But think about it: anyone with a full time job spends 40 hours a week largely specialising in one or two skillsets or subject areas. In a normal high school week I was throwing javelins, mentoring younger pupils, making cushions, playing the keyboard, drawing still lives, helping out with the school play and conjugating French verbs. And that’s all at a pretty mediocre state school in North Manchester which was only managing to get half its Year 11 students passing with five A* to C grades at the time. Not to mention the fact that I was a complete geek who did much better at traditionally academic subjects than anything else.
So why am I getting nostalgic about high school? There’s an article on the Guardian this week about how horrified a group of artists, directors, choreographers and architects are at Michael Gove’s proposals (announced in September) to scrap GCSEs and replace them with an EBacc examination which includes the compulsory subjects of only English, maths, the sciences, geography, history and a language.
Apart from the obvious disadvantage, noted in the Guardian, that if schools only need to shift pupils through these subjects included in the English baccalaureate they will probably drop subjects like food, music, design, I.T and drama completely, there’s also the question of where many children will be able to learn these skills if this happens: from the self confidence you get from collaborating in P.E or performing arts to the basics of Excel or a smattering of art history.
Now I’m not saying I had a particularly fine education in any of these arts subjects – being able to use a sewing machine in textiles was probably the pinnacle of my achievement in non-academic subjects – but for teenagers with talent in art, design, dance or even cooking there should be a platform for them to begin exploring their craft rather than their parents paying for outside lessons or leaping blindly into studying something at university or looking for work without the hours to show for it.
These non-core subjects should be getting more time and effort, not less – let’s see coding classes with Raspberry Pi computers, music lessons that use modern artists to stop kids getting bored to death and food lessons that will actually come in handy during a first term in halls.
Teachers, too, are worried – Aisling Lavelle, a French teacher and musician, thinks the EBacc is a “fantastic idea that should help pupils to maintain a broad skill set for longer” but “at the cost of enriching subjects like music and drama it may turn out to be a false economy.” She says: “The main thing that sticks out as a major design flaw of the EBacc is the fact that schools will still be slaves to the league table system, meaning that certain subjects will be dropped in favour of channeling resources towards the subjects that ‘count’. This was the case when languages were dropped from ‘compulsory’ status to ‘optional’ status at GCSE.”
And studying these non-core subjects could actually improve how teenagers perform in English, maths and sciences. Aisling also points out that teachers can use examples from other subjects to help explain the best ways to study: “Finding a skill in one area helps boost pupils’ attainment across other subjects, as they learn the study skills to improve. For example, when pupils ask me why they can’t remember their verb tables I compare it to learning scales; they would never expect to be able to play a scale at high speed without fault on their second attempt but would perhaps spend 10 minutes a day on it and build up their confidence that way.”
Gove, leave GSCEs alone please – they didn’t do my friends and I any harm and if anything, I would have liked to have left high school knowing more about art, design, music and drama not less. Moving from state high school and sixth form to big, bad London that’s exactly the kind of chit-chat that comes in handy and most teenagers have to discover for themselves already.
Image credit: Faraz Pourreza-Jorshari