Monday, 9 June 2014

Shall We Dance, Mr. Gove?

Last week Ofqual (the UK Qualifications watchdog) announced that some of the so called ‘soft’ subjects would be abolished from the GCSE timetable. Amongst them, Performing Arts.

Ever since I was a child, I have always loved any kind of Performing Art. I grew up watching Fred Astaire & Gene Kelly films, attended Ballet & Tap lessons, and desperately tried to emulate Margot Fonteyn or Ginger Rogers ( both on a good day!).

I took part in school plays and dabbled in amateur dramatics at the age of 14.
When I was older, I went on to study for a B.Ed. (Hons) in Education & Dance at what is now the University of Brighton.

After leaving college, I started teaching Dance to Asian & Afro-Caribbean children in inner city Leicester. It was the era of Michael Jackson’s Thriller and the newly arrived ‘breakdancing’ and ‘body popping’.

I taught Dance & Drama for 20yrs in various secondary schools around the UK.
This would involve organising dance clubs, drama clubs, arts festivals and workshops. Not to mention the good old school productions: Bugsy Malone, Grease, The Little Shop of Horrors and Dracula Spectacular.

Dozens of children were involved in these productions, at all levels. Whether it was acting, dancing, singing, or backstage. Yes, the obvious candidates took part; children that were destined for a future in the arts. But there were also children that could not fit in, children that struggled with the academic subjects, children that were often thrown out of lessons because of their behavior and children that usually had no interest in school. These students were finally given an opportunity to shine, to have a sense of achievement and also to enjoy part of their school life.

I taught both subjects at GCSE level and later became an A ‘Level examiner for Drama & Theatre Arts for Edexcel.

What did I learn from all of this? That the Arts are vital for a well - rounded curriculum, at any level. That the curriculum cannot just consist of academic or ‘rigorous’ subjects. I learnt that children of all ages gain a great deal from the Arts:

1)    Confidence
2)    Interpersonal /communication skills
3)    Self-discipline
4)    Self-expression/Creativity
5)    Concentration skills.

These skills are as vital today as they were when I first started teaching in 1984.
To quote Brian Lightman, General Secretary of the Association of School & College Leaders

‘Core subjects are important but they are not enough. To compete successfully we need quality GCSE & A ‘Level subjects which have equal status in the eyes of employers.
We need finally to let go of this toxic discourse about ‘soft’ and ‘rigorous’ subjects. In a global economy we need young people who have all kinds of skills in a range of disciplines’.

If we neglect the Performing Arts or even drop them from the GCSE timetable, where will our actors, dancers and directors of the future come from? We will have no Benedict Cumberbatches, no Darcy Bussells and no Ken Loaches.

 I now run Blackhen Education - An English Classroom Online.

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