Deepening the Divide

Why studying the arts until 16 could spell disaster.

The recent recommendation to make schoolchildren study the arts till they are 16 is a definite sign that the government’s ideal state education is far from ideal.

The government’s push for the EBacc (English Baccalaureate) is ridiculous. It drives state schools to focus on very specific subjects, whilst dropping funding for other “softer” options such as music, art and drama.

The sound of the public-private divide…

What the government fails to realise is that these so-called “softer subjects” have as much a place in education as their traditional counterparts. They provide the well-rounded and broad education that every child deserves.

Not everyone is going to love painting or singing, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have the choice to take it if they wish.

When money was readily available, state schools embraced these subjects –  I can speak from experience. My sister went to boarding school: alongside economics and Latin she learnt violin and was part of her school’s chapel choir.

I went to state school, which in an effort to improve overall academic performance, also encouraged us to do extra-curricular activities. It was only able to do this because the Scottish Government deliberately gave money to schools  in need of improvement to spend on such activities.

If subjects such as music and drama are lost to state schools, driven by government funding incentives to focus on the EBacc, then the ability to develop intellectually outside of English and geography will become the preserve of private education.

In private education, there is not the same need to reach targets in the same way as there is in the state sector. They are not threatened with funding cuts if they fail to meet an initiative, and they have the resources to give each pupil the choice to study fine art or economics, music or history.

It’s not that education shouldn’t focus on increasing levels of literacy and numeracy – they are absolutely vital for our lives beyond school. But, to say that they are the be-all and end-all of education’s scope is to miss a vital component of what school is for: development of the whole person.

If the focus remains on the EBacc, at the expense of those “softer” subjects, what are the consequences? The wedge between state and private will deepen until it stands as an absolute division, one which has long sought to be blurred by Cambridge for years.

Sure, state-school students may be more likely to finish school more able to write than they were before, but will they be able to sing?

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