A painting from a GCSE art pupil at Ipswich High School

With news that many secondary schools across the UK are cutting the creative subjects from the curriculum, it is an opportune time to question their purpose and assess their value. What role does the study of Art, Design Technology, Music, and Drama play in a young person’s life? What do they learn from the study of the creative subjects?

Fundamentally, creative subjects challenge pupils to think in a different way. It is often through trial and error, experimentation, and self-evaluation that pupils reach successful outcomes. It takes confidence and resilience to fail and revisit that failure, addressing it and working through it to reach a better outcome. Often pupils are working with a theme which is quite personal to them and this takes courage to present to an audience. Not only does this develop their communication skills, it also allows them the chance to reflect on the issue, a cathartic process for many.

When creating a piece of art they will need to research other artists and designers, showing knowledge and understanding of the context of their own work.  Pupils learn how to carry out independent research which encompasses History, Geography, Religious Studies, English Literature, and many other subjects.  Last year one of my pupils was investigating natural forms using a marbling ink technique for their paintings. This led to some intriguing research around microscopic bacteria and petri dish collections. Being able to evidence her scientific knowledge and passion for the subject in a visual form was highly valuable for her, she went on to study medicine at Cardiff University.

Within a pupil’s school day, it is liberating to go from a subject where there are right and wrong answers to a subject where there are ‘different answers’.  It can be hugely beneficial for those who struggle with school, for many different reasons, to know that there are multiple approaches and ways of thinking critically and creatively.  This is not to suggest that ‘anything goes’ and that there is not an assessment criteria in place, it is more that the criteria embraces multitude interpretations.

Fifteen years ago the UK government introduced the initiative ‘Every Child Matters’ which focused on supporting young people to be healthy, safe, enjoying and achieving. Education has an important part to play in every child’s life and so to deny them this broad curriculum goes against everything the initiative stands for. If every child matters then every opportunity to access a full range of subjects matters.

What do we want an education to offer? A job at the end of it all? The pressure to get a job is often cited as a reason not to do a creative subject and yet this is tremendously short-sighted. Without the next generation of designers, artists, musicians, and actors, how will the creative industries survive? If these subjects are cut from the curriculum, there will be a profound negative effect on the related industries. Currently the creative Industries are the second biggest wealth income generator next to the service industries.

Furthermore, in a world where the next generation are more likely than ever to have multiple careers, it seems logical to give them a broad curriculum with a range of skills to equip them fully. At Ipswich High School we fully embrace creativity and it is embedded in our curriculum, from Pre-Prep all the way through to Sixth Form, supporting movements such as the STEAM initiative that blends the arts with STEM subjects.

By Imogen Vickers, Head of Art