Picture it, Blackpool 1988. It is the first year of GCSEs and no one, not a teacher, nor a student had any idea, a single clue what to expect. Our mock papers were CSE/O -level and we were woefully under prepared. The one constant at my all-girls school was the subject options. Time stood still there, the uniform was unchanged from the 1950’s and everything was grey. Yes, everything! When I took my options and asked if there was a possibility of a non-traditional (for my school) subject like, for example ‘psychology’ and/or ‘sociology’ or the ‘possibility of taking TWO arts subjects or TWO humanities subjects, my headmistress looked me straight in the eye and said “ We have no room for new fangled ideas like that at this school, young lady! Don’t be greedy. We don’t teach new-fangled fashionable subjects, and no-one needs to indulge themselves by being too liberal. Two arts! I suppose you would like to do without maths or chemistry so that you can paint?”
I had played the flute since age seven and acted since aged four. I also danced. I took dance lessons, drama lessons and music lessons and regularly performed competitively in my free time. I also took dance, music and drama examinations. I was not an academic, I never have been. I am a creative. My best GCSE grades would likely come from music and drama. Now, I was being told that I couldn’t study both. I was also being dismissed, diminished and in my eyes being made to feel a little ridiculous. Arts subjects kept me sane. By expressing myself creatively, I was able to be a little happier. Often, I was the focus of bullying and so art, drama and music gave me a ‘happy place’. I was not only better at these subjects; I had an outlet. They also allowed me to think, express myself and that expression then fed into other subjects such as Chemistry. Biology and English.
Arts education can take many forms. Woodworking, pottery, poetry, media, film, photography etc. Every child, every individual will have a medium which they adore. Something which, relaxes, unlocks, inspires, invigorates and/or enthuses them.
I believe the purpose of education is complex. However, I believe that one benefit of education is to produce happy, well rounded individuals with a sense of purpose. The arts helped give that to me. That’s why I believe they are crucial, and they must be given parity within the curriculum.
Here is a really interesting article if you’d like to read more about the changes to the GCSE’s. It states that the drama GCSE is now a 70% written paper and only 30% performance – which I also find greatly disappointing. I would like to advocate for a revision to the syllabus – if this is truly the case!