The news that Bingley Grammar School has had to schedule music GCSE as a paid extra-curricular option is a sad indictment of the pressure that the state sector is under to use curriculum time for core subjects that are measured by SATS and league tables. What’s more, in a recent NEU (then the NUT) survey, 97% of the union’s teachers agreed that particularly in primary school, SATS preparation did not support children’s access to a broad and balanced curriculum, saying the time taken to prepare children for assessment in Maths and English has squeezed out other subjects and activities. The problem continues on into secondary where, the proportion of 15 and 16 year olds taking subjects like music and drama has fallen to its lowest level in 10 years. The study of modern foreign languages at GCSE is also in decline.
The creative arts is an integral element of providing pupils with a broad and balanced education and we are fortunate in the independent sector that we have the freedom to determine how our curriculum time is allocated. Quite rightly, we have seen a growing emphasis on ensuring our pupils leave school with a skill set that enables them to maintain good mental health and physical well being. The arts plays a vital role in this regard, be it through music, dance or drama opportunities.
Whilst studying creative subjects has inherent values, there are practical applications as well. Creative subjects provide tangible evidence of the power of practice, which is not necessarily measurable. Learning an instrument or lines for a play improves concentration, memory and helps pupils develop perseverance, resilience and confidence. Gareth Malone has done a fine job of getting the nation to sing and it would be my wish that every school was able to enjoy time at least once a week to sing together. Singing has huge power to improve physical and mental well being. It releases muscle tension, reduces stress levels and depression, and has even been shown to help in maintaining a healthy immune system. Communal singing also offers a great sense of community, and the chance to build life-long friendships.
Then there are the tricky perceptions that the arts do not provide sufficient academic rigour. Maths and Music are inextricably linked and can be taken as a joint degree in a number of top UK universities. What a wealth of talent we will be losing if we do not grow the potential of future musicians, actors and dancers. As Einstein said, “All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man’s life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom.”
It is an issue that unites the state and independent sectors and there are already some excellent examples of the collaboration that are providing opportunities for all pupils to experience high quality projects. The point to remember is that children and young adults are neither amateur nor professional; they are a class all of their own. The power of their artistic skill is beyond measure and we must not lose it at any cost.