One of the unique aspects of being an independent school is just that, being independent, free from external influence or pressure.
Last week the BBC covered a story about the marginalisation of the creative arts from state schools in England.
More than 1,200 schools responded and of the schools that did responded, nine in every ten said they had cut back on lesson time, staff or facilities in at least one creative arts subject.
Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman said academic subjects were the best route to higher-level study, particularly for working-class children.
However, schools reported to the BBC via the survey, that an increased emphasis on core academic subjects, together with funding pressures, were the most common reasons for cutting back on resources for creative subjects.
I am sure such pressure on the curriculum is felt by independent day schools too and given the slow turnaround of the economy, particularly in some areas of the country, I am certain that funding has been a key decision-maker in the viability of such subjects moving forward. However, the contribution that the creative arts makes to the breadth and skillset of our students within a broad and balanced curriculum cannot be underestimated.
I realise, of course, that fitting the creative arts into a busy day school curriculum is becoming more and more challenging but it is a challenge, I would argue, worth trying to solve. Day schools are incredibly busy, with packed days, busier lunchtimes and often, students have to choose where to attend as clubs and societies clash. As day schools, we have to adapt and try ever more innovative ways to ensure that Art, Music, Drama, CDT, to name just a few, are given the opportunity to stand side by side with Maths English and Science.
The Arts Council England produced a pamphlet that outlined 10 Reasons why arts and culture make a difference to young people’s lives:
The document makes compelling reading.
And whilst ‘academic subjects’ may be one route into higher level study and a successful career why are the creative arts not considered an important route for some to achieve a successful future career? Furthermore, research by the Cultural Learning Alliance (https://culturallearningalliance.org.uk) suggests that learning and skills developed through creative arts and culture can enhance attainment in academic subjects like Maths and English and that school experience and cognitive ability is enhanced too. (https://culturallearningalliance.org.uk/evidence/).
It is all too easy for independent day schools to attempt to square the circle of increased teaching in Maths and English by removing teaching from the practical creative subjects, or worse, by removing these departments completely.
The creative sector is ever growing and future roles in the creative sector are projected to continue increasing, with 1.2 million new skilled workers required by 2022.
With automation, artificial intelligence and robotics seemingly spelling the end of certain labour markets as we know them, then a call for creativity skills, unable to be delivered by computers, will place our students who possess such training at a selective advantage.
My hope is that as independent day schools, we continue to flex our timetables and review our subjects taught to meet the needs of an ever-changing world and the students that we serve. But we must continue to fly the flag for the practical creative subjects, finding time for them to be taught, helping celebrate the diversity and balance that they bring to the curriculum, but above all, recognising that careers in the creative industry are just as valid as more traditional careers.
With the state sector seemingly having its hand forced on this issue, the independent day school market has an important role to play in demonstrating that, even with similar challenges, we are willing to make this work.
If FIDS members wish to share their challenges and solutions to how they accommodate the creative arts within the curriculum, I would be pleased to receive them. Such collaboration and research would then assist us all in addressing the issues we are all facing in our own schools.
Headmaster, Ashville College Harrogate (www.ashville.co.uk)