The future of the left since 1884

Primary teachers reveal a huge decline in arts education since 2010

A new Fabian Society report Primary Colours reveals that two thirds (68%) of primary school teachers in England say there is less arts education now than in 2010, and half (49%) say the quality of what there is has got worse.


Press release

The report presents new findings from a Fabian/YouGov survey of a representative sample of 348 primary school teachers and a Fabian survey of 53 arts providers across England. The report concludes that the government must take immediate steps to reverse this worrying decline, making 8 recommendations for reform including £150m ring-fenced funding for the arts in schools, greater emphasis on the arts in the national curriculum, free music or singing lessons for every child and a free school trip for every year to a local cultural institution.

The Fabian/YouGov poll of primary school teachers in England shows:

  • A decline in quantity: Two-thirds of teachers (68 per cent) say arts provision in their primary school has decreased since 2010, with just 7 per cent saying there is more.
  • A decline in quality: Almost half (49 per cent) of surveyed teachers say the quality of arts provision in their primary school has worsened since 2010, with just 13 per cent believing it has improved.
  • A lack of support and resources: A majority of teachers (56 per cent) do not believe they have access to the resources and support to deliver a high quality arts education.
  • A lack of skills and experience: Nearly half of teachers (45 per cent) also believe they do not have the skills and experience needed to provide a high quality arts education, compared to 32 percent who say they do.
  • Not enough emphasis on arts: A majority of teachers (59 per cent) believe their school does not give enough emphasis to the arts, with only 37 per cent believing their school gives the right amount of emphasis and 3 per cent thinking their school gives too much.
  • Reduced accessibility of arts outside of the classroom: A majority of teachers (58 per cent) believe there are fewer out of school arts trips, compared to 2010, with just 5 per cent saying there has been an increase.

Primary Colours, published in partnership with the charity Children & the Arts and the Musicians’ Union, makes a series of recommendations including:

  • Increased and ringfenced school funding for arts education in English primary schools worth £150m, through an arts education premium for every primary school.
  • An arts specialist available for every primary school in England, with increased arts training for all teachers.
  • A greater priority for the arts in the English national curriculum, including by expanding the guidance given to schools for arts and music education, and creating new foundation subjects for drama and dance.
  • No school should be judged ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted unless it offers high-quality arts education as part of a broad and balanced curriculum.
  • Free music or singing lessons for three years for every primary school child in England who wishes to learn.
  • A free visit to a local arts institution for every primary school child in England every year.
  • New support for cultural education partnerships with funding to support local, place-based, and accessible arts education in every community.

Ben Cooper, report author and Fabian Society researcher, said:

“After taking account of inflation, primary school budgets have been under significant pressure over the last eight years, and the impact on arts education has been devastating. The government must urgently act to reverse the damage by funding arts in schools, ensuring greater emphasis for the arts in the curriculum and ensuring every young person has the chance to visit arts institutions and learn a musical instrument.”

Writer and comedian Ben Elton, who made a donation to support the cost of the research, said:

“It is so very sad that there has been such a shocking decline in arts education in our primary schools. The arts open minds, broaden horizons and help children to learn. They also make a huge contribution to the economy. Our creative talent is a precious national resource, it shouldn’t be only the private schools producing the next generation of actors, musicians, writers and designers. The government must act to ensure that the arts are at the heart of every child’s education.”

Diane Widdison, national organiser, Musicians’ Union, said:

“Access to arts education is a crucial part of any child’s education and should be an integral part of any broad and balanced curriculum offer. This research shows that access to the arts has been severely diminished in the primary sector due to challenging school budgets and the demands of trying to meet academic targets. We hope that policy makers now act to ensure the arts are at the heart of all children’s education.”

Rosie Millard OBE, CEO Children & the Arts, said:

“We were pleased to work with the Fabian Society on this important report. Its findings are shocking. We urge the government to take seriously the alarming decline of arts and creativity in primary schools and we support the idea of an arts specialist in every school. If you do not open out the arts to children, they will not think it is for them. We cannot allow the arts and culture of this country, which is subsidised by everyone, to be accessed and enjoyed by a tiny elite. That would be ruinous.” 



Contact: Rabyah Khan, media and communications manager at the Fabian Society
0207 227 4906 | 07888861096 | 

  1. Primary Colours is available here.
  2. Primary Colours has been published with the support of Children & the Arts, the Musicians’ Union, Ben Elton and the Dartmouth Street Trust
  3. The Fabian Society commissioned YouGov to survey 401 primary school teachers across Great Britain, including 348 teachers in England. The survey was carried out online and sent to members of YouGov’s panel. Fieldwork was undertaken between 17th and 24th July 2018. We asked seven questions on the quality and quantity of arts provision in their school; the support, experience and resources they possess to provide arts education, and school visits to art institutions.
  4. The Fabian Society also conducted a separate qualitative survey of arts providers who work with primary schools and of schools themselves, with 53 participating across the country. We asked participants why they believed arts education is important, to tell us about the challenges they face in delivering this provision, and about their views on the steps policymakers can take to improve access to arts and ensure high-quality arts education for primary age children.
  5. This report represents not the collective views of the organisations involved but only the views of the individual author.
  6. Rosie Millard, CEO Children & the Arts, and Fabian Society staff are available for interview.
  7. The Fabian Society is Britain’s oldest political think tank. Founded in 1884, the Society is at the forefront of developing political ideas and public policy on the left. The society is alone among think tanks in being a democratically-constituted membership organisation, with over 7,000 members. It is constitutionally affiliated to the Labour party.

Fabian membership

Join the Fabian Society today and help shape the future of the left

You’ll receive the quarterly Fabian Review and at least four reports or pamphlets each year sent to your door

Be a part of the debate at Fabian conferences and events and join one of our network of local Fabian societies

Join the Fabian Society
Fabian Society

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.