It's no surprise that the new EBacc qualification has been met with unease from the arts and creative education sectors. At the heart of Gove's plan for the new secondary qualification is a remarkable absence of arts and cultural subjects from the proposed core syllabus. This comes in a line of developments that ignore arts and cultural subjects in favour of those deemed more academically rigorous.
The proposed EBacc follows the omission of drama and dance earlier this year from the list of core primary school subjects, and the introduction of new phonics tests to track the reading ability of six-year-olds; this particular approach to literacy expects children to be able to read words based on taught sounds and not on connective story-telling. It's hard to imagine children reading books with no pictures to ensure they are decoding and not using visual clues to guess a word.
There is a worrying trend toward eschewing creative and cultural education in favour of subjects deemed purely academic. Groups such as the Incorporated Society of Musicians and the Creative Learning Alliance have responded, with support from high profile arts figures such as Grayson Perry, and are lobbying to ensure the arts remain an important part of the curriculum.
Quite rightly these groups believe the arts are not a luxury, something 'other' to be enjoyed after the important stuff has been covered. They are integral to successful learning, creating unique opportunities for self-expression and lateral thinking. As the arts are increasingly side-lined, it is important that we start thinking outside the box about creative and cultural learning, and integrate them into the curriculum.
It all starts in earnest at primary school, and it is here we can have a real impact on forming how children think, learn, and communicate. If our schools are going to produce a generation of confident independent thinkers, teaching needs to be creative. In 2010 Ofsted published the report Learning: Creative Approaches that Raise Standards, which found that schools that embrace a creative approach to learning not only perform better but have a level of higher student satisfaction. These tend to be schools that are not afraid of cross-curricular teaching. As a result, learning inevitably becomes more inclusive and all subjects more accessible.
Children learn better and are more engaged when they are enjoying themselves, can take ownership and feel pride. The majority of adults can't learn by scripture, so it's daft to expect it of children of primary school age. Why not learn maths through music, literacy through drama, or improve language skills though storytelling?
Through utilising imaginative methods of learning, we can ensure all children are provided with the equal opportunities to achieve and learn. This is increasingly important as the number of children eligible for free school meals, or children who have English as an Additional Language is on the rise in our primary schools. And for those of you who are anxious that learning through the arts might have a negative impact on academic attainment, the Ofsted report also found that "approaches developed successfully in traditionally creative subjects... were often incorporated into other areas, such as science and mathematics" with positive outcomes.
Darren Henley says aptly in his recent review Cultural Education in England, "the skills which children acquire through good Cultural Education help to develop their personality, abilities, and imagination. They allow them to learn how to think creatively and critically, and to express themselves fully. All these skills are strong influencers on wider academic attainment in schools and help to grow a child's interest in the process of learning within the school environment." I've given the extended quote as for me it clearly sums up why the arts are inseparable from education.
And of course in all of this are greater ramifications for our society. Confident children who can think outside the box are more likely to develop into fully-rounded, independent thinkers as adults; and this is a fundamental benefit, before even thinking about the importance of the arts and culture to our social landscape, and the wealth of creative activity in England. A vital tool for teaching and learning, the arts equip children with essential life skills all the while raising standards. So let's think creatively about creative learning, and at the very least learn Gove's slimmed down curriculum through the arts.
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