Ellie Peacock responds to the idea that schools should focus primarily on core subjects, particularly English and Maths, from September.

School should be a creative, positive, inclusive environment, where pupils feels they can progress and blossom under the influence of their teachers and peers. It should be a place which cultivates and supports students’ abilities, to find their talents and passions; introducing them to brand new situations or ideas within the daily curriculum.  

Having only just finished my education at school and sixth
form I’m able to look back and reflect. What I learnt in school wasn’t just the lessons I studied, but all the soft skills taught in my arts subjects. As a student, I was made to feel I didn’t fit in because I wasn’t naturally ‘academic’. However, the performing arts – drama and dance – taught me a work ethic, commitment and discipline which then enabled me to progress academically. I began secondary school in all bottom sets; I enjoyed school, but academic work just didn’t come naturally. 

Being diagnosed with dyslexia in year 12 (ironically it was my dance teacher who noticed my writing problems and suggested I was tested) helped me understand a lot of the challenges I have faced and filled the missing piece of the puzzle as to why I was struggling, yet my academic targets were set low and I was labelled as less capable than other students. 

When I entered the dance and drama studio it was different. I never doubted myself when raising my hand to answer a question, I wouldn’t compare myself with others around me, I wouldn’t just listen to what my partner had to say and agree, always assuming they were better than me.  I was introduced to a new way of learning, a practical way that eliminated everything I struggled with at the time. 

In dance and drama, you are taught hands-on, you are shown demonstrations of how to proceed. Feedback is given verbally and
in the moment, allowing you to instantly make a correction. If you don’t fully understand what is being asked of you, you can simply ask, and have it explained further. For someone who is dyslexic this made learning a lot easier and created a supportive environment. I didn’t have to decipher anyone’s handwriting and then feel embarrassed if I didn’t know what was written in my book or didn’t understand what I truly had to do, from a piece of work that I completed a week ago. 

Most students will struggle with just learning the core lessons daily because if that engagement isn’t there – and academically it won’t be in large classes with overworked teachers – focus drifts off and gaps begin to form. In many schools dance and drama already share one lesson a week for half the year, which equates to 18 lessons a year at KS3, and yet Maths and English are taught daily. At KS4 those core subjects continue to be taught daily, with dance and drama only rising to three lessons a week, but arts results are substantially higher overall. The dance course at my school has a year-on-year 100% pass rate and last year 75% of students achieved level 7-9. I also received level 9s in both Dance and Drama. 

People choose arts subjects: they want to be there, they are interested and passionate, keen to learn. Core subjects are forced and impersonal. Some people choose to put more into them and pursue extra lessons, but many do not. 

I understand why students are taught ‘core’ subjects, and I do believe the basic skills are very much needed, however I don’t believe they should be put on a separate, superior level. Not everyone will need all three of them to pursue their chosen A-levels and careers. For me taking those three GCSEs would not have given me the platform of knowledge and skills needed to take my A-levels in Dance and Drama. It would have been exceedingly difficult to have caught up after missing the vital skills at GCSE. If this were happening when I was in year 11, who knows if the pathway I’m now following would have been viable? 

Pupils must also have their creativity and personality recognised and get a chance to learn in a practical way. There are so many ways to learn which are not just sat at a desk all day. Not only do a majority of students already struggle to sit and focus in a boring classroom for so long, but those with learning differences are often completely neglected. Dyslexia, for example, has nothing to do with intelligence; it’s just about how your brain processes information. Removing more creative lessons seems to pretend that these kinds of learning differences just don’t exist. 

As to whether the performing arts can be taught safely, well, if footballers and hairdressers can return with regular close or actual bodily contact, dance and drama can most definitely be taught safely. If we ignore this and allow a many people in a generation to have their education so completely filtered and restricted, we are already compromising their chance to grow and become well-rounded individuals, full of intuition, initiative, and passion. Cutting creative lessons means many students’ grades will go down, as their interest and inspiration drop. We should be trying to raise students’ aspirations and show them that achievement comes in all different forms, instead of cutting options and telling them what they must study, immensely limiting their life options. 

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