Why not dance?
The result? A survey of more than 1,200 secondary schools by the BBC, published on 30 January, revealed that 90% had cut back on lesson time, staff or facilities in at least one creative subject. Last March, research conducted by Sussex University, revealed a large proportion of secondary teachers (two-thirds out of 650) felt the importance placed on EBacc by the Government had fuelled a drop in pupils taking GCSE Music.
It’s crazy to think, but this is against the backdrop of the following, which was so eloquently pointed out by Rufus Norris, director of the National Theatre, in the Guardian on 17 January:
‘The creative industries are the fastest growing part of the UK’s economy, one of the few sectors in which we are celebrated world leaders and in which there is huge employment growth. We are the world’s third largest cultural exporters, after China and the US. Last year the creative industries were worth £92bn to the UK economy. The sector returns more golden eggs every year to the Treasury than the automotive, oil, gas, aerospace and life science industries combined, and for every £1 invested in subsidy the government gets £5 returned in taxes.’
If Britain is an economic powerhouse for anything these days, it is for its creative industries. Yet Norris tells a similar tale to the BBC – since 2010 there has been a 28% drop in pupils taking GCSEs in creative subjects.
Rather worryingly, this devaluing of the creative arts is nothing new, though it might be that the arts are facing a greater threat now than ever before. Sir Ken Robinson, in the most-watched TED talk of all time (with more than 49m views), points out that every education system on earth has the same hierarchy of subjects – mathematics and languages at the top, then the humanities, and then the arts at the bottom, with art and music given a higher status than drama or dance (‘Why do schools kill creativity?’ – click here). He says, ‘all kids have tremendous talents, and we squander them, ruthlessly.’ And then he asks, why not dance? ‘There isn’t an education system on the planet that teaches dance to children every day, the way we teach them mathematics.’ This is an interesting question. For Robinson it is linked to the rise of public education during the industrial revolution, as well as to the influence of universities on our education systems.
Robinson also highlights that creativity is stifled in our education system in other ways. He suggests we get educated out of creativity, by being taught that making mistakes is bad. ‘If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.’
Undoubtedly, English and mathematics are important. They are central to communication. At the same time, the Government’s drive for STEM is well founded. More and more jobs will require the skills and knowledge which STEM subjects promote. But education is not just about jobs – it’s about character – and even if it was, see Norris’ point above.
But maybe there is some hope. There is an increasing demand in some parts of the world that STEM be turned into STEAM – the A standing for Art. This is a recognition that the creative arts are central to disciplines such as engineering and computer science. What’s more, as the DfE chases higher league positions in PISA by mimicking the education systems of China and South Korea, those nations are looking towards Britain, recognising that they need to improve their creative provision. These nations see Britain as leading the way.
It is vital that we maintain a balanced curriculum – that textiles is valued as well as mathematics, that music is valued as well as English. This is what we aim to do at Truro High School. But, wait! Only some of these subjects are compulsory at GCSE at Truro High, you say. That is true, but this is more a recognition of the requirements of the Government, universities and employers than of the preference we give to certain subjects. Look at our extra-curriculum and you will see a firm focus on the creative arts.
At the same time, it is vital that young people are encouraged to embrace mistakes and failure – not just in the creative arts, but across the whole of their education. This is something which we have really been focusing on as teachers at Truro High School. On our staff training day at the beginning of this term, every teacher signed up for a one-day class in something they felt they were rubbish at. Many felt out of their comfort zones. Many made mistakes. But all felt there was something self-affirming about the day. We all walked away proud. Even those of us who did dance. I agree with Sir Ken, why not dance?