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Looking at the bigger picture

Girls drawingThe number of pupils taking arts subjects at GCSE and A level has dropped over the last decade

From art and design to fashion and architecture, the UK is a global leader in the creative world. The latest statistics from the government show that the UK’s creative industries generate £91.8bn a year for the economy.

But many are concerned that the number of pupils in England taking arts subjects (including art and design, dance, design and technology, drama and music) at GCSE dropped by 35 per cent between 2010 and 2018.

Industry experts and school heads alike argue that the government’s education reforms – which prioritise the core academic subjects of maths, English, science, a foreign language and either history or geography – have exacerbated the decline, while school funding cuts have made the situation worse.

Commenting on the decline in students taking arts GCSEs, Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, warned earlier this year: ‘Maintaining the skills pipeline is vital to the future of the creative industries and the drop in uptake of arts GCSEs would directly affect this.’

When our writers visit schools across the country, popping into the art room or watching play rehearsals are often our favourite parts of the day. It’s very inspiring to see pupils grow in confidence and self-esteem, express their creativity and let off steam on the stage, in the orchestra and in art classes.

Research by the Cultural Learning Alliance has found that participating in structured arts activities (such as art, drama and music) can increase young people’s cognitive abilities by 17 per cent. Other reports have suggested that studying at least one creative subject helps teenagers to deal with the stress of their GCSE years. Indeed, when the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST) conducted a survey of 12,000 nine to 18-year-old students in 2016 a fifth said art was the lesson they looked forward to most.

Some pupils, of course, get the chance to pursue their enthusiasm for the creative arts out of school but many, particularly children in disadvantaged areas, miss out on these valuable opportunities.

One organisation that is doing impressive work in bringing the arts to schools is the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), which runs a host of initiatives to make Shakespeare ‘vivid, accessible and enjoyable’ for children and their teachers. The RSC’s education department works with around 1,800 secondary and primary schools every year, prioritising schools in areas of socio-economic disadvantage, running broadcasts to schools free of charge and hosting workshops.

Big names from different parts of the musical world, singer Ed Sheeran and musical director of the London Symphony Orchestra Sir Simon Rattle, have also recently added their voices to the debate. Commenting on an online article on the Financial Times website about how cuts to music education could damage the UK economy, Ed Sheeran said, ‘I benefited hugely from state school music, as I'm sure many other UK musicians have … If you keep cutting the funding for arts you're going to be damaging one of Britain's best and most lucrative exports.’

Sir Simon Rattle also raised wider concerns about the long-term economic impact of cuts to music services in schools, saying that uncertainties over Brexit had already affected the numbers of musicians from Europe auditioning for UK orchestras. He was speaking at the launch of the LSO East London Academy. Described as a ‘bridge’ between secondary schools and conservatoires, the academy aims to identify and develop talented musicians from 10 London boroughs. Free tuition will be provided for 11-18 year-olds and one of the aims of the initiative is to increase diversity in classical music. In an interview with The Guardian he said, ‘Why do our groups of classical musicians not look like London looks and what can we do about it? … I think our artform depends on making an orchestra like the city.’

Are you worried that your children aren’t getting enough opportunities to study art, drama, music and dance at school? Let us know what you think at [email protected]

Children’s book of the month

The Beetle CollectorEach month the Good Schools Guide Newsletter chooses a brand-new book that we think children will enjoy.

Our choice for September is The Beetle Collector’s Handbook by MG Leonard (Scholastic, £10.99)

Age: 8+

MG Leonard’s award-winning debut novel, Beetle Boy was a huge hit with young readers. Published in 2016, it tells the story of Darkus Cuttle’s quest to find his father, Dr Bartholomew Cuttle, after he mysteriously vanishes from a locked vault at the Natural History Museum. Darkus knows full well his dad would never have abandoned him, so with the help of a heroic giant beetle called Baxter, he sets out to discover the truth.

Funny, heart-warming and original, Beetle Boy was swiftly followed by Beetle Queen and then Battle of the Beetles. A new era of beetle mania had begun.

Beetle Boy fans will remember that Darkus and his friends learned everything they needed to know about beetles from a book his father used as a child, The Beetle Collector’s Handbook. Now MG Leonard has created the handbook for real – and it’s a winner.

Narrated by Dr Montgomery George Leonard, an eccentric coleopterist (someone who studies beetles), and annotated with hilarious asides by Darkus and his father, it tells you everything you need to know about the world of beetles.

If you’re worried that your children might be too squeamish to enjoy it, rest assured. The book is a stunning creation, filled with fascinating facts, tips on befriending beetles and drawings of more than 50 species.

As MG Leonard herself explains: ‘I read the facts, looked at pictures and was astonished to learn how important beetles are to the planet… As I discovered the truth about beetles, I realised this world is a wonderland of insects. I’d been too busy running away from bugs to actually look at them properly.’

Now she’s fascinated by beetles – and her readers will be too. The Beetle Collector’s Handbook, beautifully illustrated by Carim Nahaboo, is the perfect companion to the Beetle Boy trilogy and a fascinating tome for budding young entomologists.


Going up, going down

Going up

Home school communication. In a recent Telegraph article Rosa Silverman asks if parents feel they are being ‘trolled’ by their children’s schools. Apparently some think that schools have adopted electronic communication rather too enthusiastically: ‘It's hard to focus at work while your phone is pinging throughout the day with various alerts from the school.’ Apps such as Parentmail (for school messages about activities/trips/Christmas fairs/headlice outbreaks and the like), or ClassDojo (real time updates on children’s progress and behaviour) are widely used. Schools also text parents with reminders about homework or sponsorship money. Makes one almost nostalgic for the crumpled weekly letter conveniently ‘lost’ at the bottom of a bag …

Graduate salaries. Analysis of 155,000 graduate CVs on jobs website Adzuna puts Imperial College as the number one place to study if you want to bag a big salary. The average Imperial graduate earns £37,931 in their first year of work, £5,000 more than many Oxbridge grads. Next comes King’s College London, followed by Oxford, UCL, Cambridge and Edinburgh; surprisingly LSE comes in at number seven, followed by Exeter and York – all nine with average graduate salaries at or above the £30,000 mark.

Going down

Academies and free schools. Both are for the chop if Jeremy Corbyn gets into Number 10. At this week’s Labour Party Conference shadow education secretary Angela Rayner pledged to halt the free school programme and put admission policies back into the hands of local authorities. All part of a plan for a ‘national education service.’

Vocational snobbery. Education secretary Damian Hinds thinks British parents should be more like their German and Dutch counterparts and learn to love technical training courses. Speaking about the government’s new ‘T-level’ qualifications, due to be piloted in 2020, he said, ‘There are still some outdated attitudes - partly because people aren’t necessarily aware of how some industries have evolved and therefore how technical training and education and certification has evolved.’

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