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Why We Need To Treat Students Better And Make Arts Education A Priority On The Election Agenda

02/05/2017 11:49
Chris Ryan via Getty Images

Last week I was fortunate to be invited to speak in Parliament on the subject of what is the future of education.

Many interesting points were raised at the meeting but the most common point that came up was that we need to treat our students better.

At school level, students are going to suffer from the cuts schools will implement to deal with funding cuts, and are particularly likely to lose specialist subjects like art, drama or music as they are not part of the EBACC.

For example Malcolm Trobe, leader of the Association of School and College Leaders, recently said: "The fact is that reduced budgets mean fewer staff and this in turn means larger class sizes, reduced GCSE options and cutbacks in support services and enrichment activities".

At university level students are also suffering - I teach students who are doing not only part but full time jobs around their studies to earn enough to pay their tuition fees now grants no longer apply.

However, at the same time, at the meeting in the House of Commons and in the media, creativity has been discussed as being key to jobs of the future as more jobs look to become automated.

Similarly, at the meeting, it was discussed how cutting arts education means students are losing key skills like empathy and questioning the world around them and coming up with new ideas.

So what we can do?

Here are some ideas:

1) Improving the seriousness with which we take teaching at University level - I will never forget the advice I received on my first day at a university that I should do "as little as possible" so I would have as much time as possible for my writing. That advice needs to change - we need to do as much as possible because this is the chance to educate the next generation; this is the advice we need to be getting.

2) The government placing new emphasis and value on what education is for. Nelson Mandela said "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world". Franklin D Roosevelt said: "Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education." Artistotle said: "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."

3) The government also needs to assist in universities not losing their role as thought leaders as they become more business minded due to funding changes- recently I read an article about one professor who is crowd- funding and cutting down on his position at a university as he feels his university role does not allow him the space to explore new ideas. We need to change this by involving students and teaching in this exploration of ideas. We have seen this work very well on the MA Dramatic Writing Lab at Central Saint Martins, where companies come in to explore new writing ideas with the students, and this needs to be pushed more.

4) The transition from studying to working - with arts courses in areas such as my specialism of creative writing, one of the most important areas to address is how to improve the transition from studying to working in the areas. Showcases and showcases being taken seriously seem to me to be the key, otherwise if there is not a way to transition we are wasting students money.

5) Skills training - we need to pass on long-term skills, such as craft skills and business skills, to our students so that they are equipped for long term and sustainable careers via their degree (for example, in my specialism, one of the dangers is the creative writing degree which provides only feedback)

6) Improving the respect teaching is given in the arts by those in other roles - that it is not the role of failed artists, but a chance to train the next generation - it's not "those who can do, those can't teach", it needs to be "those who can do and/or pass on that knowledge of doing to the next generation".

7) To investigate the role arts education can play in other jobs and the jobs of the future.

8) To fund more mentoring programmes for problem areas such as why more women study the arts but less women work in the arts to ensure anyone can play a role in the arts.

On May 9th at the Bush Theatre, we will be discussing this subject more as part of the final stage of The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting competition, a new competition we have been running with the Bush Theatre and Oberon Books to provide access to the best training coming out of the industry which has never been published before, and, therefore, never been available to students before.

More information is available here: https://www.bushtheatre.co.uk/event/the-student-guide-to-writing-playwriting-book-launch-and-play-reading/

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