Young people respond to The Arts in Schools

13 young people from across England share their thoughts on the original Arts in Schools report, their experience of education, and what the future holds for the arts in schools

14 March 2023

Forty years ago, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation UK Branch published The Arts in Schools: Principles, practice and provision. This seminal report paved the way for the arts to be included in England’s first National Curriculum in 1988 and inspired many professional arts organisations to engage with the education sector for the first time. On the 40th anniversary of its publication, A New Direction convened a series of roundtables with industry leaders on the state of the arts in education in 2022. Alongside these roundtables, we also brought together 13 young people from across England to share their thoughts on the original report, their experience of education, and what the future holds for the arts in schools. We would like to thank them for their involvement:

Abi Ali, Amrin Ansari, Amber Holt, Diana Hysenaj, Ellen Johnson, Emillia Zirker, Hannah Rollason, Jodie Hubble, Shazia Bibi, Sherzard Diaz Saad.

The workshops

These young people, from across nine Arts Council England regions, attended three workshops across the summer term. Facilitated by Tasnim Siddiqa Amin, who also facilitated A New Direction’s youth advisory group meetings, the workshops encouraged the young people to reflect on their interactions with the arts during their school years. We gave each participant two chapters from the original 1982 Arts in Schools report and asked them to consider their own education within the context of the report: how had the landscape changed in 40 years? What surprised them about the report? What was missing, what felt out of place?

They told us about their experience of inspirational teachers and life-changing moments of creativity; about under-funded departments, blinkered canons, and careers support that ignored the creative industries. Without exception, the group were surprised by how little had changed since 1982: they told us they had expected the report to be “old-fashioned”, “laughable and outdated”, but instead found it to contain “the most pressing and current debates surrounding the arts in schools”. They spotlighted the disconnect between primary and secondary education, the inflexibilities of the curriculum, and the importance of being allowed to try new things and, sometimes, to fail.

Creative responses

Over August, we asked the group to formulate their own creative response to the report and the conversations we’d had in the summer term. These responses, which took the form of essays, poems, manifestos, illustrations, music, and speeches, were drawn upon for the new Arts in Schools: Foundations for the Future report by Pauline Tambling and Sally Bacon, who also attended some of our workshops with the young people to better understand their experiences.

We’re delighted that these responses – each a unique perspective on this urgent conversation – are now being shared for the first time on the A New Direction website. We invite you to read, listen to, and enjoy these unaltered and unabridged responses from young people with a first-hand experience of the current state of the arts in schools.

See all responses

Go to main Arts in Schools page


Here are some extracts from the responses to give a flavour of our discussions and the young people’s thoughts on the past, present, and future of creative education. Scroll down to see all the responses.

“It is life
Freedom and expression
Political and personal
Growth and change
Art is the world around us…trapped within a box labelled ‘music, drama, dance’
Small labels thrown around
Small minds given no chance”
Amber Holt

Amber Holt artwork

Amrin Ansari

“We cannot hide away from the truths that there are racial bias systems in place, class affects the opportunities you are part of, discrimination on your gender, sexuality, disability and race exists and lack of employment exists. These lived experiences affect and influence who gets the opportunity to access, make and experience art.”
Shazia Bibi

Abigail Ali

“Creativity is offering new perspectives, putting you in the front seat of your own imagination rather than submitting to what someone else thinks or says. It doesn’t make sense to talk about it in a general capacity simply as it’s infinite and shouldn’t be marginalised to what’s deemed right and wrong.”
Sherzard Diaz Saad

 “The most important resource of any school is its teachers”… but they’re forced to legitimise their teaching by quantifying their pupils’ learning through mark schemes dictating ‘acceptable artistic expression’.
“The most important resource of any school is its teachers” … but they too are a victim of their own teaching. A lack of emphasis in teacher training around the cross-curricular value of an artistic set of skills fosters a lack of respect from other core subjects, making it impossible for faculty to unite.”
Ellen Johnson

“The first question my university asked me was why do you make art? Now I can answer that in its fullest form. Being able to develop a practice, a purpose of my artwork focusing me while allowing me to push my own boundaries as an artist. Four years ago, I was lost becoming institutionalised by my experiences of art in school. But I found that what I have been through isn't necessarily reflective of what The Arts is, that while this path has led me to where I am today many creative people have been left behind. It shows when your class goes from 90 students to just 4 within the space of a summer holiday.”
Hannah Rollason

Diana Hysenaj

Creative Responses