The Welsh government should promote the use of the arts in schools for helping to deliver improved numeracy and literacy, according to a new report on the relationship between the arts and education sectors in Wales.

The review, which included research among nearly 500 children and young people aged 5 to 19 from 42 schools, colleges and organisations, has revealed that the general climate for the arts in the formal education sector is ‘not very positive’ as school priorities are focused on literacy and numeracy. These are described as the ‘key drivers’ for activity in Welsh schools, and schools are more likely and able to engage with arts organisations if the activities they offer complement these goals.

Creativity is recognised as a core skill and the report calls for the government to enhance the current curriculum to include creativity, alongside numeracy and literacy, as a core theme across all the subject disciplines in both primary and secondary education. It also proposes that the schools’ inspector, Estyn, is asked to assess the impact of the arts experience and the embedding of creative learning on literacy and numeracy: a recent study by the OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation has suggested that the impact of arts education on non-arts skills is unproven.

Radical culture change

Some teachers interviewed felt that moving to an arts integrated curriculum would be beneficial for skills development, but that such a move would require a radical culture change over the next five to ten years. One of the barriers to using the arts more successfully in schools would be the confidence of teachers, and most of those questioned said they lacked the skills to use an arts-based approach to teaching.

The report recommends that initial teacher training should include creative teaching methodology as ‘core’ to educational practice, and that a new framework of arts-related continuing professional development for both teachers and arts practitioners should address the national priority of improving literacy and numeracy, and narrowing the attainment gap.

This first ever in-depth look at the relationship between the arts and education in Wales was commissioned by the Welsh government and led by Arts Council of Wales’ Chair Professor Dai Smith. In his preface to the report, Smith said: ‘That the arts may be the game-changer in our current educational practice will seem counterintuitive to some, but the evidence is, I believe, compelling… We must, if we are to succeed economically and thrive socially, ground a quality education in both creativity as practice and culture as knowledge.’

Wider review of curriculum

The report calls on the Welsh government to formally assert the central role it envisages for arts education and make a commitment to high-quality provision and access to the arts. Welcoming the report, Huw Lewis, Minister for Education and Skills, said: “We will now take time to consider the report in detail alongside our wider review of the curriculum as a whole, and will also look at how we can enhance joint working between our arts and education sectors in Wales.”

John Griffiths, Minister for Culture and Sport, said the report “will help us to raise the profile of the arts in education and push forward an agenda of universal access and participation.”

Orginally published on Arts Professional.