Arts & Cultural Education - Assessing Access in Sheffield

Create Sheffield, Tessa Sawyer

How are children and young people accessing arts and culture in Sheffield? Schools and community organisations provide vital avenues for children and young people to explore the arts and culture, and in so doing, develop their sense of identity, enhance their cognitive abilities and social skills, and prepare for future careers.

Tessa Sawyer, on behalf of Create Sheffield and South Yorkshire Futures has written the Arts & Cultural Education - Assessing Access in Sheffield report which aims to quantify the arts and cultural teaching which took place in primary and secondary schools pre-Covid-19 and to map engagements between schools and arts and cultural organisations.

Original planning was for individual meetings with schools, but due to Covid-19, the online questionnaires were instead distributed via email to all schools in Sheffield and to all Create Sheffield Partners. Additional data was collected from South Yorkshire Futures, IVE and open-source government data.

In this Story, we share the Executive Summery, if you would like access to the full report, please let us know

Key Findings – Schools

There was a total of 57 school responses, representing 30% of all Sheffield schools. Responses were fairly evenly distributed between Localities†, indicating good representation of the diversity of school communities in Sheffield.

Thirteen active and 4 awarded Artsmark schools completed the questionnaire.

Arts & Culture in the Curriculum

In primary schools, commitment to the creative subjects, namely, art, music, drama, dance and DT, was measured through CPD training, regular teaching, and the engagement of specialist teachers.

Across the 44 primary schools, approximately 97 school staff were reported to have accessed CPD training in creative subjects in the last 2 years, with art and music accounting for 58% of CPD courses attended. Many schools engaged specialist teachers, 61% of engaged a music teacher, 23% engaged a dance teacher, drama was 11%, while DT and art were the least common, at 7% and 9% respectively.

Art and music dominated the regularly taught creative subjects, from foundation to key stage 3, 84% of schools taught art weekly or biweekly and 79% taught music regularly.

The balance between taught creative subjects shifted at GCSE. Nationally, GCSE and A level exam entries are shrinking for all creative subjects, apart from art & design. In Sheffield, art & design was offered at all the responding secondary schools and enjoyed GCSE class sizes of over 40 students in 25% of these schools. In contrast, GCSE music was dropped by 47% of secondary schools. Drama followed the reverse trend to music, though it was only taught regularly by 13% of primary schools, 75% of secondary schools offered GCSE drama.

Extra-curricular Arts & Culture Activities

Art and music were the most popular arts and culture clubs, offered in 74% and 77% of primary schools, respectively, and 78% and 67% of secondary schools. Drama and DT clubs matched the number of music clubs at secondary schools, however, over 50% of primary schools did not offer drama and 75% did not offer DT clubs. Teaching staff led 61% of all arts’ focused school clubs, arts organisations led 10%, freelancers led 12% and the remaining 17% of club leaders were not specified.

Key Findings – Arts & Cultural Organisations

A total of 31 organisations completed the questionnaire. Organisations engage with schools in many different ways, including whole class teaching, CPD training, workshops, and visits to their site. At 61%, the fewest organisations worked with secondary schools while 77% of organisations worked with primary schools and 74% engaged with higher education institutions.

More than half of the organisations offered both bespoke and packaged school programmes, however, of the schools who collaborated with organisations, 69% bought-in packaged offers.

Organisations generally tailored their existing offers to accommodate disadvantaged children and young people, whether through concessions or adapting programmes to suit special needs. However, fewer organisations developed programmes specifically for severely disadvantaged groups, such as looked-after children (19% of organisations), young offenders (10%) or those with profound and multiple disabilities (10%).

Careers support was not formally on the agenda for most of the responding organisations. The creative industries have a poor record in diversity, therefore, widening participation at grass-roots level is critical for disadvantaged young people to develop the skills needed to work in the vibrant and fast-growing creative industries.

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Mapping extra-curricular engagement

Data for this section included school profile information on:

  • Percentage of pupils with English as an additional language
  • Percentage of pupils with special educational needs eligible for support
  • Percentage of pupils on free school mealsThe Index of Multiple Deprivation decile

Analysis was conducted at Locality level to spot patterns in engagement. Average levels of engagement are important for understanding overall trends within Localities, however, it is important to note that exceptionally high activity in one school can falsely raise the Locality average.

Results showed that engagement occurred at the extremes of the relative deprivation, such that the most and least disadvantaged Localities, Localities C and F respectively, had the highest levels of engagement with arts and cultural organisations. 


Disadvantaged Localities had more Artsmark schools and more Children’s University registered activities than the  more affluent Localities.

The least disadvantaged schools were more likely to have freelance or arts organisations leading clubs, usually with a cost incurred to families. Localities with high levels of disadvantage also offered many clubs, however, these were predominately led by teaching staff and were more likely to be free to attend. Therefore, at the Locality level, the degree of deprivation appears to be linked to how schools engage with arts and culture.

The spread of activities makes clear that where there are pockets of higher deprivation within more affluent Localities, arts and cultural engagement suffers.

Finally, the data showed several instances where schools with low levels of disadvantage also had low levels of arts engagement, the fewest clubs, and the fewest specialist teachers. More information is needed to understand the barriers to arts teaching and participation in these types of schools to ensure support is targeted and effective.

Limitations and Recommendations

Data presented here is limited by a certain degree of inaccuracy, caused by estimations inherent in the questionnaire and by missing data, partly due to furloughed administrative staff in organisations. Moving forward, developing data collection methods with higher levels of accuracy will improve the reliability of results.
The participation efforts of responding schools and organisations are testament to the value arts and culture hold in our schools and communities.

About Us

Create Sheffield is Sheffields Cultural Education Partnership. We are supported by IVE, the Arts Council Bridge Organisations for Yorkshire and the Humber.