By Daniel J. McLaughlin
Under David Cameron's premiership, he often spoke about British values - and why they should be taught in our schools. What is exactly defined as a British value is objective, of course. When it comes to displays of patriotism, I have very little love of a flag or a national anthem. I do not hate them, per se, but I am apathetic towards these abstract symbols. Instead, I show pride towards the British individual, those who have excelled in their fields in the past and present, and hopefully future.
I celebrate the works of William Shakespeare, the wordsmith who penned so many works of genius. And Charles Dickens - I never fail to read 'A Christmas Carol' in preparation for the big day itself. I adore the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Slade, and Iron Maiden (the band, not the torture device). P.G. Wodehouse never fails to cheer me up, Alan Bennett always tickles me, and I quote Monty Python whenever I can. Doctor Who is delightfully British, as is the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on the page, the stage, and the screen (both small and large).
L.S Lowry captures Manchester and Salford, cities I have grown to love as an adopted citizen. Turner took risks, eschewing the traditional for his incredible artwork. I own many collections of Giles, the cartoonist whose work appeared in the newspaper - and the modern-day equivalent of David Squires in the Guardian, who delights with his caricatures of football. The Beano and The Dandy were highlights of my childhood, published by DC Thomson in Dundee, Scotland.
All of these artistic geniuses who dared to dream, dared to create, and dared to inspire. The OFSTED chief inspector does not believe in risk, it would appear. Amanda Spielman has singled out further education colleges, who offer arts courses, for knowingly giving young people "false hope" about their future because of poor job prospects in the sector. It has always been a risky career, but the payoff could be beautiful.
The creative industries contribute both to the heritage of the UK and to its economy. According to figures from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the creative industries contributed a record-breaking £101.5 billion to the UK economy last year. These industries grew almost twice as quickly as the UK economy in 2017, and their gross value added (GVA) has soared by over 53 per cent since 2010 (making up 5.5 per cent of the country's entire GVA).
UK exam board OCR has called for art, music, and drama to be celebrated in schools. Paul Steer, head of policy at the exam board, said that arts in school are "a crucial ingredient in the making of UK’s creative life". But, as he notes, artists are not born skilled - they need to be taught.
“Huge numbers of creative professionals can trace the igniting of their creativity back to experiences at school, whether it was encouragement from a school art teacher, acting in a play or singing a particular piece of music at school," Steer said. "Lily Allen, Grayson Perry and Evelyn Glennie all talk with passion of the influence a particular teacher had in inspiring them to develop their creativity and follow a creative career."
Dr Pragya Agarwal breaks down into five parts why art education is important for children. Observation is one: "by focussing on an inquiry-based learning rather than skills-based learning, we can encourage children to look more closely and observe visual cues and symbols." An art education also helps children develop reflective questioning and analytical ability, along with communication skills and discussion. These skills are not just limited to the arts - they are transferable to other subjects.
Unfortunately, there have been cutbacks in teaching the arts at schools. According to a recent BBC survey, nine out of every 10 schools confirmed they are cutting back in at least one creative arts subject. That's cuts in lesson time, staff or facilities. Schools told the BBC that the increased emphasis on core academic subjects, along with funding pressures, were the most common reasons for cutting back on resources for creative subjects.
The arts play such an integral part in our heritage and culture, and yet it is having a diminishing role in the classroom. From Shakespeare to the Beatles, Wordsworth to Turner, the arts are rich in the UK - but with more cuts and cynical comments from the OFSTED chief, you wonder how role this will continue. It is a rich history, but will it be a rich future?