Early years arts and culture in England: current practice and future development

Thursday, January 31, 2019

We were commissioned by Arts Council England, working alongside Earlyarts, to undertake a consultation and analysis of arts and cultural provision and skills in the early years sector, looking principally at early years settings.

It began as a feasibility study to investigate the potential for an Early Years equivalent of the current Artsmark award for schools. It grew into an exploration of various options to help develop capacity in early years settings, as well as an extensive analysis of current practice and provision in early years settings in England.

The consultation included over 300 early years settings and other organisations, and arts practitioners/organisations, who took part in co-design sessions, webinars and online surveys.

Research key findings in brief

Common issues in early years settings

  • Many settings are so stretched (time, accountability & ££) that they can only pursue high priorities
  • Arts and culture is not a high priority for most settings, although creativity is important
  • High staff turnover in private / voluntary settings – skills migrate
  • Key priorities: speech and language, H&S, literacy, numeracy, ratios, staffing, ££, outdoor learning, mental health
  • Effective networking is patchy across country
  • Staff confidence in arts often very low, especially music and dance
  • Often settings need to discover the resources & experiences they already have access to
  • Early years sector often feels disconnected from the rest of the education landscape

Challenges for arts, culture and creativity in early years

  • Levels of practitioner qualification are often low, as are personal levels of experiences of the arts
  • EYFS = good framework for developing arts, culture and creativity, but not assessing them
  • Even with EYFS, in reality, ITE, skills and experience in arts are often low
  • Staff lack of ideas & knowledge of how, in practice, to use and develop arts
  • Assumption of importance of artistic product, over creative process

What works well, in developing arts, culture and creative practice in early years?

  • Online learning is flexible & affordable
  • Arts & culture champions make it happen
  • Empowering self-development tools are popular
  • Artistic experiences in setting popular, where feasible
  • Action research effective and fits well, where feasible
  • High quality visiting specialists highly valued
  • Arts/culture visits great if relevance and quality can trusted
  • Any arts development offer would need to ‘fit in’ – other wise why would settings bother with it?
  • Face-to-face training & artistic experiences often the only effective CPD
  • Many like awards but they might super-serve the already strong settings
  • Networking/P2P can be effective if well-supported


Key needs emerging for sector capacity building

  • Process and product: developing an understanding of artistic process and skills in developing children’s artistic ideas, starting from the position of children being highly competent and creative;
  • Arts-based confidence, experiences and skills for practitioners: helping practitioners to unearth and develop anew their abilities in the arts, and equip them with ideas and techniques to help children, including how arts can support the whole curriculum;
  • High-quality opportunities from arts and cultural organisations, community and parents/carers to enrich and inspire young children and practitioners alike.