The battle that the arts and cultural education have found themselves in over the last few years has been well-documented.
First came the ideological attack from the Tories with their quest to push all students (regardless of their suitability, interests or ability) down the narrow academic and Ebacc route.
Next, came the ‘double-whammy’ – the new focus on all things academic coincided with a poorly conceived reform of GCSEs and continued funding cuts.
Under continued budgetary pressures and the ongoing relentless emphasis on results in core and EBacc subjects, something had to give. For many schools, that means arts and cultural education subjects have to squeezed off the timetables.
The shorted-sightedness of this really does beggar belief. Many schools are failing to recognise the importance and real value of the arts and cultural education.
High-quality arts and cultural education for all
Even if schools take the decision to force pupils to take the EBacc, they need to provide an excellent arts and cultural education for all. This needs to happen regardless of whether students see a reduction in studying the arts or not.
Becoming well-rounded, prepared citizens for the future is about much more than exam results.
The cross-curricular approach
One strategy is to take a cross-curricular approach to arts and cultural education. Young people flourish when they are given the opportunity to be creative. The arts can easily be used to support learning in core and EBacc subjects, whether that is sculpting a volcano in Geography – or acting out the suffering of World War One soldiers in the trenches, as part of History, or studying war poetry in English.
Creative, active lessons will usually result in students learning more and will give a deeper understanding and appreciation of a topic.
The transferable skills of the arts
Sadly, one of the great ironies is that pupils develop many transferable skills through arts and cultural subjects. Perhaps this is difficult to quantify, but it undoubtedly enables young people to shine in other areas – including core academic subjects.
Music is one arts subject that has been harder than most in the current climate. Many schools have reduced considerably (or even replaced) music provision. Again, the irony of this is as obvious as it is maddening. In a music lesson, pupils develop coordination, they interpret notation, they subdivide bars, and they consider emotion, feelings and tone. In short, music combines Maths, Sciences, the arts, and exercise in one skill-packed bundle.
Pupils develop transferable life skills through the arts and as a result, can go on to flourish in everything they do, including in core academic subjects.
The skills and qualities that practice, rehearsal and performance that the arts help to develop should not be underestimated either. Discipline, determination and confidence to name just a few. How important are these qualities, both at school and in life?
The arts stand proudly at the heart of a rounded comprehensive education, but arts education should not be confined to the lessons of single subjects: Music, Art or Drama.