When I went to school the school play, and the band were an important part of my school life. They taught me valuable things that other subjects could not have done. When I left school and became a drama teacher it was an exciting time. Drama studios were built across the country and when dance and drama were offered at GCSE level the numbers rose year on year. I know how much many young people loved their arts subjects and what they got from them.
In 2010, the government decided to introduce an educational baccalaureate (e-bacc). There was a greater emphasis on core subjects and drama, dance and to some extent music were seen as less important and the decline began.
And look what happened. Since 2010 there has been a 9-year-in-a-row fall of 72% in GCSE performing arts entries. Drama has dropped by 45%, dance by 60% and music by 36%. But if you go to any of the independent schools you will find thriving drama studios and musical training. It’s seen as an essential part of the school.
In 2019 the government promised an extra £110 Million to support the arts in schools, to encourage the school plays and bands of today. Then it was lowered to £90 Million and promised by 2021 – but it never happened. This drop-off in the arts is now travelling into higher education. Yet in in a speech earlier this year, the chancellor noted that the cultural industries had grown at over twice the rate of the UK economy in the past decade. In 2022 the creative industries sector contributed a whooping £109 Billion to the UK economy. It’s important – not just an add-on.
I hope you will forgive me for all the facts and figures, but it matters on a personal level. For me, the school band and the school play gave me a lifelong love of music and theatre. It allowed me to participate – to perform and be part of something. And I learnt things about myself – to meet deadlines, apply myself, take responsibility for myself and stick to things. And it was fun!
I’m currently writing a book about performing arts training and I have counted over 30 important life skills that are part of what you get from performing arts classes – such things as confidence, empathy, and creative thinking. I’m pretty sure that most parents would agree with me that these subjects add something to your life. Yes they are about performing but also so much more. They give young people space to express themselves, make friends and follow through on projects. Think what amazing things you learn from preparing and performing to a large audience, the buzz it gives you, the life-enhancing thrill of being part of something special.
Last week a new campaign was launched by UK Theatre. It aims to see every child in the UK go to the theatre by the time they leave school. The arts play such a huge part in our lives and it’s best to start when they are young. I know I’m preaching to the converted in Theatretrain because I think parents know the value of the arts and want their children to experience it. I’d like to see it back at the heart of the school curriculum because it delivers so much that we all need in our lives.