects in their schools, many talked about the value of arts subjects as an outlet for pressure and a means of helping them to navigate and process some of the difficult emotions they experience as teenagers. 

Many schools understand that arts have a unique role to play in young lives. The arts encourage us to think deeply about what it is to be human. The fact that they are interpretive means they encourage us to think for ourselves and hone key life and interpersonal skills including creative and critical thinking. They can foster empathy and help us develop tolerance by showing us new ways of seeing ourselves, others and the world around us.

Towards a Creative Curriculumwill provide a platform to share knowledge and experience for school leadership teams who exemplify these beliefs. The conference is at the Barbican on 10thJanuary 2020 and will bring together leading educators, artists and practitioners from across the worlds of culture and education to share latest research and practice in arts education and explore how arts subjects and experiences can help schools deliver against the objectives outlined in the new EIF. Global Teacher Prize winner Andria Zafirakou, artist Bob and Roberta Smith; and Professor of Creative Education at the Warwick Business School Jonothan Neelands will give keynote speeches. The conference will also feature case studies from schools across England who demonstrate that excellence in arts provision is an expression of excellence in everything the school does.

Ofsted’s new framework is encouraging. Those of us who believe that arts and cultural learning should be part of every child’s education hope it can present an opportunity for embedding work that engages and inspires young people and takes us towards a future where arts and cultural learning are present in every school and available to every child.

Towards a Creative Curriculums tarts at 10.30am and is due to end at 5.30pm. It is suitable for those working with young people from KS2 up to KS3 and costs £65 per teacher when booked before 31 October 2019 (£90 thereafter).

Towards a Creative Curriculum is supported by the Kusuma Trust UK. The work of the RSC Education Department is supported by Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Adobe, The Allan and Nesta Ferguson Charitable Trust, The Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, Samsung, The Schroder Foundation, The Polonsky Foundation, GRoW @ Annenberg, The Goldsmiths’ Company Charity, The Kusuma Trust UK, The Ernest Cook Trust, TAK Advisory Limited and Stratford Town Trust.

Jacqui O’Hanlon is director of education at the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), and Jenny Mollica is director of creative learning for the Barbican andGuildhall School of Music & Drama.

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