Tracking Arts Learning and Engagement (TALE) was a three-year longitudinal research project funded by Arts Council England from 2015-18. The project partners were The Royal Shakespeare Company (Education), Tate (School and Teachers team), and The University of Nottingham. It was a 3 year longitudinal research project conducted in 30 case study secondary schools from across England, from Cornwall to Newcastle. The sample of 30 schools was selected on the basis that either a teacher or the school had a professional development relationship with either the RSC or Tate. We took this to be an indicator of a reasonable level of interest and commitment to the arts. So this was a purposive sample, chosen to help us investigate the impact of taking the arts seriously in school.
In each school, we focused on students taking arts subjects who were in years 10,11,12 at start of the project and followed them through over the three years (12,13,14 by end) talking to them in focus group interviews.
We tracked and did in depth interviews over the 3 years with two arts teachers in each school, including one who was involved with the RSC or Tate.
In year 2 of the project we surveyed all students in years 10-13 about their engagement in arts and cultural activities. We got just under 4500 survey responses.
These are our 4 main research questions and an indication of the number of teacher interviews and focus groups we conducted, the number of students we spoke to and the number of survey responses we received. A significant focus in the research was on arts teachers’ professional development and learning.
Tate and RSC have adopted innovative but different approaches to teachers’ continuing professional development and learning [CPDL]. Tate Schools and Teachers team offers individual teachers the opportunity to engage in immersive experiences, either through a network, through single CPDL events or through an intensive Summer School that takes place at the gallery. Through encounters with artists and artist mediated materials, teachers are encouraged to experience, as learners, the pedagogical principles of open-ended, critical aesthetic inquiry. They are supported to consider how they might curate learning in which pupils question, explore, challenge, play and interpret.
The Royal Shakespeare Company offers school-focused professional development in which key teachers work alongside RSC professionals to embed RSC rehearsal room approaches to exploring Shakespeare’s texts across a national network of schools. The RSC offer is rooted in the real-world work of actors and directors in the rehearsal room and explores the interpretive possibilities of the text. Teachers are encouraged, as learners, to get out of their seats and use their bodies, minds and emotions to get to grips with poetic and metaphoric language and the texts. They then take these approaches and use them in the classrooms. They are supported to consider how they can make the teaching of the only compulsory author in the national curriculum more vivid, accessible and enjoyable.
One of the main motivating factors for doing this research was concern about the reducing numbers of pupils taking exams in arts subjects.
In August 2018, the Cultural Learning Alliance reported these figures: -10% decline in arts subject GCSE entries between 2017 to 2018, building on -9% decline in arts subject GCSE entries the previous year. Overall, between 2010 and 2018 the decline has been -35%. Across England, the decline in the number of arts GCSE* entries is from 673,739 in 2010 to 435,784 in 2018*
Also, there is a continuing decline in arts A Levels: entries were down -24% between 2010 and 2018.
[This year’s decline of -10% in arts entries is set against a decline in the number of students in year 11 (the year students take GCSEs) in England of -1%. Since 2010 the year 11 cohort has fallen by -9%.]
Research shows that less time is being spent teaching music, art and drama in secondary schools than in 2011, while an increasing number of hours are being devoted to core subjects. A new analysis by the TES of Department for Education data shows that English, maths and science alone now take up more than half (51 per cent) of key stage 4 teaching time in secondaries, up from 44.5 per cent in 2011. Meanwhile, less time is being spent on the arts – music, art and drama – and subjects linked with wellbeing, such as PE and PSHE. This analysis reveals significant changes to the balance of the hours spent teaching different subjects in secondary schools in the past eight years. The latest figures, for 2017, show that: At key stage 3, less time is being spent teaching music (down by 11 per cent), art (down by 9 per cent) and drama (down by 7 per cent), compared with 2011. While at key stage 4, music is down 12 per cent, art is down 20 per cent and drama is down 26 per cent. Languages, despite being in the English Baccalaureate, remain in trouble. There has been a rise in Spanish, with 32 per cent more time at key stage 4. But French is down 11 per cent and German down 22 per cent; Design and technology has fallen precipitously, with 19 per cent fewer hours devoted in KS3 and 40 per cent fewer in KS4; ICT has fallen by 51 per cent in KS3. While computer science teaching has now taken up some of that, ICT used to account for 4.2 per cent of KS3 curriculum time in 2011 – now ICT and computing together take up 3 per cent of KS3 curriculum time.
