Samantha Price

The value of an arts education

As the government strives for higher academic standards, Benenden School head Samantha Price questions where this leaves the creative arts

The value of an arts education
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With another year of public exams behind us, the education sector continues to navigate its way through the government’s significant programme of reform at GCSE and A-level. These changes are aimed at raising standards, a mission that few would argue with; and in pursuit of this laudable goal, the independent school heads I’ve spoken with are broadly unopposed to the considerable amount of time that we have all devoted in recent years to implementing and adjusting to these reforms successfully.

However, heads are all grappling with the same challenge: how do we structure and focus our curriculums to provide the necessary time to deliver the new syllabi without compromising the important place that creative arts have in our schools, as well as other important aspects of our co-curricular programmes which contribute to the whole education of a young person?

There is a risk that the creative arts subjects get squeezed as curriculum time and funding is diverted to support the subjects the government deems to be more academic. The creative arts are noticeably being held in lesser regard than the core trio of English, maths and the sciences and the other ‘facilitating subjects’ — history, geography and languages — as universities and employers seemingly prioritise strong grades in these areas.

One of the strengths of the British system is a firm belief that schools exist to provide a rounded education, to inspire children to develop skills beyond the classroom and to pursue their passions in life. The creative arts subjects are an essential component of this and it is proven that developing skills in these areas aids both academic performance and emotional wellbeing.

Research has shown that pupils who play musical instruments achieve higher academic grades, but the creative arts are about more than results. They offer pupils experiences that help shape their character, that teach them resilience, how to cope under pressure and to rise to the occasion: skills that last a lifetime. Furthermore, it is essential that schools continue to develop the pipeline of skills for future creative industries. Arguably, if this pipeline slows, then these industries — so successful in Britain — will be badly affected, damaging a vital sector of the economy.

Schools that are able to devote energy, time and, yes, resources to these opportunities do so because they channel young people’s talents in ways that classroom learning cannot, and they allow pupils who might be in the shadow of others in, for example, a chemistry lesson, to flourish and shine.

If schools find themselves unable to provide such opportunities, we need to take a long, hard look at the direction that education is taking in this country. It can’t be that in order to raise standards we need to compromise on the breadth of the curriculum in favour of purely achieving strong academic outcomes. Indeed, strong academic outcomes, more often than not, come to a pupil who has enjoyed a balanced curriculum and most certainly a well-rounded school-leaver is one who has enjoyed a balanced curriculum and is most likely to go on and thrive in the workplace.

When we consider the purpose of education, we must never lose sight of the fact that it is as much about developing each individual in our care to grow in confidence, develop talent and understand themselves as it is about the grades they achieve. As we all know, grades in later life don’t define an individual, it is who they are and how they perceive themselves and others, as well as what they stand for and believe in, that will define them. Experiencing the wonders of the creative arts at school goes a significant way to facilitating this and arguably has its continuing place at the heart of our schools.

An education without creativity is not, in my view, a complete education.


Samantha Price is headmistress of Benenden School.