“Pushing science and ignoring the arts will make school students miserable”

Matias Shortcook, an associate dean at Plymouth College of Art, comments on the repercussions of secondary schools cutting resources for creative subjects such as art and design.

The repercussions of cutting resources for creative subjects in secondary schools could affect the “mental health and wellbeing” of society, says an associate dean at a higher education arts college.

Matias Shortcook, associate dean of pre-degree at Plymouth College of Art, tells Design Week that creative subjects teach students skills that enable them to “navigate real life problems”, and aid mental wellbeing, as well as positively impact on the economy.

Nine in 10 schools have cut creative subjects’ resources

His comments come after a recent survey conducted by the BBC of 1,200 schools nationwide found that 90% have cut back on lesson time, staff and facilities in at least one creative subject. Design and technology, art, music and drama were all found to be subject to cuts.

Of the schools that responded, 40% said they were spending less on facilities than previously, while 30% said they had reduced the number of lessons in creative subjects.

The findings come as recent research has found that the number of students taking GCSEs, A-Levels and university degrees in creative subjects has also dropped in recent years.

Drop in students taking art and design GCSEs

The Joint Council of Qualifications (JCQ) found that 26,800 fewer students took art, design and tech GCSEs in 2017 compared to 2016, while figures from UCAS found that 14,000 fewer students took creative subjects at university level.

The trend follows the Government’s recent push for STEM (science, tech, engineering and maths) subjects in schools, and the introduction of the EBacc (English Baccalaureate) qualification at GCSE.

The EBacc makes it compulsory for GCSE students in many schools to take English, maths, science, a language and a humanity, reducing the number of spaces left for other subjects. The Government plans to make the EBacc compulsory for 75% of GCSE students by 2022.

Government is “intimidating” schools with criteria

Shortcook says the Government’s attitude to creative subjects is “threatening and intimidating” for schools and teachers, which has resulted in these subjects bearing the brunt of funding cuts.

“We certainly should not point the finger at schools or teachers, as they do the best job they can,” he says. “The EBacc is a set of performance measures that do not look at the whole person, but only a very specific set of criteria. Pushing this will result in a very crude definition of how well schools are doing, and will not prepare young people for the future as well as a rounded education would.”

He adds that while the UK’s position as a leader in creativity is “fundamentally under threat” and that the STEM rhetoric could cause “great creative minds to die off”, he adds that a longer term repercussion could be a reduction in “happiness” for young people.

“Pushing people into science could make them miserable”

“This rhetoric where teachers and parents are pushing students to do ‘important’ subjects could result in a lot of miserable young people who end up dropping out and feeling like a failure,” he says. “They’re told to go do an engineering degree and they’ll be sorted for life. But a lot of young people will discover later that that wasn’t the vocation that was right for them.”

He adds: “Art, design and media do more than make pretty things. They teach students how to explore problems, issues and experiences, how to look at the world in different ways, and how to communicate with people from different backgrounds and cultures.

“The arts give people a voice”

“They also give a big group of people a voice, who haven’t had the advantage of a private or grammar school.”

Shortcook says that, despite budget cuts, there are further education vocational colleges which “welcome conversations in supporting the arts”, many of which partner with schools to provide young people with access to facilities and resources.

Extra-curricular clubs “great” – but not a replacement for GCSEs

Plymouth College of Art runs a weekly club called the Young Arts Club, which invites 150 people from the local region aged four to 18 to take part in 10 to 30 week programmes in different creative subjects.

But these extra-curricular initiatives cannot fully replace a well-rounded secondary education, Shortcook says.

“While these amazing educational programmes are great, they are symptoms of an issue rather than a solution,” he says. “They can’t be a true alternative to school education – one workshop is not the same as learning a subject for three hours a week, for two years.

Read the BBC’s survey results in full here.

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  • Kelvin Harvey February 16, 2018 at 8:47 pm

    Maybe we should look at the priority use of STEM subjects and Ebacc in a different way. Art, craft, resistant materials and design use all the topics covered, unlike many of the subjects themselves. You need chemistry to mix paints and glazes, math to calculate ratios, angles, and dimensions. Physics to understand colour and form. English to explain your creativity and concepts to an audience. Even geography and history play their part in understanding and inspiration. So next time someone says art is pointless, explain art is the reason for learning these subjects for they provide the essential tools for creativity, and without an outlet for these subjects what would be the point of learning them.

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