The significance of the arts in education

Jeremy Newton

Jeremy is currently CEO of The Prince's Foundation for Children & the Arts. In addition, He has chaired the boards of two major UK arts organisations (English Touring Theatre and Youth Dance England), has lectured widely on topics such as Financial Administration in the Arts and Strategic Management, acted as Extrenal Examiner for the Department of Arts Management at City University, is a Teaching Fellow at the Judge Business School, Cambridge University and in 2006 received an Honorary Doctorate from Loughborough University for his services to the arts, science and technology.

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I strongly believe the arts have the power to transform lives and urge schools to spend a portion of the Pupil Premium on arts education. The earlier a child's engagement with the arts, the more likely they are to develop vital skills such as communication, analysis, confidence and teamwork. These skills can have hugely positive effects on children’s academic achievements, helping them better engage with the mainstream curriculum and in turn improving their results at school.

Whilst there is mounting pressure on today’s teachers to improve their pupils’ academic achievements in traditional subjects such as maths, English or science, the benefits of arts education on these very subjects is becoming ever more apparent. Throughout The Prince's Foundation for Children & the Arts' Start programme, for example, which reaches out to disadvantaged pupils and creates sustainable partnerships between their schools and local cultural venues, we asked teachers about the positive correlation they had seen between arts education and academic achievement.

89% of teachers responding to the 2011/12 survey agreed that engaging their pupils with the arts had had a positive impact on their pupils' academic skills and 100% said that the arts had had a positive effect on pupils' communication and personal skills. Around half said they have observed improvements in literacy and reasoning whilst more than 90% reported noticeable improvements in their pupils' team work and creative thinking skills.

With such positive results, then, what is stopping teachers from using the arts in the classroom? One of the major barriers toward arts education in schools is lack of teacher confidence. Some teachers may have a limited knowledge of the arts, feeling unsure how to approach them with large classes and limited resources. There is also some uncertainty about how the arts can relate to other subjects.

To tackle this issue, it’s imperative that schools give teachers access to in-depth arts training. Teachers should be given the opportunity to work directly with arts professionals in order to equip them with the skills they need to use arts in the classroom. Working directly with arts professionals such as musicians, actors, dancers or visual artists would help inspire teachers to come up with new lesson ideas that bring the curriculum to life, and their enthusiasm will inevitably translate into their classroom.

In addition to the training schemes currently available, such as Catalyst, schools should also look to utilise the skills of local art professionals from within their community or local area, and seek out as many free arts resources as possible.

With the government’s Pupil Premium top of the education agenda, I am urging schools to spend a proportion on the arts. To expand the cultural horizons of less advantaged pupils and empower their teachers will prove to be money very well spent indeed.

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