Private Viewing: Ditching the arts in schools is a step towards financial ruin
Arts subjects look set to be dropped from the exam syllabus. Arts editor Andrew Clarke says this will be bad for the economy
If there is one certainty in life it is that everything changes. So it comes as no surprise that the Government is once again fiddling with the examination system in an effort to make our nation more productive and efficient – whatever that means.
There was a time when education meant you were developing the skills to live a rich, full life. You were being allowed to explore and discover your own particular talents and being given the opportunity to exploit them for society’s benefit.
It seems with each education reform that an individual’s talents become less and less important and people are being shoe-horned into a pre-prescribed template. Education has become more about limiting people’s options rather than exploring opportunities.
Increasingly, education has come to embrace certainities. It loves maths and science because they deal with matters which are quantifiable and provable with mathematical formulas.
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Creativity, it seems, has become a dirty word which is strange because creativity remains an important ingredient of our economy. Creativity is treated with suspicion because it can’t be assessed or quantified. The powers-that-be claim to value creativity and yet do everything they can to eradicate it from the state school system.
The cultural economy is booming, generating billions of pounds both from domestic spending and from tourism. West End theatre, arts festivals like Glastobury and Latitude, music events like The Aldeburgh Festival, and home-grown movies that make it big internationally, are all celebrated and declared to be the best of British and yet very little is done to develop the next generation of talent.
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When the Olympic opening ceremony was, quite rightly, declared to be a fabulous demonstration of British theatrical genius, its creator, Danny Boyle, observed that without educational support, the British arts world would not be able to stage a similar show when Britain next hosted the games.
These fears have been thrown into sharp focus again this week after the Government announced new reforms to the GCSE exam syllabus announcing that a new English Baccalaureate would not include any arts subjects at all. The proposal states that the new EBacc would require students aged 14-16 to study English, maths, a science, one humanities subject and a language. Schools would only be ranked and inspected on these subjects.
The few brief comments issued from the department of education have indicated that schools would be free to continue offering arts subjects but the fear is that because they will not feature in league tables or Ofsted inspections, how many schools would bother with them?
Fears about the future of theatre, dance, music, film and fine arts in this country has been enough to prompt 40 high-profile arts organisations to lobby the Government for a rethink. It’s long been acknowledged that creative subjects are not just for wannabe actors, artists and musicians. Creative thinking informs all sorts of business from finance, research and development, right through to marketing and design.
No-one is suggesting that we don’t need scientists, bankers or sales reps, but as a fully-formed, balanced society we do need an economy that provides work for those with a wide-range of skills. The arts provide an important economic driver but more than that they are an important safety valve, helping to deal with stress and a wide variety of mental health issues.
Neil Constable, chief executive of Shakespeare’s Globe, wrote an open letter to the Government saying: “The Government proudly cites the UK creative industries as world leaders, one of the fastest growing sectors, providing £8.8 million an hour to our economy. Yet it proposes to impose the Ebacc on schools which will starve the industry of fresh talent, stunt the growth of our young people and make us all the poorer.
“We need an educational system which encourages every student, at all schools not just a privileged few, to experience a broad and balanced curriculum. Creative subjects must not be second-class citizens.”
Meanwhile, Rachel Tackley, director of English Touring Theatre, pointed out that the creative industry is worth £77 billion to the UK economy and must be worth investing in. This, surely, has to be something we can all agree on?