Let's Not Cut Creativity
You will have seen the furore over the last couple of weeks about the cutting of History of Art A-level. Many of my close friends have been lamenting the end of a subject which inspired, challenged and enlightened them. This seems to be part of a greater trend.
About two years ago I was approached by a few parents from a local (highly-acclaimed) state school because Drama had been cut as a GCSE and A-level option there. We arranged for the course to be delivered externally, to a group of girls who were passionate about pursuing their love for theatre. I was shocked to hear that the subject which had so shaped my own learning and identity was no longer available as part of the school syllabus.
The Guardian reported today that Music is another subject which, with dwindling numbers and funding, is being consigned to the scrap-heap at some schools.
The reason for all this? A combination of the government's focus on STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) and the introduction of the EBacc (which makes it essential for all students to take English, Maths, History or Geography, the Sciences and a language to GCSE) have simply crowded the so-called 'soft subjects' out of the picture. And what on earth is meant by 'soft subjects', anyway? In my experience Drama, Art, Music etc. were in many ways the hardest A-level subjects to excel in; not only did they require ideas, practice and research far beyond classroom hours, but they rewarded talent, originality and boldness in a way that few other academic subjects do.
Here's the real irony: as a grown-up, I increasingly think it's creative thinking, confidence and imagination that really get you places in life. History of Art is perhaps the only subject that focussed on visual literacy as a skill - and it's precisely that visual literacy which underpins not only the UK's flourishing fine art scene, but the fields of advertising, graphic design, branding, architecture, fashion and media. Even running a business that is not explicitly design-based, I find an awful lot of time is spent looking at, or talking about, imagery - the ability to bring artistic, design flair to an enterprise is a key part of being an entrepreneur. Moreover, the need to pitch, sell and present, which is central in most careers, requires all the public speaking and improvisation skills that are best honed through a proper education in theatre arts. There is almost zero teaching of public speaking or performance in the UK school system outside the creative subjects of Drama, Music and Dance.
It's a value judgement - and a confusing, unsubstantiated one at that - to say that Geography or ICT is fundamentally more useful than these subjects.
In a few moments I'm off to meet my four best school friends for lunch. I always feel proud of my gang: a theatre producer, a classical music agent, a magazine editor and a lawyer - and me, teaching and running a business. All of us agree that creativity is at the heart of what we do. Why, then, are these A-levels being cut? It's sad and short sighted. As a soon-to-be parent (baby's ETA is in 10 days!) I'll be looking for ways to ensure my little one gets a thorough creative education, even if it has to occur outside the classroom.