I hope you managed to see Momentum – our school’s showcase of dance at the Old Market Theatre – last weekend and if so I hope you thought, as I did, that it was brilliant. If ever there was an argument for having Dance on the curriculum, that was it. It served me as a reminder of why it is important to keep creativity and the arts at the centre of young people’s learning, alongside the so-called ‘core’ subjects. I was reminded of this again on Wednesday as our Year 11 girls performed their practical pieces for the new and very demanding GCSE Drama specification and no doubt will be once more at tonight’s Spring Concert. Nevertheless, I am also very aware that, as an independent school, we are privileged to be able to keep this focus on the arts at a time when state funding for them, in schools and elsewhere, is being cut significantly.
This is a very sad situation because all the evidence suggests that without the arts, future generations will lack important skills and knowledge. We know, for instance, that creative subjects encourage independence and develop emotional intelligence. Students need to be self-reflective and brave in exposing their creations, and learn to accept criticism. Working in teams makes students good communicators and encourages empathy. Subjects such as music, art and drama require long hours of hard work and dedication. Students have to pay great attention to detail, to perfect and redo. Putting on a play, exhibition or concert takes strong organisational skills. The arts also develop the broader dimensions of our humanity. They can express the inexpressible and make sense of things that otherwise do not seem to.
A recent fascinating study by the all-party parliamentary group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing (Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing Report) goes even further than this by reporting on how the arts make a significant contribution to health and wellbeing throughout the UK.
However, as I watched the dance performances on Saturday night, seeing girls so powerfully comfortable in their own skin, I did think that one of the most palpable benefits of dance and of all arts subjects in school is that they encourage our girls to be (using a marketing term) ‘creatively disruptive.’ In an article for the TES, our Director of Education at the GDST, Dr Kevin Stannard, questioned whether the education system was ‘doing girls a long-term disservice’ by conforming to gender stereotypes of behaviour. He points out that even when girls outperform boys at every stage of their education, men still earn more than women, and, he argues, praising girls for their politeness, neatness and balanced, well- thought-out essays may be counterproductive because it does not develop in them the skills needed to negotiate a challenging jobs market in the future.
This is why we need to keep encouraging girls to pursue a broad range of creative subjects where they can be flexible in their thinking, innovative in their approach and, most importantly, learn to challenge the status quo.