Deepening the Divide

Why studying the arts until 16 could spell disaster.

The recent recommendation to make schoolchildren study the arts till they are 16 is a definite sign that the government’s ideal state education is far from ideal.

The government’s push for the EBacc (English Baccalaureate) is ridiculous. It drives state schools to focus on very specific subjects, whilst dropping funding for other “softer” options such as music, art and drama.

The sound of the public-private divide…

What the government fails to realise is that these so-called “softer subjects” have as much a place in education as their traditional counterparts. They provide the well-rounded and broad education that every child deserves.

Not everyone is going to love painting or singing, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have the choice to take it if they wish.

When money was readily available, state schools embraced these subjects –  I can speak from experience. My sister went to boarding school: alongside economics and Latin she learnt violin and was part of her school’s chapel choir.

I went to state school, which in an effort to improve overall academic performance, also encouraged us to do extra-curricular activities. It was only able to do this because the Scottish Government deliberately gave money to schools  in need of improvement to spend on such activities.

If subjects such as music and drama are lost to state schools, driven by government funding incentives to focus on the EBacc, then the ability to develop intellectually outside of English and geography will become the preserve of private education.

In private education, there is not the same need to reach targets in the same way as there is in the state sector. They are not threatened with funding cuts if they fail to meet an initiative, and they have the resources to give each pupil the choice to study fine art or economics, music or history.

It’s not that education shouldn’t focus on increasing levels of literacy and numeracy – they are absolutely vital for our lives beyond school. But, to say that they are the be-all and end-all of education’s scope is to miss a vital component of what school is for: development of the whole person.

If the focus remains on the EBacc, at the expense of those “softer” subjects, what are the consequences? The wedge between state and private will deepen until it stands as an absolute division, one which has long sought to be blurred by Cambridge for years.

Sure, state-school students may be more likely to finish school more able to write than they were before, but will they be able to sing?

  • Basic Subjects

    The English Baccalaureate requires students to have GCSEs in English, maths, two sciences, one of history or geography and an ancient or modern foreign language – that's six in total. If your school can't find the time on its timetables to provide music, art or drama then perhaps they should employ a more capable timetabler or better teachers.

    • Stuff

      The issue is likely to be the presence of a very broad range of abilities in certain schools, owing to a) the policy of "inclusion" rather than removal of SEN or disruptive children, and b) the fact that in many schools English is not the first language of a large proportion of the pupils. This means that a disproportionate amount of time must be allocated to core subjects to ensure that mimimum standards are met for the largest possible number of children. Unless you have ever been a pupil, teacher or observer at one of these schools then you are not sufficiently informed to offer a valid opinion.

      • What a cock

        That you put inclusion in inverted commas sums up how much of a twat you are.

      • Ignorant.

        So children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) should be "removed" from schools? That's a ridiculous and incredibly ignorant thing to say. For the first part, SEN kids are usually given extra support through either teaching assistants or special units which support their learning alongside other pupils. This ensures minimum disruption to other students' learning. Secondly, completely separating SEN and other children may be for the best in the most severe cases, when children need one-to-one support, but for the vast majority of students with SEN, being in a mainstream school is the best outcome. It allows them to operate in the real world, rather than being excluded, and it also helps the rest of the students become more tolerant and understanding of their situation.

        For the record, my brother is autistic, and in a mainstream school, so I hope that makes me "sufficiently informed to offer a valid opinion".

    • Time

      isn't the problem mate.

  • Tab Commenting

    Basic subject

  • Agreed

    Very well thought out article. This is a real and deepening issue. What to do?

  • Michael Gove

    The "soft subjects" are still available, they just aren't counted in the league tables as being as important as the Ebac.
    5 A-Cs used to be the standard measure of "passing", but if that includes U's in english, maths, science, a language and and an art then a school shouldn't be applauded for it.

  • Sense

    Yes, what I want from people who will be leaving school in the future is for them to be able to sing. Whether or not they can write or read is of little importance, as these are not skills which will be used in the workplace, unlike singing.

    I look forward to the day when the streets are full of buskers who are truly able to sing and when my solicitor, bank teller, and teacher are no longer 'more able to read and write'.

  • Basic Subjects

    The English Baccalaureate requires students to have GCSEs in English, maths, two sciences, one of history or geography and an ancient or modern foreign language – that's six in total. If your school can't find the time on its timetables to provide music, art or drama then perhaps they should employ a more capable timetabler or better teachers.

  • GGG

    'Sure, state-school students may be more likely to finish school more able to write than they were before, but will they be able to sing?'

    Yeah, and which is more important do you think?

  • Think

    There is quite obviously still room for vocational subjects within this structure. Whilst it is problematic that this structure appears to be undervaluing vocational subjects, in some ways it is the fact that less privileged children are often encouraged to do these subjects that is 'deepening the divide'. It undermines their capability to achieve and means that they come out of schools often less employable or with less opportunities to go onto further education if they decide that's what they want to do. Schools may encourage students to do vocational 'soft' subjects because they think they're easier and so pupils will do better in them and so it won't pull them down in the league table as much, when actually it's not what's best for the child. The advantage of the EBacc is that that will no longer be an issue.

  • Motion

    Serious opinion articles have no place on the Tab.

  • ISpeakForTheStudents

    This is an utter OUTRAGE. Why is the government not supporting subjects like Gender Studies? If these subjects are cut, how will children like me learn to oppose the evil white male hierarchy as led by DSK? Some may say that Gender Studies isn't even a proper subject, but I'm a feminist supporting equality, so by disagreeing with me you are re-affirming our twisted patriarchal society and effectively legitimising rape!