What everyone wants is to give all young people the same opportunities in life

Posted on 19 June 2015

No doubt the Minister of State for Schools, Nick Gibb’s response that besides the Arts, important subjects such as Esperanto and Den Building have also been left out of the EBacc curriculum, was intended to be light hearted and not taken seriously. However, those of us who believe passionately in the Arts as an important educational tool found this remark, on top of the fact that the Arts are being side-lined in the curriculum, as most unfortunate.

It is a mistake to side-line the Arts in the school curriculum. There is no better place to ensure all children, regardless of their social or ethnic background, are exposed to this powerful educational tool. My evidence for this claim? scratch the surface of leading Captains of Industry today and I bet you will find their youthful studies and/or activities outside school included Arts subjects – learning an instrument, regularly going to the theatre with the family, singing in a choir, doing drama or having dance lessons. There is plenty of evidence that these activities that have their own intrinsic benefits, also help children achieve in their other school work too.

The economist Adam Smith advocated that workers should have access to the Arts to ensure that their lives are not simply defined by the job that they do. He said we all deserve lives that are fuller and rounder than that, and such rounded citizens are good for Society, and he said the State should fund access to the Arts if necessary. It is a mistake to leave the Arts out of the core curriculum. Concentrating on the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engingeering and Maths) without the illumination and expansion that studying the Arts can bring (STEAM) is not only too shallow but it is stultifying. Friends of mine have recently expressed that young people who are forced to concentrate only on STEM subjects are likely to turn out as nerds – a laudable but narrow achievement; or only able to see the world in black and white – a shame when there is so much colour to enjoy.

What everyone wants is to give all young people the same opportunities in life, to give them access to the same educational benefits to enable them to live their lives well and to the full and to make positive contributions to Society. The only way of ensuring that this powerful educational tool is not simply the preserve of those able to afford it, is by bringing it into the core curriculum.

The Belgrade’s invention of Theatre in Education (TiE) in 1965, directly challenged this status quo by bringing theatre into the classroom and using drama as an educational tool. Since then it has become a world-wide movement because its power is recognized in educational systems the world over. All the children take part, whatever their ethnic or social background, and it is truly open access. And this year in its 50th anniversary we are celebrating this with our Inspiring Curiosity Festival, and everyone can take part through our I Support Drama In Schools pledge. We have also developed Acting Out that works with pupils in Years 10 and 11 who are struggling in the traditional school system, and at risk of exclusion, and we help them turn their lives around. We use drama programmes that aid long term unemployed people get back into work. Plenty of arts organisations can provide evidence of how we have transformed lives through Arts workshop programmes. Alas, this is the area of work in our field that is most at risk with the funding cuts coming on all sides – because in bald financial terms, despite how precious it is for those whose lives it benefits, it is a cost centre, with little earning power. Which is another reason why it is so crucial that the Arts are not side-lined in the school core curriculum as well.

Besides the social value of the Arts, the Creative Economy’s role in the wider Economy is critical – it is the fastest growing strand, and side-lining the disciplines that lead to young people entering these professions is counter-productive in an economic plan that is promoting jobs and growth. Just as public investment in Arts Organisations make good economic sense, returning more than £4 per £1 invested as well as providing invaluable social benefits such as contributions to quality of life for a city and region, and promoting community cohesion – all of which is also good for the economy; and for our lives.

Coventry City Council knew this early on, which is why out of the ashes of a blitzed city it built the country’s first post war purpose-built theatre as part of its plans for a new city of the future, and gave it significant revenue funding; it enabled the birth of TiE through special funding; until its LEA funding was cut, it funded our annual TiE show that went into primary schools to help young people with transition into the secondary schools; it continues to fund arts and culture in the city although under increasing financial pressure; and now it is backing a bid for Coventry to be City of Culture 2021. It is exciting to be living in a city with vision.

Joanna Reid