Headmaster’s Blog

Were you one of the lucky ones? Did you get to see the quite extraordinary exhibition that our Art Department laid on in Kalendar Hall on Tuesday afternoon? It was creativity and inclusivity at its very best. At the Evening Reception – where we welcomed local businesses, senior school Heads, alumni and special guests – I offered a few words of welcome and thanks. For this week’s HM’s Blog, I thought I might share those words with you:

Ladies and Gentlemen

I am acutely aware that there are lots of lovely things to look at in this Hall tonight – and that I am perhaps not one of them – but I did want to draw your collective gaze away from the artwork on display this evening just for a few moments to offer a word of welcome.

I am delighted to welcome you to this celebration of the Visual Arts here at Exeter Cathedral School. The building we are in is Kalendar Hall – this is our dedicated Music and Drama department which tonight has been transformed into a gallery extraordinaire – and I am very pleased to formally welcome you this evening to our Big Portrait Exhibition. Every single pupil in the School has produced, as part of an enormous project undertaken by our fabulous Art department, a self-portrait – many of them in the style of artists that they have been studying here at School.

I want to waste no time in embarrassing my Head of Art & Design – Mrs Zoe Reavill – by thanking her publicly for this fabulous display. This whole project – from concept to execution – has been her brainchild, and I would like very much for you to join me in thanking Zoe and our Marketing Director for putting together a terrific gallery experience for us all this evening.

There is a great deal of talk across the educational sectors about the quasi-impossible task facing schools today: ‘We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist…using technologies that haven’t yet been invented…in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet’. Terrific emphasis continues to be placed on the importance of STEM (Sciences, Technology, Engineering, Maths) – and that’s right and good; we certainly value those important disciplines here – the future, they say, is computer-based; educate children for that future.

And yet Andrew Pinsent from the University of Oxford makes the point that from here-on-in anything that can be automated will be; anything that can be run by/done by computers will be; and so what’s left for people at that point? His answer: all the important stuff. In other words: The Arts.
To think on that a little longer: in a world increasingly governed by and served by machines, Art, creativity, empathy, design, subtlety, nuance, expression, self-expression, interpretation, emotion – in other words the human touch – are going to be more important than ever as today’s young adults head out into the world seeking employment and meaningful relationships. Will Gompertz, the BBC’s Arts Editor, takes this to its logical conclusion and makes the case for every school being an Arts school, because everything else will end up being done by computers.

And that, to me, is why Art and creativity are so centrally important to a good education. Art is a human endeavour, it’s a human skill, it’s a human passion – and that really matters. In an age increasingly dominated by social media, children are it seems more and more pressurised to stay switched-on and plugged-in, to show the perfect version of themselves, to respond, to be public, to be available; and opportunities to spend time with yourself, by yourself, and being yourself seem to be increasingly rare. What a good thing Art is – it allows us to escape from all of that.

That’s why the Creative and Visual Arts are such an integral part of the curriculum here at ECS. They matter; they need to be fought for. And it makes me incredibly proud to think that when people think of Exeter Cathedral School they think of creativity – perhaps that’s just as it should be for a school that has a 900 year history of performance and spirituality.

As well as a celebration of Art at ECS, tonight is also a celebration of inclusivity. This academic year marks a quarter of a century of co-education here at the School. 25 years ago, after eight and a half centuries of learning and teaching, Exeter Cathedral School flung wide its gates and welcomed girls as well as boys. With a history that dates back to 1179, 25 years is a drop in the ocean, perhaps. But drops create ripples, and ripples turn into waves. And we are making great waves here – particularly with the Creative Arts – and we are proud to be bucking the national trend of squeezing out these subjects from curriculums. We are investing more time than ever before in the Arts – and that’s because they matter.

So, thank you for coming to join us for an evening of what matters: Creativity, Inclusivity, Passion and People. Enjoy the rest of your evening.

6 March 2020
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