Creativity and the arts


‘Apparently the arts and humanities aren’t important’ – so tweeted architectural historian and broadcaster Jonathan Foyle at the weekend alongside a photo like the one above of the vast Glastonbury crowd. His ironic tweet hints at widespread concern about the downgrading of creative subjects in the school curriculum (and the humanities in universities), a point made by the director of the V&A museum this week. Such concern is not new. A 2015 report said that creativity and the arts were being squeezed out of schools, and a 2018 BBC survey suggested that 90% of secondary schools had cut back on lesson time, staff and/or facilities in at least one creative arts subject. Life-Based Learning is an approach to education and development that is all about opening up children’s minds, helping them explore the world in imaginative ways and express themselves creatively.

There is no problem finding evidence of the government making the right noises about the importance of creativity and the arts. Ahead of the launch of Young V&A, the UK’s first museum of art, design and performance created with and for young people, the culture secretary Lucy Frazer said:

Young V&A is going to encourage countless young people to dream big and unlock their creativity. We want to maximise the potential of our creative industries with a pipeline of talented young people and this space, dedicated to art, design and performance, will inspire young people to pursue creative careers in the future.

Lucy Frazer, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Meanwhile, in 2022 – to take another example – the government published its grandly titled national plan for music education, which began with an appropriately uplifting vision as it reminded us of the importance of music for children’s development:

Every child should receive a great music education. Learning about music and having the opportunity to play musical instruments and make music together is a vital part of a rich and rounded education. Music plays a key role in brain development. It helps to develop language, motor skills, emotional intelligence and collaboration skills.

But a combination of funding pressures on schools and an increased emphasis on core academic subjects means that there is an all too familiar gulf between rhetoric and reality, mirroring the “horrible disparity” in arts education provided by state and private schools that Tristram Hunt, director of the V&A, referred to at the launch of the Young V&A museum.

The shadow arts minister, Barbara Keeley, highlighted in a speech this week the calamitous drop in recent years in student take-up of arts subjects and in the number of teachers in those subject areas:  

  • the number of students taking arts GCSEs has fallen by 40% since 2010
  • there are now 12,000 fewer students taking music (a 27% reduction)
  • the number of drama teachers in state-funded secondary schools in England has fallen by 22% since 2011
  • there has been a 15% decline in the number of music teachers and a 12% decline in the number of art and design teachers over the same period
  • the number of art and design trainee teachers has nearly halved in the past two years

A New Direction, a not-for-profit organisation generating opportunities for children and young people to develop their creativity, was involved in producing a major report in 2022 called The Arts in Schools: Foundations for the Future.

The report called for creative subjects to be central to a rethink of England’s education system. Its recommendations included widespread adoption of the title ‘expressive arts’ as a collective term to strengthen understanding of the place – and importance – of arts education alongside other curriculum areas. It also called for an arts entitlement within the school day, with extra-curricular arts as an additional offer:

Every child, including those in academies, should have an entitlement to a minimum of four hours of expressive arts education per week to the end of key stage 3. It is important that extra-curricular arts provision is not seen as a substitute for curriculum arts delivery, but is available for young people to extend their arts engagement to a deeper level. Opportunities should be made available for young people to continue with their arts interests outside of exam syllabuses at key stages 4 and 5 – as is the case with sport.

from the executive summary of The Arts in Schools: Foundations for the Future

In our blog Promoting creativity we discussed the 2022 report published by the Times Education Commission. We said that the commission’s final report made a number of points that chimed with Life-Based Learning thinking on the need to promote creativity and critical thinking:

  • that schools “must be encouraged to foster individual curiosity as well as imparting information”
  • that the focus on traditional academic subjects has led to “a narrowing of education”, at the expense of creativity, design and practical work
  • that learning should be fun, “with hands-on experience as well as desk work”

Read More About Creativity and Critical Thinking

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