NFER study assesses London schools

How can London schools improve their cultural education to better connect young people with the arts?

A new research report by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has concluded that arts provision in schools across the capital is “patchy” and fragmented, and has urged better co-operation between schools and arts providers.

Carried out in partnership with the Arts Council England, NFER – an independent body – led the month-long review which assessed the cultural offer across inner London schools.

Practical challenges

One key area of focus was the barriers relating to cultural engagement. Schools identified cost as one of the biggest obstacles to good quality arts education but other practical challenges cited by teachers included the notice required for organising trips and visits, and the need for more cultural organisations to market their programmes at least one year in advance, to fit in with timetabling arrangements.

Some schools felt “bombarded” by arts organisations, while others were unsure of what was on offer and what the benefits of activities to pupils would be.

Interestingly, many teachers were simply unaware of the range of arts opportunities available, the study found, while teaching staff often lacked confidence and expertise when it came to arts education, particularly in music. Staff in early years settings, primary and secondary schools all reported lack of music expertise among staff as a real barrier to young people’s musical learning.

A lack of support for art education from school leaders and head-teachers was seen as another obstacle.

Better relationships

However, the review also pinpointed clear ways in which arts organisations could work better with schools. Flexibility to fit in with school timetabling, accessibility, providing clear information about the relevance of activities and evidence of value to pupils were all critical factors, teachers said.

Some schools were already carrying out “innovative” practices, the report added, including engaging parents more fully with arts programmes and “mini creative agent” schemes, where older children choose creative activities for other pupils.

In conclusion, the researchers made certain recommendations to decision makers, including the creation of stronger partnerships between schools and arts organisations, and the targeting of schools with low levels of arts engagement to increase participation.

NFER is now expected to report back on the findings of a survey of head teachers and senior staff, carried out across all London schools in June.

Here at Children & the Arts, we appreciate the importance of the arts in helping children build confidence and achieve their true potential, and believe that cultural organisations play a hugely significant role in opening up access to the arts.

Commenting on the new NFER study, Jeremy Newton, CEO of Children & the Arts, said: “Building solid links between schools and cultural organisations and creating a more consistent model of arts provision across different education providers is absolutely critical – especially when it comes to shrinking the gap between those children who have access to high quality arts education and those who don’t.”

Read the full NFER research paper here.

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