This week Fiona Lindsay discusses the curriculum-wide benefits of studying the arts.
I recently visited Brooksbank School in Halifax. The school has lately celebrated its centenary and is a magnificently characterful building with wide red tiled corridors and high ceilings. A couple of years ago it enjoyed a make over and extension and now the older building has been integrated with modern architecture that enhances its classic appeal even further. The environment is a wonderful juxtaposition of traditional and über stylish and this combustion makes the spaces feel incredibly creative. The school has been hammered by Ofsted for its poor results in Stem subjects and the overworked staff are despairing – not about the hammering or the results, but at the lack of recognition of what they have achieved. Brooksbank is an incredibly creative school that believes passionately in the power of the arts to transform a young person’s educational experience – a metamorphosis that is not immediate, but measured over time. The school has a very active and popular arts program that serves as the beating heart of the school, as well as delivering exceptional drama, music and visual arts courses. Exposure to these subjects brings an added value to greater school life that is immeasurable. They are the lifeblood.
Why, then, is it this area of the curriculum that is being punished? Why are the deepest educational cuts always made to arts subjects? Are the people making the decisions so lacking in imagination and joyless that they are unable to recognise that, even at a foundation level, the arts enable learning across the curriculum? The head teacher at Brooksbank spoke wearily about the chinless wonders that rule education governance. It's all so back-to-front. Give teaching students and leading schools back to those who truly, truly care about the experience that they offer young people. Empower and support them. If I had my way, schools would be run like theatres, with rehearsal room practice applied in classrooms and team spirit infiltrating all disciplines. Theatres have it all – maths, science, technology, engineering – without one subject taking precedence over another. Each area is intelligently linked and the whole environment, how it thrives or doesn’t, is a result of the sum of its parts. Perhaps certain schools fail due to having key limbs cut off, thus leaving them unbalanced and under confident? An Arts House – a place where creativity and wellbeing can thrive – is surely the sort of environment in which we should be nourishing the younger generation? We need whole people, not an entire society of coders and software programmes. The grammar of theatre, music, dance and art is as important as that of technology. We must shout this aloud and enable these subjects to demonstrate their worth.
This week we publish my interview with theatre designer Max Jones. Max is the perfect fusion of artist and engineer, of head and heart. He's very whole. Why should schools nowadays settle with being hindered in helping to shape anything less?