Arts Education in Ontario

Our news & views

May 15, 2017

Arts education not only plays a vital role in the development of students' creativity - it is also a crucial component in the development of students' cognitive, social, and emotional well-being.

The Ontario Ministry of Education has recognized the “substantial and important connections between creativity, high academic achievement, economic and social entrepreneurialism, leadership, and problem solving” in its 21st Century Competencies discussion document. However, new data from People for Education show an ongoing lack of specialist arts teachers in our schools.

Our report on the arts in schools – based on survey results from more than 1000 Ontario elementary and secondary schools – shows that only 41% of elementary schools have a specialist music teacher, either full- or part-time, a decline from 48% in 2006/07, and a dramatic drop from an all-time high of 58% in 1997/98.

Challenging curriculum, fewer specialists

Elementary teacher candidates in Ontario are only required to take one course in the arts, but Ontario’s Arts curriculum is extremely detailed, and requires in-depth knowledge, making it a challenge for teachers without specialized arts training.

In 2016/17:

  • Only 41% of elementary schools have specialist music teachers, and the vast majority of those are part-time.
  • 15% of schools with grades 7 and 8 have a visual arts teacher, a number which has been fairly consistent over the past decade.
  • 8% of schools with grades 7 and 8 have a specialist drama teacher.
  • 30% of elementary schools have itinerant music teachers/instructors.
  • 40% of schools have no music teacher at all (itinerant instructor or music specialist). This is a substantial increase in schools with no music teacher (from 31% in 2007-08).

Many principals cited difficulties finding qualified music teachers in rural areas. Others reported challenges in hiring specialist teachers due to new regulations that may make it more difficult to hire teachers based on their specialty. In addition, an underlying perception that other curriculum areas, such as math, take priority over the arts, can create scheduling challenges in schools.

Regional discrepancies

Funding for specialist teachers in elementary schools is generated by student enrolment, which has an impact on boards with a higher number of small schools. As a result, elementary schools in the Greater Toronto Area are 2.5 times as likely to have a music teacher, as compared to elementary schools in eastern and northern Ontario. 

Equitable access to arts-enriched learning

Schools often look to outside community organizations or artists for help with arts programming, workshops and presentations. A 2013 People for Education report found that elementary and secondary schools with higher fundraising levels – which are more likely to be in areas where families have higher than average family incomes – were more likely to report that students have the opportunity to see live performances. Schools with higher average family incomes were also more likely to offer opportunities to participate in a band, choir, or orchestra, perform in a play, or display their art.

Recommendations

The report recommends that the province develop specific arts policy to ensure that all students—regardless of where they live or their family income—have access to arts instruction during school hours, and arts enrichment either during or after school.

Read the report.