Arts in School – on way out?

Being in the company of positive wizards is great! It gives you so much energy, enthusiasm and that feeling that anything is possible. I had that feeling when I attended the first HeadRoom forum hosted by FilmclubUK at BAFTA.

This meeting was a follow-up response to the very successful ‘Closing the Gap’ conference in November 2010 where a variety of speakers debated with the audience on the important role  the arts can play in children’s achievement. The forum was using the White Paper ‘The Importance of Teaching’ as a starting point to look at the situation schools were now facing with regards to the curriculum, funding and a general approach to the Arts.

The discussions flowed around the apparent mis-match between the paper saying it was freeing schools up with their curriculums whilst at the same time cutting budgets. The English Baccalaureate came under scrutiny and the lack of any Arts subjects within in.  Michael Shaw Opinion editor TES asked pertinent questions of those present who included head teachers of the full age range plus special, SEBD and federated establishments catering for a wide geographical area.

It was not long before the sharing of ideas and good news stories replaced the grumbles of the present situation. Suggestions of funding streams and ways of working collaboratively were exchanged.  Stories such as special school pupils on a ski-ing trip and school days being changed showed the sort of work being done already and that it was not just dance, drama and music. Catherine Bunting from the Arts Council  explained that the Council was facing large cuts but that the public still valued the Arts and this would continue albeit in a reduced way.

One of the themes throughout the discussions was that of measurement. In education we now have to be able to justify in measurable terms everything we do. For those subjects that can be scrutinized through a written paper which is then marked, the evidence is easy. What of those other areas that ‘have nothing to show’?

One contributor told of the project that her pupils under go with the Royal Ballet. Work is done prior to a visit to see a performance but the focus is on the athleticism of the dancers rather than giggling about men in tights. For those students it helps challenge theirs and their families knowledge about culture. However, what can you use as a measure of value?

Application is much easier to evidence and that is the area policy makers often concentrate on. Two examples were put forward as illustrating the difficulty of measuring. The first, putting on a play could show improved team building skills but the second, working with a composer to appreciate music may never been able to be measured beyond a vocabulary to be able to discuss it. This however is valuable – yes?

Catherine was concerned that cultural experiences in schools – play visits, writers workshops – were often sold to parents under the guise of improving literacy rather than in their own right of an experience of art. It is all about ‘how we measure what we value rather than valuing what we measure’.

As you would expect with this sort of group there were next steps! How could there not be in these artistic surroundings at an event sponsored by the brilliant FilmclubUK!A suggestion was put forward of how you could list out cultural experiences the children have and simply by quantity show that these would add value. FilmClubUK will try to organize regional meetings like this one which will offer more positive wizards  the opportunity to meet with others who need a little confidence and hand holding to be brave and take some of the steps that many schools are taking. We need a response to the consultation on the curriculum to send out a strong message that the Arts have as great if not greater place in our schools as maths and English.

There is a great deal of excellent work being done through the Arts across the country. What we need is for this work to be share and extended. The phrases ‘be subversive’ and ‘make friends with unusual people and be promiscuous’ stand out for me.

Where do you stand in the debate? Are you prepared to seek out unusual people? Have you commented on the consultation?

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