Championing Change To Arts In Education
Last Friday over 200 people gathered at Birmingham Repertory Theatre to debate the decline in creative arts provision in education. This included young people from schools and universities, teachers, head teachers, higher education lecturers, artists, theatre makers and policy makers.
The aim of the Big Arts and Education Debate was to discuss and highlight the disappearance of arts from state education. Spearheading the debate was the impassioned playwright James Graham who urged everyone “to stop what we are doing, put everything down and fight this.”
There is much to celebrate about the wealth of arts activity taking place in primary, secondary and special schools by dedicated creative teachers, often supported by cultural organisations. The REP alone has one of the biggest learning and participation departments in the country. We see the value of the arts in young people's learning and social development and so do our 18 partner schools - it's why we deliver workshops and projects in local schools every day of the academic year.
However, the arts in secondary schools are under threat not least because of the English Baccalaureate (Ebacc) which in its current form is depriving the next generation of creative talent. Since 2010 there has been a 28% drop in the number of children taking creative GCSEs, with a similar drop in the number of creative arts teachers being trained. James Graham, who has had three plays on in the West End in the last 12 months and who has just won a prestigious Olivier Award, poignantly said at the debate “in this current climate, I wouldn't be here.”
For those that don't know about the EBacc, it refers to a combination of subjects that the government thinks is important for young people to study at GCSE. It includes English, Maths, sciences, geography or history and a language – so no creative, technical and artistic subjects. It's also a performance measure – it's a way for the government to measure how many young people are getting grade C or above in academically focused GCSEs. This provides a solid education to an extent but as one pupil from Lordswood Girls School said at the debate “we can't explore ourselves in education, so how can we have jobs that we enjoy?”
The debate allowed a range of thoughts and opinions to be voiced and some of the key issues included:
- The theatre industry needs to move forward with a joined up collaborative response to government.
- Many head teachers support the arts but face financial and accountability pressures.
- It is important to make the case for arts education to parents.
- There is a need to develop stronger organisational relationships between cultural institutions and schools.
- There is also a need for a targeted campaign to engage employers.
- As an industry we should change the language: investment instead of subsidy.
- A clarion call is needed to recruit inspirational leaders to advocate the importance of arts education.
- Young people should continue to be involved in the debate.
- Teacher training should be reviewed to include more arts.
At the end of the debate there was a general consensus that this is just the start of the conversation and it should continue. Over the coming weeks we'll be collating responses from delegates and forming a task group to prioritise and where appropriate, action recommendations. The debate demonstrated how much desire there is for the industry and educators to work together to make positive change and celebrate the arts in education. Many of us are already bridging the gap between schools and the theatre industry and so going forward we'll be planning to work more closely with organisations such as the Cultural Learning Alliance, Action for Children's Arts, What Next?, the London Theatre Consortium and UK Theatre to promote the case for the arts in education together.
Steve Ball, Associate Director for Learning & Participation at Birmingham Repertory Theatre
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