Arts education in schools is being backed towards a cliff edge.
As a specialist music teacher in a London primary school, I spent years in limbo. One eye looked forward, working hard to craft the syllabus into something truly inspiring. The other peered over my shoulder at a vertigo-inducing drop - the prospect of cuts was ever present.
In this climate, a strange thing is happening. Arts educators are feeling compelled to demonstrate that learning arts also enhances outcomes in non-arts subjects.
This comes as little surprise. Schools are under intense pressure to funnel their dwindling educational resources into whatever "improves academic results". The upshot is that arts are being cross-examined to see whether they somehow improve results in maths and literacy.
While it seems that they do, the evidence rarely proves this beyond all reasonable doubt. In the current climate, this is sadly positioning Arts Education squarely on the chopping block.
But hang on just a minute! Is the purpose of the arts simply to boost academic results? Emphatically, no.
Whilst arts engagement and academic attainment do have a positive relationship (and there are studies to show this), judging the merits of arts education solely on academic outcomes makes no sense. The logic is faulty.
I'm a keen cyclist who rides to work for health benefits and because I enjoy it. As it happens, I also save money on bus fare - bonus! However, the few extra quid in my pocket isn't what motivates me to cycle. This is not the primary benefit. By focusing on money savings alone, we miss those things that are important and inspiring to me.
As the OECD put it in their 'Art for Art’s Sake? The Impact of Arts Education' report:
The impact of arts education on other non-arts skills and on innovation in the labour market should not be the primary justification for arts education in today’s curricula.
Now, more than ever, it's vital that we reframe the case for arts education.
By all means, let's continue to study the nuanced relationship between arts and academic outcomes. More importantly, though, let's focus on identifying and discussing the primary, meaningful benefits of arts education, and not fall into the trap of conflating these benefits with academic achievement.
The visual guide (below) by WeTheParents.org shows 51 profoundly positive ways that Arts Education impacts children's lives. These range from cultivating cognitive abilities, nurturing positive character traits and fostering critical thinking. As you'll see, many of the benefits span ages, genders, and socio-economic divides; some last a lifetime; and all are backed up by studies.
If we are to save arts education from the precipice on which it teeters, then we need to be bold and proud when communicating its many significant benefits. Scientific studies will always struggle to capture the subtle yet profound ways in which the arts transform lives. And so, the impetus is on us - we who experience the positive impact firsthand - to share our story, and to shout about it even louder.
Neve Spicer is Founder & Director of We The Parents.