Anyone who regularly reads this blog will not argue with me when I say that it is ridiculous that in many schools across the UK students are being forced to choose between the arts for GCSE. In so many schools, all the arts subjects are placed into one block, forcing students to choose between music and drama, or art and music, rather than have free and open access to choose as many arts subjects as they want. It is staggering to think that, in so many schools, young people are denied the opportunity to develop their skills, knowledge and understanding in more than one arts subject.
This, but not this alone, is having a massive impact on numbers of student opting for arts subjects. The cause of this isn’t just the EBACC, it is the progress 8 and attainment 8 that schools across the country are measured by. Thankfully many Headteachers ignore the EBACC, but many cannot ignore the impact of the Attainment 8 and Progress 8 measurements which relegate arts subjects to the very bottom of the subjects and results that influence that score.
In Primary Schools the decline in the arts in the curriculum, combined with the desire of schools to offer the arts has led to after school clubs being set up for young people to participate in. This is all very well intentioned, but really limits the ability of many students to access these opportunities. Many of these clubs are run by outside agencies, which parents have to pay extra for, and they are run after school at times when many children won’t be able to attend. In the end, the children who attend these are those of parents who wither have the money available to pay for these and/or are willing to support their child to attend them. These well intended clubs become selective and not available to all. Every child should have the right to be taught about, and through, the Arts.
In an unusual twist, Independent Schools understand the value of the arts. Eton College has an incredibly active Drama Department, putting on over 20 productions in an academic year across three different theatre spaces including a 400 seat theatre, equipped with a full counterweight flying system, state of the art lighting and an orchestra pit. Eton College offer GCSE Drama alongside a huge number of across school and house events.
Those that sit in the Government benches and populate the Department for Education, many of whom attended Independent Schools, including our current Prime Minister who went to Eton, all know too well the value of the arts in their education. Their success is from their well-rounded education, which included a very serious and very professional approach to the arts as a central pillar of their educational experience.
Isn’t strange then, for a group of people who monopolise the leadership of our country, whose success is founded upon a well-balanced education, with the arts very much a pillar to that curriculum, continues to press forward with a state education system that stifles and closes down the curriculum of the countries young people?
EBACC, Attainment 8 and Progress 8 are all skewing the focus of more and more young people, and their parents, towards choosing subjects to study at GCSE which they are not good at or don’t want to do.
The cynic in me, which I generally try to supress, would say that this is a problem that is not going to go away not matter what happens. We have a system which is run by the privileged, where politicians who studied classical culture and the arts have the temerity to tell the general population what their children should and should not be studying, which includes cutting down the opportunities for them to study classical culture and the arts. Is this system not designed to maintain the status quo of the privileged running the country?
Not that there is a valid argument for this approach to education, but the evidence against it continues to stack up. We have seen that there is not the desire for this in state schools. We have seen the reduction of numbers taking GCSEs in Arts subjects and the arguments of how that will negatively impact the UK’s creative industry, which currently accounts for 5.5% of the UK economy and one of the largest contributors to the UK economy. I believe we are beginning to see the lack of creative education impact the attitudes, characters and mindsets of young people today.
But most importantly, perhaps one of the last Bastian’s of this attitude that the Arts are not as academic, valid or intellectual as any other subject, The Russell Group of Universities list of facilitating subjects has been scrapped. This list, once held up as a principle by which all young people with aspirations to go to a Russell Group University, which includes Cambridge University, should go by. A list which had subjects like Maths, English and Languages as being thought of as more preferable, scholarly and academic to others like Drama, Art or Sports, has gone. This research-led group of universities has scrapped list of preferred A-levels, stating that all A Level subjects are appropriate to helping students continue their education at one of their highly selective universities.
Not only that, but The Russell Group are now they are calling on the government to reconsider its stance on the EBACC, which the list of subjects that the Russell Group has just scrapped was based on, and free up GCSE choices in schools.
It must surely be time for this squeeze on our education system to stop. Let children choose the subjects that they want to do, be that all the arts subjects, every language or any combination they choose which they, and their parents, feel is appropriate to their abilities, desires and aspirations. Culture isn’t just something for the privileged, all people have culture, and all schoolchildren should be shown it and asked to participate within it.