THE arts have fuelled the success of St Marylebone C of E School for more than 20 years. They have created a culture of confidence and achievement across all our subjects, forming the warp and weft of the school community.
It is a school where more than half the pupils come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, and it is one of the most successful comprehensives in London, described by OFSTED as exceptional. Students’ examination success is above average. Unusually, the school is designated as specialising in mathematics and computing, and in the performing arts.
Concern that arts education is becoming marginalised in schools around the country, St Marylebone decided to make a film, A Window to the World, to erase the pervasive misconception that the arts are a soft option. At a time when arts education is widely regarded as a dispensable luxury, we hope that our film demonstrates that the arts are rigorous, challenging, and essential to a rounded education.
The film, made by our head of art, Stephanie Cubbin, and our music technology teacher, Peter Thomas, includes contributions from our own staff and students, and leading figures from the arts world. Among them are the playwright Lee Hall; the RSA’s director of education, Joe Hallgarten; the film director Baroness Kidron; the Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Arts, Nigel Carrington; and the television presenter Margaret Mountford, who chairs our board of governors.
TO ITS detriment, much advocacy for arts education is based on special pleading: claims such as “art saved me”, for example, or “drama kept me out of crime”. Such messages diminish and marginalise the value of the arts, and discourage heads from giving time and resources to the arts. They also reinforce the economic model of education, and the message that only STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) subjects matter.
At St Marylebone, we are convinced that this is not the case, and have chosen not to compromise our arts offering, because our pupils thrive because of these subjects. But, as staffing and provision continues to be cut across education, from primary to tertiary, the battle for arts education is ongoing.
It is a fight that St Marylebone does not want to carry on alone. Contributors to our film emphasise the economic and social benefits of the arts, and expose the claim that they do not prepare young people for working life for the myth that it is.
“Studying the arts is academically, emotionally, and very often physically demanding,” the creator of the film Billy Elliott, Mr Hall, says. Mr Hallgarten asserts that “we are becoming culturally handcuffed to the idea that nothing is worthwhile unless it can be measured. Studying the arts opens people’s minds, and thus their options.”
Mr Carrington argues that the creative industries are the fastest-growing area of the economy. But creativity’s contribution to education cannot be put into a spreadsheet.
THE salvation of arts education needs strong support, backed up by money. Collaboration between arts organisations and universities may be necessary to provide schools with arts education on a regular basis; but only good-quality, professional teaching will guarantee all pupils, in all schools, the arts opportunities that we have here.
We hope that those political leaders who graduated in arts subjects will join us in the fight for funding, which, as in our school, puts STEM subjects and the arts on an equal footing.
To see the film visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=CftiEuG6Frk, and join our fight.