Arts education in crisis: support a next generation of creatives

Plummeting support for arts education will strip a next generation of creatives. Here's how you can support change.
Teacher pours paint into cup for young boy wearing blue t-shirt. Arts education.

In an earlier story, ArtsHub reported recent data that states, ‘Arts education is in an urgent state of crisis in the UK, with a 47% decline in arts enrolment at General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) and 29% at A-level since 2010.’

The report (released August 2023) states: ‘It has major implications for the education and aspirations of our young people, the arts education workforce and the health and diversity of our creative industries.’

Politicians and activists are starting to act on that data. On Thursday last week, Leader of the Opposition Sir Keir Starmer told the BBC Radio 4 program Front Row: ‘When you see that statistic – 47% drop in young people doing GCSE art and culture – that is going to strip out the next generation if we don’t turn it around. So I’m determined, on day one, we will change that in the curriculum. It will be counted again.’

Starmer’s Labour Party has pledged to combat these huge declines. ‘We’re urging all parties to adopt these policies – to address the calamitous decline in the uptake of arts subjects, and to ensure that every child has opportunities to discover the arts at school,’ said Starmer.

He continued that Labour has committed to including arts subjects in the “Progress 8” measures by which secondary schools are assessed in England, and to ‘put creativity at the heart of the curriculum’ as part of a broader review.

Labour is also getting behind the cross-party initiative, Campaign for the Arts. ‘We’re being heard by the policymakers, and could never have achieved this impact without contributions from supporters like you. Now let’s build a cross-party consensus and make sure that meaningful changes are delivered,’ added Starmer, inviting the sector to ‘sign up’.

Read: 2024 Spring Budget: what this means for the arts

How and why has this happened?

Local government is historically the biggest public funder of the arts in the UK, but has been hard hit with a 40% real-terms cut in central government grants over the last decade or more. Since 2010, English councils have almost halved per-person spending on culture, heritage and libraries.

The new report says that there are a number of factors behind the dramatic decline. It points to earlier findings, The Arts in Schools: Foundations for the Future, that concluded: ‘At every stage in the schooling system the arts are disadvantaged: at initial teacher recruitment and training through to a lack of support for arts teaching in primary schools. The prioritisation of EBacc (English Baccalaureate) (non-arts) subjects in secondary accountability measures has meant a reduction in the level of arts subjects, teachers and resources available, and therefore declining GCSE and A Level take-up.

‘Dance and drama have no parity at inspection level, and film and digital media have been excluded from the national curriculum. We have an assessment regime that does not work for arts subjects, which require different kinds of measurement, and the investment required to develop these has not been made because of their perceived low status.

‘Finally, we have the long tail of the exclusion of the arts from the higher education facilitating subjects list before 2019, thereby further disincentivising arts take-up. Loss of subjects and teachers cannot easily be reversed. This downgrading of the arts is damaging for young people’s lives and aspirations, for the arts education workforce, for the workforce more widely, and for the health and diversity of the creative industries. And access to the arts is not equitable: we have a two-tier system, with the arts more highly valued in independent schools.’

To support the Campaign for the Arts.

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW. Twitter: @ginafairley Instagram: fairleygina