Arts study ‘at risk’ in schools

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Published: Thursday 26th February 2015 by The News Editor

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Music, drama and art are a vital part of school life, but are at risk of being squeezed out of education, a leading headmaster is warning.

There is now an “overly utilitarian” view of education, obsessed with economic value and results, according to Michael Windsor, of Reading Blue Coat School.

He suggests that independent schools instil a love of creativity in pupils, suggesting that the batch of privately-educated British actors nominated for Oscars this year benefited not from an “old school tie network” but from an environment that places a high value on the arts.

Mr Windsor will make the comments in a speech to the Society of Heads conference on Monday.

The headmaster, who is chairman of the society, argues that the creative arts are “an area of particular strength” in the organisation’s schools.

“I only really feel that all is well at school if I can hear the sound of musicians rehearsing, a drama performance under way, or if I can wander into the art or design departments and see pupils lost in their work,” he says.

Mr Windsor will add: “The commitment to art, design, music, drama and dance is there to be seen in our schools but on a national scale, the creative arts do risk being squeezed out by an overly utilitarian vision of education; one that focuses excessively on the economic value that each product of schooling might contribute, as well as a particular focus on easily measurable outcomes, in an environment where money is tight and spending priorities have to be identified carefully.

“Much has been made of the fact that a high proportion of recent British Oscar nominees attended independent schools. I am not convinced that the old school tie network operates in the arts, nor do I necessarily think that the individuals in question benefited unduly from the fine facilities that they enjoyed.

“I do think though, that they will have benefited from an environment where a high value is placed on the arts both within and outside the curriculum, where passionate and dedicated teachers have the time and space to instil a love of creativity in their pupils.”

This year the battle for the leading actor Oscar saw Old Etonian Eddie Redmayne pitted against Harrow-educated Benedict Cumberbatch, a race won by Redmayne.

Mr Windsor will also use his speech to argue that teachers now spend much more time considering what to teach and how to do it, but that students often simply want to know what they need to get through an exam or win a university place.

“Teachers think much more carefully about how to actually teach; about the structure of a lesson; about how they can engage students and encourage them to think independently.

“This is not always easy, partly because students, and dare I say it, especially adolescent learners, are often keen to find the line of least resistance.”

Mr Windsor says that in one case, he spent an hour coaching a student who was going for an interview to read German at university.

“He had read some Kafka and we spent what I thought had been a rewarding hour or so talking about his reading while I probed his understanding and we discussed his ideas. At the end of our hour, my student said: ‘Yeah, thanks for all that, but can you just give me the line on Kafka?”

A Department of Education spokesman said: “As part of our plan for education we are ensuring all pupils experience a broad and balanced curriculum which will prepare them for life in modern Britain – the arts are a key part of this.

“We are clear that arts education should be every bit as rigorous as the rest of the school curriculum, and we have strengthened the national curriculum in these subjects and reformed the music and art GCSEs and A-levels to make sure this is the case.

“For 2015-16, we are providing £109 million to support music, art and cultural education projects – an increase of £17m from last year – allowing thousands more pupils to benefit from a wide range of enriching activities.”

Published: Thursday 26th February 2015 by The News Editor

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