No arts in English Baccalaureate is a big mistake
Tony Hall on why schools must be at the heart of opening up the arts for children.
The arts are one of this country’s greatest success stories. From award-winning theatre to innovative dance, celebrated musicians to pioneering artists; British culture is admired throughout the world. It inspired individuals and united communities in this summer’s London 2012 Festival and brought the whole nation together with the dazzling Olympic ceremonies. Despite immense challenges, the arts continue to thrive with the sector set to employ 1.3 million people by 2013.
That is why it is so important that subjects like art, drama, dance, music, and design technology – the ones that made London 2012 possible – are given due prominence in our schools. The English Baccalaureate (EBacc), which serves as a performance measure for schools, has already excluded all arts subjects – pushing them into the remaining teaching time, a mere 20%. Now further reforms could exacerbate this trend, with suggestions that drama, dance and film be removed from the National Curriculum and that the two-tier system of the EBacc be formalized through the proposed English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs).
The impact of this growing neglect of the arts within schools should not be understated. It will harm the future of our creative industries, the vibrancy of our communities, and the long-term creativity and potential of our workforce. Above all, it will harm our children by denying them access to this incredible creative world.
Studying and practicing the arts – whether classical history or modern dance – has an incredible impact on a child. I saw this first-hand during the London 2012 Festival when children, often from deprived backgrounds, were inspired by music, art and culture. They gained confidence, a sense of self-worth and an insight into a world that they’d never experienced. That’s an experience that every single child deserves and one that cultural institutions cannot be relied upon solely to provide.
Schools must be at the heart of ensuring that all children, regardless of their background, gain access to the arts and the benefits they confer throughout life. Many top education systems around the world already recognize the importance of the arts, with the government’s own Expert Panel noting that out that of 14 high-performing jurisdictions, only four, including England, cease compulsory provision of art and music by the age of 14. Massachusetts and Ontario continue compulsory art and music until age 18. It is time that our education system also recognized the great value of the arts for children and young people.
The current neglect of the arts in our education will not just affect those in school. It will also have a devastating effect on our creative industries. The scale of employment is much larger than most people realize, with hundreds of thousands of jobs that many young people may not even know exist. The Royal Opera House alone employs 1000 people, in jobs ranging from artists for the sets to developers for the website. The industry needs these creative skills if it is to survive and flourish – and children need to be given the tools and training in schools to access these opportunities.
The arts are an integral part of our communities, our wellbeing and our sense of identity. They inspire and sustain us in difficult times, challenge us to think and give us something to celebrate and explore as a nation. They are not an add-on in our lives so cannot be treated as such in our children’s education.