The creative arts curriculum is the first to be squeezed in a timetable or budget constraint. Consequently, school provision for art, music, drama and dance varies considerably.
Curriculum time for art, dance, drama and music is usually low. The four subjects are often merged into others, or rotated on a weekly or termly basis. And then, pupil participation drops considerably from the beginning of senior school.
To address this, many schools operate an “Arts Week”, typically music or art, in the Summer term. It’s an opportunity for the whole school community to become involved in an intense expression and exploration of the creative arts. Arts Week may include exhibitions, showcases, trips and visiting speakers.
So, let’s start with what you should expect from a typical school in terms of a creative arts curriculum. If you know what a typical school offers, you’ll be able to judge if your school is offering something more. Dare I say, something broader?
A standard creative arts curriculum will include music, art & design, drama, dance and design technology (DT). In reality, however, it will most likely appear as; music, art/DT, English (with some drama), PE (with some dance). There will be clubs; most commonly arts & crafts, street dance, construction (Lego) for junior schools. In addition, there may be lunchtime choir or play rehearsals. In senior schools art, textiles and music clubs become more prominent.
Art & design in the creative arts curriculum
Art & Design in most schools is painting, drawing and a bit of ceramics. But it can cover art appreciation, drawing, painting, photography, print-making, pottery, ceramics, sculpture, even history of art. Some schools encourage art with an artist-in-residence scheme.
Art is the probably the strongest of all the creative arts disciplines across all schools. And it is rare for a school not to have extensive art displays on classroom walls. Most senior schools will have an art club or two after school for pupils to explore sketching, oils, ceramics or pottery. Though relatively fewer junior schools have an extracurricular art club, preferring an “arts and crafts” mélange. Which tends to be more DT in nature.
DT in the creative arts curriculum
Strictly speaking DT isn’t an art, it’s a science, an applied technology. Most primary schools, however, squeeze the time available for art and DT to make way for other subjects. Art and DT lessons alternate each week or term so that on average they account for a single weekly period. What’s more, the room or space for art and DT is often shared. And the teacher is often the same person. Strange really, when you consider how different the subjects are (see below). The situation is different in senior schools where they are usually treated as discrete subjects. Design Technology covers each of the following;
- construction and model making, architecture,
- wood working,
- plastics and metals,
- textiles and fashion, needle work, sewing, knitting,
- crafts such as wicker working, paper and card craft,
- food technology, food and nutrition, home economics, cookery,
- graphics, graphic design,
- computer control, robotics, computer aided design and manufacturing (CAD, CAM).
Provision is facility dependent. The majority of junior schools provide for model making and maybe some cookery or baking. Crafts such as needlework, cookery and construction (Lego, K’Nex) are the most popular junior school clubs. Senior schools are more diverse in their offer with the most popular clubs being textiles and fashion.
Music in the creative arts curriculum
Music provision also varies. Every school covers the bases of appreciation of different composers and genres, musical theory, composition (seniors), singing and playing instruments (juniors). Most junior schools provide for group lessons in, for example, recorder/ocarina, ukulele, strings, woodwind or brass. There will be individual instrument lessons available for a fee, and there will be one or two choirs. Senior schools will have at least one choir and an orchestra/ensemble. After that schools vary in;
- the number of junior years in which an instrument is taught in class,
- the number and competence of choirs and instrument ensembles,
- participation in, and success in, music exams, festivals, competitions, etc,
- the use of composition and recording software; “music technology”,
- the number of showcases, recitals and concerts,
- the number of trips to music concerts, and the number of visiting musicians.
Drama in the creative arts curriculum
Of the five school creative arts subjects, drama has the second least curricular time. More often than not, a junior school teaches drama within the English curriculum, rather than as a standalone subject. When a senior school offers GCSE drama, it will also teach drama in the lower years of senior school. Otherwise it too folds drama into English lessons.
Most junior schools put on at least one annual play or musical in which all the senior year group participates. And there’s also the Nativity play for the younger ones. There are plays at senior school too, but not involving entire year groups.
Many schools have an extra-curricular club for drama. Some offer or speech and drama. Speech and drama explores elocution, prose and poetry reading, and small group pieces for exams and competitions.
Dance in the creative arts curriculum
Dance has the least curricular time. Teaching is as “dance and movement” in the PE curriculum up to Year 2. Relatively few schools offer curricular dance through the school. Having said that more schools offer a street dance club than don’t. Unlike other dance forms, boys participate as much as girls in street dance clubs. After street, the most popular dance clubs are the exercise dance forms such as cheerleading, aerobics and Zumba. And there’s a strong showing in some parts of the country for Irish dancing, Bollywood and Strictly. Ballet, Tap and Jazz are better supported in independent schools.
Broadening the creative arts curriculum
There are several charitable organisations seeking to improve the teaching of creative arts. Two of the more prominent in schools are The Arts Council’s Artsmark scheme and Sing Up!
The aim of Artsmark is to raise the profile of, and encourage participation in, a broad range of creative arts (art, music, drama, dance) within a school’s curricular and extracurricular activities. The scheme operates across junior and senior schools, and 70% of state schools participate. Participation of independent schools is lower, possibly reflecting a perceived broader provision in the first place. There are independent junior schools that offer over 20 arts clubs, but the average is four. The average state school offers three. Of the 867 Artsmark Gold Awards, only 43 have been awarded to independents.
With a narrower focus, Sing Up! promotes choir and ensemble singing, initially in primary schools. 98% of state primaries participate in the scheme, of which 10% (about 1700) have an award, silver, gold or platinum, to reflect the degree to which singing is integrated into the curriculum. Again, independent schools’ participation is lower, and of the 134 Platinum Awards, 8 have been awarded to independents.