One thing that Michael Gove is passionate about, is his version of education reform.
It is not a coincidence that the majority of teachers and school staff that I speak to, oppose virtually his every move. Because he is making policy based on some ivory tower ideology rather than the reality of actually delivering Primary and Secondary Education.
One thing that I am passionate about, is the arts. I believe so very strongly that art, music, dance, drama and performance is vital to a rounded, cohesive, rich and vibrant society.
I believe that it is hugely important that children, in particular, have the opportunity to learn musical instruments, to study the evolution of theatre and all of its political and historical impact, and to use those mediums to express themselves in ways that they didn’t know that they could.
It goes almost without saying that a strong education and a basic body of facts and knowledge are paramount when schooling the next generation, but alongside English and Maths and Chemistry and History and French, there must be space for physical subjects. There must be the opportunity to listen to music and deconstruct the stave. There must be the chance to develop confidence in speech and movement. There must be the window to blow off a little steam amongst the paperwork.
But more than that, for me, the arts should be seen as a tool for educating. A student can study the subjects of Music or Music Technology, Fine Art or Drama, and some would argue that there is less academic value in those subjects. Not everyone can appreciate the importance of learning lines and delivering a stage performance if it’s not something that they’re personally interested in. But the subjects themselves go beyond what they implicitly are.
My background is in drama. More specifically, drama in education. I was a grade A student who sailed through my GCSEs and A Levels. I could have taken countless different degree courses, and was seen as an academic. But I chose Drama, because I excelled in it, loved it, enjoyed it and believed in it.
And since then, I have used it in so many facets of my life, I can’t even begin to recount how much of an influence it has had on me.
Drama can be used to educate students in virtually any subject. I have used different drama techniques and conventions over the years to teach (both in and out of a school setting) social awareness, news stories, politics, language development, French and German, History, Economics, and even Maths. Often the end users aren’t even aware that they are engaging in this kind of learning, but with the right skills you can use drama to teach pretty much anything and impart all sorts of wisdom.
As an “academic”, I love the Arts. I chose the Arts over all of the other subjects available to me at degree level. And I work in a creative role, using the Arts to engage community, business and school groups. To entertain, enlighten and create visual and audible work that enriches experiences for people from all over.
Music, Art and Drama are also vital to creativity and expression. Surprisingly, not every child is going to make it to Oxbridge. Not every child is even going to survive 6th form. So what do we do with those children, when other options and opportunities are exhausted?
You can be a great painter, or a technical genius without having to remember dates or what a prime number is.
Diversity and difference is all, and if we could all recite the periodic table, or list the Kings and Queens of England in order, but we couldn’t go and see Les Miserables, or gaze at the Sistine Chapel, the world would be rather more bleak.
So why, Mr Gove? Why no Arts subjects in your planned exam reform, the English Baccalaureate? The cultural and creative diversity in this country is envied across the globe, and the creative industries employ thousands upon thousands of people.
Of course we need engineers, and physicists and surgeons and lawyers. But we also need the opportunity to engage in and experience a richness of life.
It used to be in schools that “Every Child” Mattered. Now it seems as though only the academics count.
The arts should not be seen as an add-on. The confidence, self-esteem, individuality, creative expression and industry that comes from these genres should never be underestimated. They are a vital part of our school system, society and culture.
Reducing or removing them would be a very grave error.
Academics can love and choose the arts, and progress into countless fields of further work and employment. These are the people who will engage in a full and rounded program of education, with maths and science and language abilities, which they can use to their advantage in their chosen field.
But how about this..?
Mr Gove, come and work in my school for a week, and meet some of our other students. Students from difficult and disadvantaged homes, with no internet access and little support. Students who are disengaged with learning, because their parents tell them to be suspicious of school. Students who can’t access additional services or extra curricular activity, and come to school merely for break time and to hang out with their mates. Students who, despite every kind of intervention available, just do not (or cannot) thrive in academic studies.
Students who might, just might, become really engaged in a music course which allows them to DJ their own tunes, or who can be given access to an Apple Mac which can help them to animate a piece of art that they created. Or who could get involved with a whole school show, because they are taught how to stage fight and it gets them out of a lesson near the end of term.
These students engage in the arts. They develop self confidence and self-belief and they learn creative and life skills that stay with them forever.
And those skills and opportunities could be the start of a lifetime of learning and opportunity for those children who the system otherwise fails.
Then tell me, do the Arts have a place in education?