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Creative Subjects

One of the highlights of this stage of the academic cycle is seeing the tangible results of a year’s worth of effort by students in the creative subjects.

A dazzling exhibition in Art and soon a similar display in Design & Technology, together with performances in Music, remind the entire school community how much talent and time go into achieving success in these subjects.

Strangely, the high percentage of coursework in these qualifications seems to exclude them from the all-important list of A level ‘facilitating’ subjects preferred by the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. Why having a large percentage of the assessment by means of coursework should automatically doom a subject to be considered less useful preparation for university study is far from clear. The usual criticism is that it is hard to be sure that it is the student’s unaided work but for Art or Design Technology the student must produce the work in a classroom and picking up new ideas between lessons for incorporation into the project is part of finding success in these subjects (as in most aspects of life). (This is not, of course, an endorsement of plagiarism but more a reflection of the fact that none of us are truly original but instead are continually influenced by the ideas and works of others.) The alternative idea that only subjects that can be assessed by two hour written papers indicate aptitude for academic, university learning is surely too ludicrous to consider further.

(For the Russell Group‘s list of facilitating subjects and their reasoning see the now slightly infamous booklet ‘informed choices’. The guide is essential reading for the ambitious student choosing A-level subjects although it has just been replaced with a website).

As the booklet and the website make clear there are no degree courses that require three facilitating subjects at A level, although the more facilitating subjects taken the more degree options are kept open. I could find no prestigious university course that would discriminate against a student who is taking two facilitating subjects and a creative subject. Nevertheless, an unwelcome and undeserved sense of second-class choice seems to have fallen upon the creative subjects nationally with the disparaging epithet ‘soft’ extended from the eponymous ‘media studies’ to include any subject outside of Mathematics, Further Mathematics, English Literature, the Sciences, Modern Languages, History and Geography. This seems distinctly unfair given the skills taught through the creative subjects; problem solving, resilience, time management and communication. All of these skills seem important for further study and employment. The result is that sometimes promising candidates for the creative subjects at A level buckle under the commercial pressure and opt for different, and perhaps less suitable, subject choices.

The instinct to be creative seems to be a part of what it is to be human and education must surely nurture these talents. I suspect that when adults talk about having got the ‘creative bug’ they are really reflecting a long buried sorrow dating from having their crayons removed from them at some stage in their early teens. The creative subjects are a key and compulsory component of the curriculum at SGS and in most schools for at least the first two years of secondary study. They must be available and supported at GCSE in all schools for those students who discover real talent in this area and wish to continue their studies. The introduction of GCSE Drama in September is therefore a significant step for us in supporting creativity. Work in Art adorns every available surface at SGS and enriches the entire community, with large numbers of students opting for creative subjects.

Nationally the future for the Arts appears less certain. The original, narrow league table measurement (the EBacc), of the percentage of students achieving GCSEs in English, Mathematics, two Sciences, a Language and History or Geography, has been supplemented with a broader ‘Attainment 8’ GCSE measure in response to public outcry from the arts community. This latter measure quantifies the average grade of students gained in English and Maths, three subjects from Sciences, Computer Science, Languages, History and Geography and three other subjects which can be drawn from a lengthy list including the creative subjects. Because of the huge influence league table measures have upon the curriculum and upon the allocation of resources in the maintained sector it is probably fair to say that this decision has saved the Arts from being relegated to a small and specialist interest in many schools.

Aside from the educational argument, the creative industries, such as product and graphic design, advertising, film-making and music, contribute significantly to the UK economy and seem destined to play a substantial role in a successful national future.

This topic is a favourite of the educationalist Ken Robinson who wrote ‘Creativity is as important now in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status.’ If you like that idea you can watch Ken Robinson warm to his theme by clicking here. I think that he overstates his case somewhat but I hope that he is successful in helping to keep creative subjects at the forefront of education.