I remember when I was choosing my GCSEs, the big hurdle for me was convincing my family that taking a creative subject was a good idea. Luckily, I was able to take music, but I know some people are held back by the stigma surrounding creatives. For me, taking music was one of the best decisions I made. The values of arts subjects can be seen both inside and outside of the classroom, which makes them as valuable as all other subjects at least.
One of the things I gained from taking music was confidence. I’ve never been a shy person, but the idea of getting up in front of my friends and performing was always a daunting one. But in music, right from year 7, I was encouraged to just give it a go, because what was the worst thing that could happen? And of course things went wrong, I remember the first piano competition I did, I completely missed a chord, and because I was performing from memory, it really threw me. But I tried again the next year, and it went better. It showed me that you can learn from mistakes, and also that a lot of people don’t even notice when you slip up, which is a comforting thought! Now I still get a bit nervous before a performance, but once I’m on the stage, it all disappears.Confidence on stage is a transferable skill, I’ve found that as I’ve performed more and more, it has become way easier to give presentations, run events, and simply just put my hand up in lessons.
It’s also really helpful for other subjects. I had to learn how to compare two pieces of music, one of which I’d never heard before, and then write an analytical essay about them. This is a skill required for other subjects too, such as History sources, and English unseen extracts. Moreover, music has previously been used as a political tool, making it an important part of history. For example, whilst the British Empire was in full swing, music written by composers such as Elgar was often used as a way to earn the support of the public. The triumphant sound of trumpets, the military style beat from the drums, and the upbeat feel provided by the major keys used inspired a sense of nationalistic pride in Britain, making it a type of propaganda. It’s easy to see here that the study of music can be used as a way to understand the past, showing its value to history.
Music also increased my ability to focus on one goal and work towards it. If there’s ever a piece I really want to nail, or scale that I just can’t seem to get the hang of, I make a conscious effort to set aside time to practise and work towards being able to do it. Over the last few years, I’ve learnt that I can apply that logic to my schoolwork too. It’s a skill I learnt early because I started piano aged 3, and right from the beginning I’ve seen that hard work and determination really pays off.
I also make loads of friends through music. By taking part in orchestra, choir, and other small ensembles, I’ve met girls from all across the school who I otherwise would never have known. The same thing happens in drama, and other subjects like DT and Textiles have exhibitions and group projects that allow you to bond with other people.
Creative subjects have for a long time been undervalued by the education system. Russell group universities created a list of facilitating subjects, which were essentially maths, sciences, english, humanities and languages. These subjects at A Level were valued higher than creative subjects, which as a result put people off taking them not only as an A Level but also as a GCSE. Between 2010 and 2018, there was a 10% drop in the number of arts subjects taken at GCSE, and a 5% drop in the number taking them at A Level. However, recently the Russell Group universities have stated that they are no longer going to use the system of facilitating subjects, but instead have created a website called Informed Choices (https://www.informedchoices.ac.uk/) which helps students find out what subjects will be most useful for their degree. However, whilst this means subjects such as Economics and Politics are being given more weighting, arts subjects are hardly listed as useful for any degree, aside from arts related ones. I think this is ridiculous, as it shows that many people are still not seeing the value of arts subjects, and how it is still not recognised that the skill base you get from taking music, art, or drama (to name a few) is one that is useful for any subject.
The removal of the list of facilitating subjects has prompted a sudden call for the removal of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc). The EBacc was first introduced by government in 2011 as a performance measure for schools. It comprises a set of core subjects that are compulsory for all those taking the EBacc. These are English, maths, science (either double or triple award), a foreign language and either history or geography. This amounts to a minimum of seven GCSEs, and with the average number of GCSEs taken in 2016 being 8.6, it is inevitable that students in schools following the system of the EBacc who are less academic, and therefore choose to take less GCSEs will be held back from the arts subjects. It is important to note that the EBacc is popular amongst state schools, and whilst it is not compulsory, the latest conservative manifesto states they would like 75% of year 10 pupils to be studying the EBacc by 2025. The arts provide an alternate route to academia, and so by removing the option to study arts subjects from students who potentially would benefit the most from them, they are being heavily disadvantaged.
It’s clear to see that the British education system has been rigged against the arts subjects, and it’s unfortunate that although efforts are being made to emphasise their value, there’s still stigma around taking these subjects to GCSE and A Level standards. I think they are so important, because not only do they enrich your learning experience within the curriculum, but they provide skills useful outside of the school environment. What I hope you take away from this is that arts subjects are undervalued, and since we’re lucky enough to go to a school that sees past the stereotypical view of these subjects, we should do what we can to show others how great the arts are.