With only about 60% of 16-year-olds currently achieving five good GCSE passes including English and maths, our education system clearly needs a shake up. But should dance and other artistic subjects be sacrificed in order to bolster academic achievement?
There is no simple answer to this. Whilst some students would no doubt respond well to a more focused academic schooling, for the majority of young people, the arts have the capacity not only to develop abilities relevant to the particular discipline, but also to boost achievement across all areas of the curriculum. This is because the arts teach vital skills such as team work, confidence and expression, which play a pivotal role in students' success in academic subjects.
Janette Wallis, the editor of the Good Schools Guide, describes how "never, in the history of education, have there been so many ways to rate children’s ability”, and perhaps this is the greatest problem. Schools focus on results and the best ways to achieve well in league tables and other government markers of satisfaction, rather than on a holistic education for young people, including preparation for the responsibilities of life as an adult.
I wrote to my local MP (Jane Ellison) a few of weeks ago about the importance of dance in schools. I described how it promotes not only physical activity in young people, but also creativity, team work and confidence. She in turn wrote to the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education and Childcare, Elizabeth Truss, who replied to say that she recognised the importance of dance in the national curriculum. Truss also described how the Department for Education is not only proposing to retain the statutory duty for schools to teach dance at Key Stages 1 and 2, but also planning to extend the teaching into Key Stage 3.
I recently attended the National Dance Teachers Association's conference on dance education. Linda Jasper, director of Youth Dance England, made an important point: “We all need to be able to answer the question ‘why dance?’” Indeed, as dance experts and enthusiasts we probably know the power of the arts to inspire young people and transform their lives. But we need to keep expressing this and making sure our voice is loud enough to be heard.