A report on the Future of Cultural Values, conducted by Warwick University, suggests that today’s school pupils are missing out on quality arts and culture education, despite National Curriculum requirements.
Between 2003 and 2013, GCSE applications for art and design fell by half, with a drop also seen in other arts subjects, like drama and music. This had an obvious knock-on effect for AS level uptake and, subsequently, opportunities for teachers and tutors in arts subjects have fallen. In universities, some specialist arts courses such as furniture making have been axed altogether.
Although a more recent study shows that GCSE uptake in arts subjects rose between 2013 and 2014, it’s thought that one reason for the overall fall over the last decade is cost. While schools supply basic materials, they often require students to purchase their own sketch books or specialist materials for woodworking, textiles or product design – costs which can out-price lower income families.
Others point the finger at the government’s focus on STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths), suggesting that, even within these core subjects, creativity plays an important role that needs to be nurtured. The introduction of the English Baccalaureate(EBacc) has also been cited as a cause. Introduced as a performance measure in schools from 2010, teenagers can be awarded the EBacc qualification if they achieve a grade C or higher in GCSE English, maths, science, history or geography, and a language. There is, however, no arts option within the EBacc. In response, some schools have dropped subjects such as textiles and design technology. Under Gove, there were plans to scrap GCSEs entirely, swapping them for EBacc qualifications – a scheme which was scrapped in 2013.
Arts as an important way of enjoying and enriching life, as well as a therapeutic aid. Painting, crocheting and knitting can be wonderfully relaxing, as well as rewarding; crafts often play a key role in psychiatric therapy, and music is well-known for it’s calming and confidence-building qualities. Despite reducing the potential for Britain to produce leading artists, actors, architects, script writers, musicians…, it is thought that a fall in creativity could dilute wider and more general interest and enthusiasm for British arts and culture. With lower income families at the greatest risk, this could create a deep cultural divide between the richest and poorest.
In response, the Department for Education recently increased their funding for arts-related education projects. It’s also hoped that new craft initiative and TV programmes like The Great British Sewing Bee could help weave arts, crafts and creativity back into English culture.