A report from the University of Warwick has shown that the arts and creativity are being “squeezed out” of British schools.
The report, entitled “Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Values”, showed that there had been a decline in both the number of arts teachers in schools across the country, along with the number of students pursuing arts as part of their GCSEs. Between 2003 and 2013, the number of students pursuing GCSEs for design and technology dropped by half. There was also a 23% decline in drama, and a 25% drop for other similar arts and craft specialties. Between 2010 and 2014, the number of arts teachers had declined by over 10%.
The report revealed that STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths – were becoming more popular. According to education professionals, the findings not only point to a decrease in the number of students pursuing the arts, but they could potentially also mean a widening of the achievement gap in education as well.
The arts and closing the achievement gap
With a reduction of arts subjects in school, the only way to access such activities is through afterschool extra-curricular programs.
However, the report found that the cost of participating in such programs often put them beyond reach for disadvantaged children. Warwick University researcher Professor Jonathan Neelands, who acted as a commission member on the report, warned that government action would be needed if there is any hope of closing the achievement gap.
“Without educational intervention, we are in danger of allowing a two-tier creative and cultural ecosystem in which the most advantaged in social and economic terms are also the most advantaged in benefiting economically, socially and personally from the full range of experiences and value in that prevailing system,” he said as the report was released, adding that children from low-income families were less likely to pursue careers in arts and culture than those from advantaged backgrounds.
Helping students succeed
Arts and cultural studies not only help pupils garner knowledge, but they can also foster a growth mindset way of thinking, something that can help close the education gap in itself.
Studies have shown that the study and practice of music and arts can assist with brain development, spatial awareness, confidence, discipline, and retention. All of these attributes can help students become more successful both inside and outside the classroom – regardless of socio-economic standing.
When it comes to closing the achievement gap then, increasing funding for arts along with the accessibility of creative education is important. Arts subjects play an integral role in providing pupils with a well-rounded education, something that can offer opportunities to students from lesser economic backgrounds. As such, the Department of Education has pledged to increase funding for music, art and cultural studies by £17 million.