New reports have announced that record numbers of UK pupils are taking what are considered to be “traditional academic GCSE subjects” and neglecting creative subjects.
3.85 million pupils opted for English, maths, sciences, history, geography and foreign languages in 2017, an increase of 9% over the previous year. Whereas the number of pupils taking music, drama and art & design fell 11%.
A fair education
Teachers have a responsibility to encourage students and influence them in pursuing a path that makes the best of their own personal abilities. This includes making it easy for pupils to take time out of an algebra class if they need to attend a music lesson or orchestral practise. It means creating opportunities for pupils to visit travelling art shows, theatre productions and design conferences as often as there are chances to study geography and sciences in foreign countries. It also means that a workload should not preclude a child from being able to pursue a musical instrument because they simply don’t have the time in the evenings to practise.
When schools are run like businesses because they need to report statistics related to achievements to gain funding, they can only look at figures that are quantifiable. Creative disciplines are more difficult to grade and report on because the marking system is subjective. Governing bodies need the cold, hard facts to prove who gets the funding and the way to write successful reports is to have numbers that communicate success. Goodbye music programs, hello test results.
It’s all about the school
I used to think that schools existed for the good of the pupils. How naive.
I have been to school meetings and productions where head teachers have made announcements about achievements and talked about the progress of the school. One case involved a shining star who had come from another school, joined later in the term, and due to his amazing musical prowess, was being held up as one of the school’s success stories. After just a few months! And in a skill that could not have been the result of attending any school for any length of time, let alone the one where he had joined relatively recently. Leveraging the achievements of individual pupils for the gain and PR of the school is completely inappropriate.
And frankly, it makes me sick.
An old rhyme is still circulating school hallways:
“God made the bees,
the bees make the honey,
We do all the dirty work,
the teachers get the money. “
I know it’s tongue in cheek, but is that how pupils see school work, as being for the teachers and not for them? One upper school pupil I asked seemed to seriously think that is really the case. Oh dear.
Everyone needs ideas
When children are choosing GCSE subjects, at the age of about 14, there is an incorrect correlation between what they are choosing and what they expect to be their chosen career path. It is common for a pupil to think “I’m not going to be an artist when I grow up, so I won’t take art” … or “why should I take music, I’m not going to be a musician?”. For some reason Firstly, how can a child of that age possibly know with any degree of certainty what kind of career they will pursue in years to come? I know that can be possible, and some adults report that they knew form a very young age what they wanted to do later in life, but they are more the exception than the rule. The second question is, how can a young person could truly understand the importance and relevance of what they are learning and how it applies to vocations?
The reason that the arts are needed in schools is not because every child needs to be musical, or to be able to draw or act. The arts (at a school level, particularly) are not first and foremost about painting, playing the violin or Macbeth. Being creative is about ideas – cultivating, nurturing and producing ideas.
But it isn’t just artists who need ideas – business runs on ideas. Every single business, from the sole trader going door to door pushing wares to the multi-national corporation reaching into new sectors. How do you get ideas? Where do ideas come from? How do you process and analyse ideas?
More than fun
Is it any coincidence that people like Leonardo da Vinci, who is credited with designing an early helicopter, was also a proficient artist and prolific in a number of disciplines, not just the sciences? There are numerous reports linking the study of art, particularly music, to heightened levels of intelligence, social abilities and emotional development . Such as this study and this report. Studying and practising the music has numerous benefits that often extend to other disciplines, too, such as second languages, and visual art is directly linked to human geography and history.
If you can encourage pupils to work on ideas and think for themselves, to ask questions and then work at solving those questions, to be constantly thinking and processing problems using alternative methods and cross-polination of methods, then you may be able to help develop skills in the next generation who could answer questions that we have been asking for hundreds of years.
The arts are not just about self expression. The visual and performing arts are a vital thread of society that help us connect, understand and communicate. They are what makes life life.
As Robert Motherwell said, “Art is much less important than life, but what a poor life without it.”
Structured Data, Review Title: Creativity is suffering in our schools.
Reviewed by Nick Burman
Summary: Creativity is a vital part of life and therefore education. Don’t cut the arts!
Description: If you can encourage pupils to work on ideas and think for themselves, to ask questions and then work at solving those questions, to be constantly thinking and processing problems using alternative methods and cross-polination of methods, then you may be able to help develop skills in the next generation who could answer questions that we have been asking for hundreds of years.=
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