Artsmark: Not What You Think It Is

Feb 25, 2019

When I mention Artsmark to most teacher friends and colleagues they initially pull a bit of a face. When I ask why, I find it’s because they remember the old Artsmark and really don’t know about the new version. They remember a rather heavy-duty data collection, form filling, badge collecting award. And to be honest, prior to joining RIO in June 2018 that was just my understanding.

What they – and I – didn’t realise is that, with significant advice from schools, it was completely re-designed and relaunched in 2015. It is still Arts Council England’s creative quality standard but re-framed as a powerful curriculum review and support tool, designed to help ensure that arts and creativity are at the heart of a broad and balanced learning experience for young people. What’s more, it’s not an end point badge but a framework that supports a development journey over time and sits alongside a setting’s improvement plans.

Nationally, there are now more than 3,500 registered settings and this February saw the number of awarded schools hit 1,000. And, whilst it’s not scientific evidence of causation, a read of the Ofsted reports of Artsmark schools definitely demonstrates a correlation between good and outstanding judgements and inspectors’ identification of rich, vibrant and engaging curriculum offers.

And, of course, curriculum is at the heart of the proposals for the new Ofsted inspection framework from September 2019 under a new Quality of Education judgement. Partly a reaction to curriculum narrowing in schools it is seen by the watchdog as ‘an evolutionary shift that rebalances inspection to look rather more closely at the substance of education: what is taught and how it is taught’.

For many schools this will be just the breath of fresh air they need but, for others, it will offer challenges and Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman has said that Ofsted has ‘identified that there is a general lack of curriculum knowledge and expertise’ in schools. Its research recognises, for example, that a consequence of the narrow focus on English and Maths in primary schools is that expertise in the design and delivery of other subjects has lost out. It also highlights the importance of staff subject knowledge and the need to provide high quality professional development to secure this in subjects beyond the core as ‘strong teacher subject knowledge is essential to high-quality curriculum planning’. Interestingly, what the research also found was that some school leaders were unsure about where to find the subject-specific professional development or external support they needed for their staff to develop their subjects and deliver the depth and coverage required.

Now, Ofsted have been clear that schools do not need to rush into the hands of curriculum consultants promoting Ofsted-proof solutions at a price as the answers broadly lie in the National Curriculum and other readily available documentation. I’d agree with that as I’m no snake-oil salesman but I would point out that Artsmark can do much to address the gaps outlined above. It can also offer a strong community of support, be that fellow settings and colleagues with expertise to offer, access to a wide range of local and national arts and cultural organisations, or the connections and professional development offers that RIO and other Bridge organisations can provide.

And, importantly, it’s worth stating that Artsmark isn’t just all about the arts but about their development as part of a rich, broad and balanced learning offer for young people. It’s about the place of creativity in the lives of young people, and their engagement with a wide range of cultural opportunities. In short, it is a way to help define, shape and deliver the substance of education: the knowledge and cultural capital that young people need to make the most of opportunities in their lives.

To find out more about Artsmark visit https://bridge.realideas.org/our-work/artsmark/ or contact artsmarkhelp@readlideas.org

Gary Futcher is a consultant for the Real Ideas Organisation, working on the Bridge contract, largely as the lead consultant on Artsmark.

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