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The importance of arts in educating young people

Matthew Smitheman, SSAT, writes…

Recently there have been a number of voices adding weight to the argument of the absolute importance of arts in educating young people. Deda Say Mitchell, author and journalist, wrote in her recent article ‘It’s clear this government doesn’t value the arts in schools‘, she says vehemently: ‘Art isn’t an extra; it’s an integral part of a well-balanced education curriculum.’

Peter Bazalgette, Chair of Arts Council England, bangs the drum in his recent article on how we have to recognise the huge value of arts and culture in society. In relation to educational achievement he says, ‘We see an improvement in literacy when young people take part in drama and library activities, and better performance in maths and languages when they take part in structured music activities.

The Department for Education is including arts subjects with the core subjects in maths, science, languages and humanities in the first group of reformed GCSEs in two years’ time. This shows these voices are not alone and there is a wider trend towards raising the profile of arts subjects at all levels.

A set of tax breaks in the TV and animation industries have coincided with the announcement by the government that the value of the creative industry grew by nearly 10 per cent in 2012, the highest of any UK industry.

This in turn saw employment in the creative sector increasing by 8.6 per cent compared with 0.7 per cent in the UK overall. It cannot therefore be said that arts subjects do not lead into successful careers. Interestingly however, Libby Page writes in her article that Arty students do get jobs, but points out that ‘despite the opportunities for graduates, employers are noticing a skills gap. Not all graduates are ready for the creative jobs market.’

The broader picture in employment prospects for young people is not as rosy and this has led to growing stress and depression amongst young people, particularly non-mainstream education where arts often provide hope and purpose. As explained by musician and actor, Plan B, in his talk on Youth music and London at TEDxObserver: ‘If I want to talk to these kids I have to talk to them in their language, my methods of teaching were unorthodox, I want to hook them in by making my hip hop [music] and within that have positive meaning’.

It can be argued the importance of arts in educating young people is more significant than ever. Arts education done right engages young people which in turn improves vital skills such as literacy and numeracy. With employment in creative industries growing, there needs to be care and attention applied to the shaping of the arts in the curriculum to ensure the correct skills are developed. Ultimately, arts can engage in ways other subjects can’t – it can reach out to those most disengaged.

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