Why Primary Schools Need to Invest in the Visual Arts

by Guest Writer

Artist educator and guest writer Paula Briggs is Creative Director at Access Art, a platform which supports art teachers across the UK with great resources for teachers and schools. Paula explores why schools should be investing in the visual arts, and breaks down how this can be done.

Why Primary Schools Needs To Invest in the Visual Arts (And 5 Ways to Do So)

In 2015 I wrote a post for the AccessArt website called “What is the Real Value of the Visual Arts?” which has been shared over 1000 times. The post aimed to give the artists, teachers and parents who know instinctively that a visual arts education is important, the confidence to shout even louder, through a series of statistics and key questions. Did you know, for example, that 1 in 12 people work in the creative industries? The creative industries contributed £76.9 billion in 2013 and that the creative and cultural industries are the fastest growing area of the UK economy (they grew by 11.3 % in 2012).

Sounds encouraging…and yet. Those of us working in art education are aware of a number of realities which seem to contradict the above statistics. The number of specialist art teachers in primary schools is still decreasing. Although art is part of the National Curriculum at Key Stage 1 and 2, teaching is not always rigorous and there is huge pressure on the subject in terms of time and space from other subjects that are deemed more important. Materials budgets are exceptionally small. Many children do not develop key skills at an early age. At Key Stage 3 there is yet more pressure on creative subjects from the EBAC which puts emphasis on the five key areas of Maths, Science, English, Humanities and Languages. The jury is still out on whether this will result in a decrease in the number of students taking GCSE art, but we do know there is huge pressure on pupils, parents and schools to focus on these core subjects.

A fear shared by many key academics and key practitioners is that there will be a skills shortage to feed the pipeline with young people with creative skills, which can't happen if we want to see the creative and cultural sectors continue to grow.

Nigel Carrington, Vice-Chancellor, University of the Arts London comments: “There is a perception (amongst parents and teachers) that creative subjects don’t deliver careers. The evidence is that they do. In a world where goods can be made anywhere, innovation is increasingly important. The creative industries on their own are the UK's second biggest business sector. Maintenance/supply of this workforce is central to the ongoing success of the UK creative industries, now one of our biggest business sectors.”

The pipeline to the creative industries begins at pre-school, continues through primary school, through to secondary school and into Higher Education and Further Education. At each of these stages, and every time we fail to provide an opportunity for children and young people to explore their relationship with the world through making and drawing, we weaken this pipeline. This potentially prevents the next generation of creative individuals from helping build the creative industries of the future.

So, what can primary schools do, with limited time, space and money, to help create a climate in which the arts can flourish? Here are five key points which we have seen make a big difference to the arts in schools.

1. Use sketchbooks.

Sketchbooks are a great tool to enable creativity, and even the youngest children will benefit from sustained use. Don’t be too controlling in the work which goes on in sketchbooks – let the books be places of personal exploration. By all means set tasks, but do allow pupils to pursue their own journeys in the sketchbooks – this will help make confident creative learners. If when you open each sketchbook at for example page 5, each pupil’s book is identical, think again about how you can give the children more creative space. Use this page for ideas. 

2. If you have a spare room, make it into a creative space.

AccessArt has been researching how schools with specific art rooms tend to then invest in art in other ways. Art rooms ultimately lead to specialist art teachers, and an embedding of art across the curriculum.

3. Make full use of a weekly art lesson to teach art as rigorously as any other subject.

You can use this page for lots of teaching ideas and approaches. But in addition, try to think of ways to squeeze more art into the normal school day. Art weeks provide a great focus (but don’t let them replace weekly lessons), and after-school clubs can be great ways to feed interested pupils.

4. Build links outside of the school.

Seek out local artists, and become friends with your local museum or gallery. Try to enable children to see art in the flesh (taking sketchbooks on any visit of course!) Seek out local and national competitions, or even consider organising a local competition that puts your school at the centre.

5. Lastly, build the profile of art in your school by sharing the outcomes.

Sharing outcomes help show pupils that you value their work, and helps parents understand why art is important. Consider adding artwork to the school website, or even create a separate blog (with the children’s help!) Look for links outside the school – can your artwork be displayed in local cafes or community centres, for example?


By Paula Briggs, Creative Director of  AccessArt

Author of Drawing Projects for Children, Black Dog Publishing, 2015 & Make, Build, Create: Sculpture Projects for Children, Black Dog Publishing Spring 2016

Join Access Art to use their resources and fuel your teaching here. You can also apply for the artist educator discount at Cass Art here.

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