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For the next issue of Teach Secondary magazine, Alex Bowen, Head of Singing and Curriculum at Cambridgeshire Music, has written about why we sideline the teaching of arts subjects in schools at our peril. This is a shortened version of her article; for the full version, visit the Teach Secondary website.
Moving from secondary to primary teaching was a bit of a culture shock: if you’re used to dealing with teenagers and then start working with classes full of seven-year-olds, it takes time to adjust! But whichever age group I work with, there’s nothing like watching them learn about music, explore new things, and seeing their creativity fire. And in addition to musical development, I have seen the impact that the arts have on everything from advancement in motor skills to language and communication.
Although there is great work happening with arts provision across our county, there are also a lot of cut-backs taking place, both in the time dedicated to teaching these subjects, and the funding directed towards them. Inevitably, this has gradually shifted perceptions as well. Questions such as ‘what’s the need for weekly curriculum music lessons?’ have regrettably become commonplace.
When I work with schools experiencing these issues, I have a number of strategies. One is simply to point out that the arts are a mandatory part of the National Curriculum; in addition, the Education Inspection Framework actively recommends that schools offer a more balanced curriculum to students. But something I also learned as a Head of Music was the importance of showcasing success. Newsletters, blogs, notices in assembly and in the staff room may be a chore, but make a significant difference in ensuring the value and impact of your subject do not become invisible.
I sometimes wonder what my own future would have held had I not had regular access to the arts throughout my education. Through them, I gained more than just subject-specific skills, but emotional, cultural and transferrable skills and experience. To deprive today’s students of the opportunity to do the same would be to deny them tools that will prove invaluable as they go on to find their place in society, and build their careers.