“Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.” – George Bernard Shaw
Logging onto Facebook on Sunday morning, it was the last thing I expected to see. Cute baby pictures, items for sale and hungover status updates all par for the course, but amongst it all, one headline jumping out from the page – ‘Axeing of soft GCSEs to hit PE and Drama’.
Now, as a teacher in 2013 I shouldn’t be surprised that yet another major change to education is being leaked to the national press, and Twitter has now become my ‘go to’ place if I want to find out what’s happening in the world of education. Frustratingly hidden behind The Sunday Times paywall, thanks to the wonders of social media, within minutes I’d managed to get a screen shot of the entire article from a friend on twitter (in your face Murdoch..), not that it made happy reading.
As a teacher of Dance and Drama for the past 8 years, and head of department for the past four I’m used to standing up for my subject. Explaining to colleagues, parents, students and friends the value of the Arts in Education has become second nature, my speech well-polished and rehearsed. But whilst I’m used to being challenged, I have always had hope.
The fact that students can take GCSEs and A Levels in Dance and Drama is important to me. I believe that it shows they do have academic value, and the written coursework and examinations that complement the practical work are rigorous. Drama isn’t waving your arms in the air pretending to be a tree – students have to explore wide ranging stimuli, learn play scripts, negotiate and work in productively in groups, have the confidence to perform and share their work, as well as writing critically about their own work and the work of professionals. And let’s not overlook the fact that Dance students also have to have a clear grasp of anatomy and physiology in order to pass their exams.
I have my suspicions that the people (Gove included) making these dangerous assumptions about so called ‘soft subjects’ actually have very little idea what the GCSE courses involve, or the benefits that students gain from them. Not every student that chooses these subjects does so because they want to be the next Daniel Radcliffe or Darcey Bussell, but because it gives them the opportunity to be creative, to express themselves in a way that other more ‘academic’ subjects don’t.
I went to my first dance lesson at three years old and over the years did as many different classes as I could, eventually helping my dance teacher as I got older in order to pay for my classes. As a student, I didn’t always find school easy. I loved English, but I found science and maths particularly challenging. The promise of being able to specialise and choose my own options for GCSE kept me optimistic and meant I was able to do the subjects I loved, Drama being one of them gave me a renewed enthusiasm for education, and being able to specialise further at 16 meant that I stayed on for sixth form. In year 13 my first thought wasn’t to apply for university, neither of my parents had gone and I didn’t think that we could afford it. But after my dance teacher showed me a prospectus for degree courses in dance, that was my mind made up. I could go to university and study the subjects that I loved – Dance and Drama. The study of these subjects ignited in me a passion that has stayed with me in adulthood, an enthusiasm that I wanted to share and pass on, which is why I became a teacher.
Day to day, I genuinely love my job – the joy I feel being stood in class, watching my students as they work and seeing what they produce never fails to excite me. It can be hard and frustrating at times, but every day is different and I am fortunate that I get to work with some amazingly talented young people. Young people whose opinions on this issue I am very keen to hear.
It can be easy to laugh at Gove, what with the comparisons to 80s children’s puppet Pob and the blank pages of the book ‘Everything I Know About Teaching’ selling out on Amazon. But the terrifying truth is that he is the one making the decisions about education, and not only does he appear to want to demoralise the entire teaching profession, but he seems hell bent on wiping out the arts in favour of more ‘rigorous’ and ‘academic’ subjects, none of us being exactly clear on the reasons why.
Teaching feels like quite an uncertain profession at present, but one thing is certain. That is I, along with many others are determined to fight these proposals and get our voices heard. I believe in the power of the #teacherRoar and together I believe we can #savePEandTheArts.