Other significant parts of the educational context: NC framework requires that ‘Every state-funded school must offer a curriculum which is balanced and broadly based’ Michael Gove’s 2010 curriculum changes: reform of GCSE A level, decoupling AS level. Introduction of English Baccalaureate as a school audit measure (EBacc requires 5 good passes in English, maths, 2 sciences, an ancient or modern modern language, history or geography). This means that arts effectively become elective subjects Reform of assessment methods, to be linear rather than modular, externally rather than school assessed, preferably assessed by written examination. This disadvantages creative arts subjects. The universities’ role in advising on content and promoting the idea of ‘facilitating subjects’ that ‘leave open a wide range of options for university study’. These subjects are maths, English Literature, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Geography, History, Modern Language – so no arts subject is included except English Literature. The decline across subjects is uneven: performing arts, D&T have been hard hit. The decline is greater in the North than the South of the country. The profile of students taking the arts is becoming skewed: EBacc takers are less likely to take an arts subject than those who aren’t doing EBacc. Also the arts are becoming more skewed towards girls, students on FSM, Black Caribbean young people and those with medium or low prior attainment.
These curriculum hierarchies are not new. And arguably there is an equivalent pecking order in HE. Most science oriented subjects are now equated with economic value and proposed as vital to the national good. In these circumstances, choosing an arts subject seems to be a risky move if you want to keep your options open, including for university entrance. Our data show clear shifts in family choice making practices.
Why this matters particularly is because the playing field is not level for all students and families More advantaged families often have greater access to the arts and culture through family and social networks And anyway advantaged families can afford to buy in what is not available in school or through the family and its networks (private tuition and extra classes, etc)
Generally, at school level, the audit measures and the curriculum hierarchies they create, win out over the arguments for breadth and balance. And the hierarchies of positioning associated with existing capitals make it less logical for some to offer a broad and balanced curriculum and more ‘natural’ for others
The fundamental point about this then is that if advantaged schools keep the arts while others are strongly steered to drop them, existing inequalities are reproduced, and school arts capital simply complements and reinforces family and social capital. Obviously we see this very clearly in the case of private school education.
What we did and why
The TALE Project: Tracking Arts Learning and Engagement
What we did,
Christine Hall, Pat Thomson
Lexi Earl & Corinna Geppert
research partners: RSC - Tate - University of Nottingham
1. What do teachers learn from deep engagement with cultural organisations?
2. How do teachers translate this learning into classroom pedagogies?
3. What do pupils gain from these learning experiences?
4. What do the two different models of teacher professional development (RSC and Tate)
offer and achieve?
• 3 year case studies of 30
• survey of arts & cultural
participation among y10-13
students in the 30 schools
teacher interviews: 164
focus group interviews: 323
students interviewed: 1,442
survey responses: 4,477
i. decline in enrolments in exams in arts subjects
2017-18 -10% decline in arts
2016-17 -9% decline in arts
2010 to 2018 -35% decline in arts
2010 to 2018 -24% decline in arts
• Less time is being spent teaching music, art and drama in secondary schools
• English, maths and science now take up 51% of KS4 teaching time (44.5% in 2011)
• At KS3: music is down by 11%, art down by 9%, drama down by 7%, D&T down 19%
• At KS4: music is down by 12%, art down by 20%, drama down by 26%, D&T down 40%
compared to 2011:
i. decline in enrolments in
ii. national curriculum
requirement for a broad
and balanced curriculum
iii. post 2010 curriculum
iv. university facilitating
v. changes in who takes
this matters because
the playing field is not level
• the most advantaged groups often have
family-based arts capital
• In schools there is weak commitment to
curriculum balance and breadth in
comparison with the curriculum
hierarchies embodied in school level
• hierarchies of positioning associated with
existing capitals make it less logical for
some schools, and more ‘natural’ for
others, to offer broad and balanced
if advantaged schools keep the arts, while others are strongly steered to drop them,
existing inequalities are reproduced, with school arts capital complementing family and