Headmaster’s Blog

‘Creative Arts subjects are being cut back in many secondary schools in England’.  So began a BBC News article earlier this week. It’s a subject which has attracted a good deal of attention from school leaders, teachers, arts associations and the shadow cabinet recently, and I confess that it’s a uk-wide direction of travel which saddens me.

With the introduction of the EBacc (English baccalaureate) and the austerity measures imposed on the public education sector, the concern of many – championed publicly by the Choir Schools Association (of which ECS is part) through its open response to the Government’s 2017 white paper – was that Arts subjects (specifically music, drama, art) would effectively get squeezed out of school curriculums altogether.  It seems they (we) were right: the inevitable (and now actual) demise in creative opportunities in schools is a concern.

But it isn’t a surprise.  If schools are judged on academic outcomes (for which read exam results); and if those academic outcomes are based on numbers of pupils studying the ‘core academic subjects’ to GCSE (what is ‘an academic subject’ anyway?  What a clumsy, divisive, and potentially undermining piece of nomenclature that is), it seems a pretty business-savvy approach by heads to plough their resources into these subjects which ‘count’ and which will see them bumped up the league tables or the Ofsted ratings.

9 out of 10 heads said they had cut back on lesson time for the Creative Arts, with 4 out of ten choosing to spend less on facilities than in previous years.  The report continues with news of many schools having reduced their number of specialist music/art/drama teachers, and a school a stone’s throw from my old stomping ground has announced that it has removed Music from the curriculum altogether, choosing to spend its money on boosting the ‘core’ areas.

We are choosing to buck this national trend at ECS; in terms of time allocated, in terms of money invested, and in terms of expertise offered.  The benefits of music and creativity in schools – to individuals, to institutions, to wellbeing, to academic performance, to employability, to life-long skills and habits – is well-documented, and we are proud of our Creative Arts provision and of the opportunities our pupils have to work together, to rehearse, to perform, to express, to invent, to watch, to listen, to critique, to explore, to problem-solve, to create, to take the initiative, to lead, to follow, to get their heads up from the books and to have passions and interests nurtured and celebrated.

I hope you’ve all had a chance to see for yourself the 2017 refurbishment of the inside of Kalendar Hall; we now have a bright and well-equipped Music and Drama rehearsal and performance space befitting of the standard of performance and opportunity for which we are known.  Our new ‘Open Studio’ events each term should give you the opportunity to get inside our Art & Design centre (the Chapman building), located in the former Great Hall of the Old Deanery, and to marvel at the meeting of old and new as bright contemporary artwork adorns the walls (and ceiling!) of the (I think) 15th-century building.

We’ve re-written the curriculum, too, and since September 2017 every pupil in the School receives Music each week, Art & Design each week, and English & Drama each week.  We’ve boosted the number of music ensembles and performance opportunities to ensure that all of our pupils – from beginners to the elite musicians – have access to high-quality coaching and music-making.  Drama provision has surged this year, too: a Year 3-8 Declamations Competition and Finals Evening is a new tradition in the Michaelmas term; Year 2 Wow Days give opportunities for the Pre-Prep and Prep to work together on some performances; a Year 5 production takes place this coming week; the much-loved Year 4 Musical remains a fixture in the Trinity term; a joint Year 3 and Year 6 Drama Soirée is on the cards for after Easter; and scripts, scores and rights have just been secured for our first ever Summer Showstopper.

Add to this the introduction of our Senior Enrichment Programme (dedicated curriculum time each week for pupils in Year 7 and Year 8 to immerse themselves in either the Performing Arts Programme (Music, Drama, Art) or the Sport and Fitness Programme (Sports Leadership, Health-related Fitness, Sports Psychology) – either because they want to receive specialist tuition in preparation for Scholarship tests at 13+, or because they just love it – and you’ll see why we are proud of our extensive and recently-enhanced provision in the Creative Arts at ECS.

I’m certainly happy to be judged on ‘academic outcomes’ (100% Common Entrance pass rate 2017 and all that), but there’s a whole lot more to school life than grades, and we’re not shying away from embracing that.

James Featherstone

2 February 2018
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