Learning to learn: the arts in schools

02 November 2016

If we want diverse and excellent art to flourish in the future, we must get things right with children now. The dream, perhaps, is a society where children are not only aware the arts exist, but have the means to engage and, if they so wish, pursue the arts as a career.

How to achieve…


To achieve this, it is crucial that we embed rigour into primary school curriculum design. The arts, whether music, poetry, dance, drama or visual art, must be viewed as individual subjects and planned for in the same way as maths or science. We must discourage educators from simply ‘doing the arts’ in a vague, tokenistic fashion. When art forms are approached as individual subjects and not a homogenous mass, children can start to understand how their learning has progressed, can articulate their artistic knowledge and skills, and, how they might want to develop them further. This leaves the door open to pursuing the arts as a career.

Key players

Rigour in the curriculum is an important first step, but school leaders and artists are integral to delivering high quality art education in schools.

School leaders

In the absence of a national system for arts education it is important that school leaders take ownership for the arts and develop a vison tailored to their local context. School leaders need to share and explain their vision with staff and support them in implementing it. High quality continuous professional development (CPD) should be in place to help teachers in developing their subject knowledge and the pedagogy.

Artists and community links

Artists and arts organisations have the power to inspire and engage children in the arts. There is a wealth of expertise and experience that schools sometimes do not know how to access. For example, Arts Council's Bridge Organisation  work with local schools and art organisations to develop a network of cultural provision. Arts professionals from these organisations would be delighted to support their local schools.

Next steps

If we want to deliver high quality arts education, school leaders must design rigorous curriculums for the arts, support their staff in delivering it and build links with artists in the community. There are two tools that can encourage schools to reflect on their own practices and help shape their future. These are: the Arts Council's Artsmark Award and the Effective Primary Teaching Practice.

About Dame Reena Keeble

Dame Reena is a retired primary head teacher with 22 years’ experience. She has a proven track record in leading an outstanding school and offering school to school support, coaching future leaders, curriculum design and pedagogy. Until her retirement, Dame Reena was a National Leader of Education (NLE) and her school was designated as a National Support School. Dame Reena has also acted as an Executive Head Teacher and was awarded a doctorate in Educational Leadership and Management in 2007.
In 2011, she was appointed as a Dame Commander of the British Empire (DBE) for her services to education. For five years Dame Reena chaired the Primary Headteachers’ Reference Group at the Department for Education and she has worked on developing policy at both local and national levels. In September 2014, Dame Reena led the review for the newly-designed Arstmark Award and is a member of the Cultural Education Expert Group at Arts Council England. Dame Reena is currently leading a primary review of teaching and will be reporting later in 2016.

Click here to register for Artsmark


Cultural education gives children and young people the opportunity to develop their creativity, both individually and collectively, and that's why our goal is for every child and young person to have the opportunity to experience the richness of the arts.

Darren Henley
Chief Executive
Arts Council England

It's vital that children have the opportunity to learn and enjoy arts and culture from an early age. It develops their creativity, inspires future careers and enriches their childhood.

Artsmark Award does brilliant work in schools and education to ensure young people access a broad and balanced curriculum that includes high-quality arts and culture.

Michael Ellis MP
Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism
Department of Culture, Media and Sport