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Creatives urge government to address decline of arts in schools

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Bob and Roberta Smith: Art Makes Children Powerful

The Creative Industries Federation has published an open letter to the UK’s education minister Gavin Williamson addressing the drop-off in applications to arts subjects in schools, and offering proof of the importance of creative education for all. The letter, written by the federation’s chair Rick Haythornthwaite, states the group is “deeply concerned by the falling numbers of young people studying creative subjects at school,” and that the English school system “continues to sideline [creative education] by excluding creative subjects from the EBacc.”

“There has been an eight per cent drop in the number of students taking GCSEs in creative subjects since 2014/15,” it goes on to state. “The Cultural Learning Alliance (CLA) has estimated that the take up of arts courses alone at GCSE level has fallen by 35 per cent since 2010… The National Education Union has reported a 20 per cent drop in contact time in drama, art, music, design and technology, and dance for KS3 students. The damaging impact of these reductions must not be underestimated.”

The letter explains how research has shown the positive impacts, for all students, of studying creative subjects, making them more employable, more likely to keep a job, improving cognitive abilities by up to 17 per cent and improved attainment in English and maths. It also mentions how important a creative education is for children from low-income backgrounds who might only access arts and culture through school. “Studies show that children who do not have access to arts and culture are at a disadvantage both economically and educationally in comparison with those that do,” it states. “A system which means that only more privileged young people are able to access arts and culture does a disservice both to those young people who suffer as a result, and to a society that believes in the importance of social mobility and equality of opportunity.”

The letter also addresses the potentially negative effects on the pipeline of talent to the UK’s burgeoning creative industries, where jobs are growing at three times the UK average.

Among the signatories are designer Jonathan Anderson, Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic, Susannah Frankel, editor-in-chief of Another, architect Norman Foster, designer Malcolm Garrett, Love editor-in-chief Katie Grand, film director Paul Greengrass, Dazed Media founder Jefferson Hack, photographer and Hunger founder Rankin, architect Amanda Levete, The Gentlewoman editor-in-chief Penny Martin, filmmaker Sam Taylor-Johnson, and artists Bridget Riley, Jeremy Deller, Gillian Wearing and Bob and Roberta Smith.

Bob and Roberta Smith and fellow artist Jessica Voorsanger commented on the letter: “It’s vitally important that the government do everything possible to reverse the decline of the provision of arts subjects in state education. We don’t want to just hear from middle class and wealthy kids who go to independent schools about their culture, everyone has culture and every child’s voice must be heard. Art in schools is good for the economy but it’s also essential for democracy, health, wellbeing and the quality of art itself. Art is a driver of social mobility. Art gives children the tools to speak up and act up, enabling them to change the course of their lives. Give a child a blank sheet of paper and you ask that child to sing. Art is every human being’s right.”