Happy New Year and welcome to our school’s 140th Birthday! I do hope everyone had a pleasant festive season – although it all seems very far away now.

An interesting article this week compared British and American children’s literature, arguing that the British tell better children’s stories because our history informs fantastical myths and legends, while American tales tend to focus on moral realism. 

It made me think about how important it is to foster imagination and a sense of the fantastic in children and how in schools we face challenges in encouraging young people to continue to push boundaries in art and literature.

This week saw our GCSE Options Briefing for parents of Y9 girls. It is clear to all of us that the demands of the new GCSEs are squeezing our curriculum. All schools are having to tread a fine line between preparing young people for public examinations and the realities of a future jobs market and continuing to foster artistic risk-taking and curiosity.

If there was one unifying theme in all the media outpouring following the death of David Bowie this week, it was an acknowledgement of his consistent creativity and gift for invention. John Harris in his article in The Guardian suggested: ‘In mourning Bowie we mourn the end of an era when art could truly subvert.’ 

Harris also recounts some illuminating details of Bowie’s education:

…despite passing his 11-plus, he precociously insisted on being educated at Bromley Technical school, a place apparently designed to produce commercial artists and engineers, where the art department was run by a teacher who fired up his pupils’ creativity and curiosity… Later on, after first attempts at a career in music, Bowie sampled the creative whirl that had been sparked by the UK’s art schools in an enterprise called the Beckenham Arts Lab, and studied dance and mime under the choreographer Lindsay Kemp.

Of course, the Butler Act vision for a tripartite system of schooling quickly died out and today the educational options for young people under 16 are very different. However, I’m not sure that I share Harris’s sense of a lost era, especially as I look at some of the exciting and innovative work our girls produce in Art, Dance, Music, English and so on. The possibilities for art to be subversive are still there – we just have to fight very hard to keep them alive in our schools.