For cultural learning (Art and Design, Dance, Drama, History, Music) the new specifications represent a mixed bag, with some welcome and much needed revisions to the language and content of previous drafts, but also some glaring omissions and strange emphases.
What’s good about it?
DfE officials have listened to some of the points made by the Specialist Subject Associations and by the Cultural Learning Alliance and have made a few important changes. For example, we are delighted to see that space in the History curriculum has opened up to allow for more emphasis on local history and heritage, and that unhelpful phrases like ‘appreciation of beauty’ and ‘the creation of pleasing objects’ have been removed from the Art and Design specifications. Similarly, the Music Curriculum appears to be broadly in good shape, with a strong emphasis on musicianship and creativity. Much of the language used to describe learning across all subjects has been modified to encourage a less passive and more active and engaging experience.
What needs improving?
There is more that could be done to strengthen and improve these programmes of study. The National Curriculum must be cutting-edge, stretching, innovative and ambitious. It must be future-facing. In its present form, there is very little emphasis on the contemporary, and only the Design and Technology specification makes any link to the Cultural or Creative Industries, an omission that is particularly glaring in Art and Design, English and Music. Digital texts and media are conspicuous by their absence.
The subjects of Dance, Drama and Film have not been meaningfully included within the framework:
- Dance is not described at all beyond ‘movement’ or a ‘physical activity’; there has been no recognition that as a distinct artform it involves the interconnected study of performance, creation and appreciation.
- Drama is mentioned a few times in terms of guidance on the English Curriculum, but it is never recognised as a discipline in its own right, only as a tool to discuss language and meaning, or to develop writing.
- Film is absent from the draft – with no recognition of digital text or influence beyond the disciplines of Design and Technology and Computing.
Dance, Drama and Film are all rigorous disciplines as well as artforms. They involve the essential core knowledge and skills that every child needs to succeed in their lives. A clear framework to help young people progress in these disciples should be included in the Curriculum. The omission of these subjects is a grave concern.
These omissions follow a series of disappointing policy changes from the Department. For example, arts subjects continue to be dis-incentivised by the English Baccalaureate. Last week the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, admitted that omission from the EBacc has seriously harmed the uptake of RE in schools: the arts subjects are in exactly the same position.