Let’s not make a drama out of it but schools need more time for creative subjects
- Credit: Mike Kwasniak
Despite showcases like the Celebration of Schools Music at Snape, opportunities for engagement in the arts in schools are becoming harder to deliver. Arts editor Andrew Clarke takes a look at the benefits we all gain from introducing young people to the arts early.
Earlier this month Snape Maltings Concert Hall played host to 45 schools and more than 1400 pupils and offered them the opportunity to sing, play and perform on stage in front of an enthusiastic audience.
For a packed week, one of the country’s foremost concert venues rang to the voices and sounds of tomorrow’s great talents.
From five to 18, young people of all ages and abilities, got the opportunity to perform their own music and work together on a group project. This annual event, celebrating its 31st anniversary this year, often provides young people with their first musical experience in front of an audience.
This exciting cultural adventure should only one part of young people’s artistic life because culture triggers creative thinking and creative thinking is what modern business wants. It wants employees who are inventive, adaptable, mentally flexible and, to coin a well-worn phrase, can think outside the box.
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They want problem solvers rather than drones, they want people who can open up additional revenue streams, they want people with imagination who can see new possibilities and new markets in an increasingly competitive world.
Arts and culture can nurture and develop these creative attributes, so it is worrying to hear that funding for arts education is being reduced. A recent BBC survey of 1,200 schools found that 90% had cut back on arts lessons and reduced staff time and facilities. It seems that the government is obsessively focussed on STEM (Science, Technology, English and Maths) and regard them as the only subjects that matter. All it takes is the addition of a little art for STEM to become STEAM and then our education system would really come to the boil.
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In recent weeks both Rufus Norris, artistic director of the National Theatre, and Sir Lenny Henry, actor-comedian-national treasure, have spoken out about the dwindling opportunities for artistic expression in schools. They worry that our schools will be turning out well-trained automatons rather than independent thinkers.
Andrew Lloyd-Webber has declared cuts to music education as a national scandal.
But, these cut backs don’t apply to all schools, of course, look at the pages of any pantomime programme and you will find the pages of adverts for private schools proudly highlighting the cultural opportunities they offer and the creative facilities they have access to.
If the private sector can see the value that arts and culture offer young minds then it is puzzling that the state-sector seems so wedded to the world of science and engineering. Can it really be that politicians really do believe that leaders and those who thrive on independent thought, can only come from those who enjoyed a private education? I hope not.
Making the most of arts and culture in schools is not just for those who want to become professional actors/musicians/dancers/artists. As we have seen critical thinking skills flourish in a creative environment and, in a world where interviews and presentations are increasingly important, the arts give young people the confidence to talk engagingly and coherently in public.
But, let’s not forget that the arts and cultural tourism are an increasingly vital part of our economy, particularly here in East Anglia. Last year the creative economy generated £92 billion for the UK. It’s worth remembering that for every £1 invested in form of subsidy (ie Arts Council or local authority grant) this then generates £5 returned in taxes. The arts boosts the economy, it’s that simple.
Locally, the Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has said that culture is worth £83.6m to the economy of Norfolk and Suffolk, employs 5,800 people and sustains more than 1,000 businesses. These are impressive figures. Culture feeds into every part of life – from restaurants, hotels, florists, employment (building supplies, tradesmen, technical staff) as well as seemingly mundane areas like boosting car parking revenue.
The Arts not only puts money in our pockets but it helps save money in the health service. Developing a taste for going out to the theatre or cinema, attending concerts, taking part in amateur dramatics, dance or playing in a band or orchestra can have positive effects on physical and mental health as well as fitness. Social prescribing is endorsed by doctors because it gets people out of the house and mixing with other people. If fights loneliness, isolation and depression and reduces the need for medical intervention further down the road.
Let’s turn STEM into STEAM and give our young people the tools to make the most of their lives. We owe it to them and to ourselves.