‘Attack on the Arts’ was published in the Strathclyde Telegraph, March 2015
WARNING: the following suggestion may cause bouts of surreal nostalgia and/or notions of gratitude for your current position in your academic career.
Allow me to cast your mind back to first year art in high school. The class is running riot with jobby-brown mixed paint in pots, water tubs for brushes, and bits of A3 sugar paper to fold in half and call a ‘folder’ (I know right, they make paper THIS BIG?).
Now, fast forward a couple years and its career choosing time. You’ve decided that art is your calling and you’d take Advanced Higher next year if you could. You confidently walk into your meeting with the Guidance teacher who – despite getting to know you for the past two years – proceeds to call you by your older sister’s name for the next ten minutes: standard. Imagine the sheer dismay when you scan the options form and realise that art is no longer available to third year pupils. There isn’t enough money to pay teachers for it, and you will need to seek activities outside of school if you want to keep it going. To make matters worse, all that your devoted guidance teacher can offer you is a big shoulder shrug and a prompt in the opposite academic direction.
For more than one of our youngest family members this is likely to happen in the future, a major report from Warwick University revealed at the beginning of February. The report, the Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Values, has highlighted the drops in funding for humanity-based courses across schooling. The most shocking statistic comes in the form of a 50% decrease in GCSE or equivalent entries for design and technology based subjects between 2003 and 2013. I mean fifty per cent. That means half of the people who previously studied these subjects are no longer able to for reasons likely out with their control.
In previous years, the government has said that the arts are “a key part of the national curriculum”, emphasising that access to a widely rounded subject diet is what makes pupils most employable when they leave school. You’ll know from your own higher education applications that to be, for example, an engineer some institutes are not only looking for your interest in the modern world but also for your swim badge collection est. 1999 and your passion for tackling world poverty in your spare time. When funding is simply unavailable to run the arts within schools, where do students go to attain that all important rounded edge?
It’s a sensitive subject, but a marginally unwritten fact, that some students are more reliant on their parent’s savings than others, whose circumstances are less favourable to their studies. I believe that by cutting the funding made available to the arts in schools the only option for many students is to participate in outside-of-school classes/clubs/cultural experiences – many of which might require both travel money and a beautifully co-ordinated uniform. The report suggested that the cost of young people participating in extra-curricular activities was making them far less attainable for families with low-income, thus having the potential to generate an extremely blunt division between middle and lower class students.
Without educational intervention, we are in danger of enabling a two-sided population to form whereby the most advantaged students are also the most likely to get into university, most likely to be employed – and most likely to be heard in the future.
The cure for cancer may well be trapped inside the mind of someone whose parents can’t afford to fund their swimming lessons.