The Department of Education and Skills has the principal responsibility for arts education within schools. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) is a statutory body of the Department of Education and Skills that develops the national education curriculum on behalf of the Department. The NCCA three-year strategy 2019-2021 expresses its strategic intention to focus the curriculum around STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) over what the arts and cultural community have called for: STEAM (STEM with the inclusion of A for Arts).
Arts education takes place informally in the context of audience development and outreach programmes of cultural institutions. The majority of cultural institutions will have some form of outreach policy. This activity is supported by the national and local authority policy frameworks: the Arts Council’s emphasis on stimulating public interest in the arts, promoting knowledge, appreciation and practice of the arts and assisting in improving standards in the arts; local authorities emphasis is on local development including education. Outreach projects take place either within the institutions or outside in venues such as schools and family workshops, youth and community outreach projects, working with facilitators, etc.
Arts education also occurs within the arts and health context. In 2010, the Arts Council published the Arts and Health Policy and Strategy that set in place strategic partnerships as well as implementing monitoring and evaluation processes. While the primary aim is related to health and wellbeing, arts education also occurs.
Arts-in-education is a term used in Ireland to describe a practice involving skilled, professional artists of all disciplines working for and with schools in the making, receiving and interpreting of a wide range of arts experiences. Many schools across the country are engaged in such collaborations ranging from one-off artist visits to artistic projects over a longer duration to intensive collaborative projects. The practice can take place within or outside the school. The collaborative arts projects are aimed at enriching the education curriculum, and nurturing and developing the imaginations of the pupils.
The Government’s Creative Ireland Programme states the policy goal of “enabling the creative potential of every child” under Pillar 1 of the programme. The programme financially supports small level interventions in arts-in-education such as the Creative Schools Initiative, which rewards schools that demonstrate creativity. The initiative often involves children interacting with professional artists although the programme has limited funding which affects its scale. These initiatives are welcome in encouraging grassroots school led creative programmes. To date these are minor interventions into general schools’ wellbeing programmes and are dependent on individuals championing the initiative within each school staff.