The death of the arts?

By the time policy-makers recognise the importance of the arts, it may be too late to save them, says Dr Bernard Trafford in SecEd.

What do you prefer: breadth or specialisation? In my view, that’s not a helpful question. Indeed, rather than giving an “either, or” answer, I would always want “both, and…”.

For example, I regret the fact that, when we discuss whether schools should ditch A levels and follow the International Baccalaureate, in most cases it has (for reasons of resourcing) to be a question of either one or the other. This is unfortunate, because I would like students at the age of 16 to have the choice between that broad-based course embracing several subjects at different levels and the opportunity to drop most and specialise in areas of specific interest to them.

Thus I don’t sign up, as others do, to the notion that even a would-be scientist should be forced to carry on beyond GCSE with English, a foreign language, or even an expressive subject. Eventually (and I tend to think 16 is the right age), young people must be allowed to choose and to focus tightly if necessary on the path they want to follow.

But what about before 16? There I believe in breadth. Indeed, when some advocate early entry to GCSE for mathematicians with flair (to take just one example), I generally argue against it. If they are doing so well, let them devote more time to things outside the classroom – music, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, sport, acting, outdoor education, all those additional things that so enrich a student’s school life, but which are too often undervalued because they don’t bring with them any coveted examination points.

There lies my concern with the current position. And, though I will appear to be hugely critical of the English Baccalaureate, created by Michael Gove when education secretary, its damaging effects represent no more than an acceleration along an already-established path towards utilitarianism in education – so much so, indeed, that the effects of the EBacc, while deplorable in my view, would probably have come about eventually, even if that particular scheme hadn’t been dreamed up on the back of a ministerial (or advisor’s) fag-packet.

The Blair government was perhaps the first to jump on the bandwagon of entrepreneurship, though its successors have tended to follow it. It appreciated that a country needs go-getters, those who will take risks, invest, often lose, but persevere until they win through in developing their new product, idea or service. I’ve always found it ironical that successive administrations have tried to push schools into running programmes to help pupils to become entrepreneurs, yet at the same time they have gradually downgraded the creative subjects.

Read the full article The death of the arts?

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