Creative arts – a class issue

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Michael Gove’s destruction of the creative and performing arts is an indelible stain on  this Government’s record.

Rich experiences in art, music, drama and media should be the entitlement of all young people. Creative subjects and activities provide an emotional satisfaction and social recognition which goes deeper than any test or exam scores. As education minister, Gove did his best to eliminate these opportunities.

Gove’s version of the National Curriculum has reduced children to cramming for SATs and the phonics test. Faced with impossible targets, teachers across England were driven towards fulfilling the tight technical demands of the tests, regardless of the lack of purpose or real meaning for their pupils. Conservative government has reduced education to drudgery. 

The creative arts (drama, music, etc), and practical subjects such as Design and Technology, were deliberately omitted from Gove’s “English Baccalaureate”. This has led to a steep decline in young people studying these subjects to GCSE. Altogether GCSE entries in creative arts and design and technology have gone down 38% from 2010 to 2019. A-level entries in these subjects sank by 29% in the same years.

Not surprisingly, there was protest from bodies representing arts professionals and from the ‘creative industries’ such as music and television. The CBI pointed out that “The creative industries are one of the fastest growing sectors in the UK economy, so the decline in creative subjects must be reversed.”

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Suddenly, after nine years of narrow-minded neglect, the authors of the Conservative election manifesto appear to have woken up – but only marginally. In fact, the promise of extra funds hardly scratches the surface. Secondary schools have been promised an “arts premium” to fund “enriching activities for all pupils.” The budget amounts to a tokenistic £33 per student !

Let’s compare that with Boris Johnson’s old school. Eton does not skimp on the creative arts. Its website claims that “over 70 musicians come to Eton specifically to give music lessons”. Little impact of Gove’s EBacc there!

According to its website :

In recent years a very generous building programme has doubled the size and scope of the Music Schools. The new building consists of a purpose-built orchestral rehearsal room, recording studio, computer room with twelve PC workstations, a pre/post-production suite, rock band studio, electric guitar teaching room, and twelve other teaching and practice rooms. The old Music School has been rebuilt. It now consists of three floors of teaching, rehearsal and practice rooms, together with a 250-seater Concert Hall, academic teaching rooms, a library and an organ room.

Over 1000 music lessons are taught each week by seven full-time masters and over 70 visiting teachers; instruments range from sitar and tabla to the full range of orchestral and solo instruments. Senior boys put on their own concerts: orchestras, bands, choirs and music technology provide wide and varied musical opportunities. 

The drama facilities are equally stunning. A 400-seat theatre “is staffed by 5 full time theatre professionals led by an Artistic Director”, with all the latest equipment.

Old Etonians such as Boris Johnson can have little idea of life in state schools. They certainly don’t tolerate educational drudgery for their own children. We shouldn’t tolerate it for ours.

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