Dr Nick Owen MBE PLUS

Working in and on the Business of Cultural Education

What is the point of school?

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All too often these days, I hear the cry, “What is the point of school?”

What with accelerating technological and social changes, children have become socialites at 7, adults by 12 and are doubting everything the teacher and the school stands for, within a few months of joining secondary school.

Behaviour has become questionable in some cases and alarming in others, deference has become a quaint notion from a rose tinted past when teachers were the head of the classroom and everyone knew and welcomed their places.

If you believe the crystal ball gazers of the media, the curriculum has become irrelevant and has been superseded by the Internet where children work out their own curriculum, perhaps blindly, perhaps intuitively, perhaps guided by who knows what – certainly things we parents and teachers know nothing or little about.

These are apparently desperate times when all our educational purposes,  rationales and strategies have been thrown up into the air and scrutinised like never before. What place the curriculum? The school? The teacher even?

These existential questions are common to teachers across the world; from urban comprehensives in inner city Nottingham, to rural schools across India, to schools in the outback in furthest Australia.

No matter where you look, the central questions are the same: how should schools respond to the rapidly changing nature of the world we live in? How can they prepare children for an uncertain today and a completely unknown tomorrow?

We at the Mighty Creatives firmly believe that this preparation for the future – the ability to future proof our children so to speak -lays fairly and squarely at the doorstep of arts and culture.

It’s the power of arts and culture in the lives of children and young people which will affect their educational, their social and their economic futures.

I don’t just mean the ability to sit back and consume the latest musical X factor fad, but the ability for children to engage actively in the processes of understanding, creation and production of all forms of artistic activity.

We – teachers, artists, policy makers – have  known for decades the power the arts have in the education of young people. Many of us will have stories which bear testament to that fact of life and may also be able to point to the many research studies over the years which support what we know from our own hard won experiences.

I’m not going to list them all here now, you’ll be relieved to hear,  but it is worth reminding ourselves of some of the recent research findings carried out by the Cultural Learning Alliance earlier this year. They found that learning through arts and culture can

  • Increase cognitive abilities by 17%;
  • Improve attainment in Maths and English;
  • Develop skills and behaviours that lead children to do better in school.

Furthermore, they found that students from low-income families who take part in arts activities at school are:

  • three times more likely to get a degree
  • twice as likely to volunteer
  • 20% more likely to vote as young adults.

And last but certainly not least,

  • The employability of students who study arts subjects is higher and they are more likely to stay in employment;
  • Young offenders who take part in arts activities are 18% less likely to re-offend;
  • Children who take part in arts activities in the home during their early years are ahead in reading and Maths at age nine;
  • People who take part in the arts are 38% more likely to report good health.

The power of arts and culture on young people’s lives really is incontestable. And if we needed any more proof that the arts contribute to future-proofing our children, and reminding us what the point of school is, these findings are irresistable.

This makes it essential that schools are at the heart of championing the arts and are given permission to create opportunities for the transformation that the arts can bring about.

This is why participating in the Arts Mark progamme is so powerful for schools and the young people they serve – and why it’s such a thrill to be here this afternoon to see the effects that the Arts Mark programme is having on children across our region.

Since the relaunch of Artsmark in 2015 we have had over 250 schools register and join the Artsmark Community in the East Midlands.  They’ve joined the growing national community of over 2,800 schools across England as a whole.

This commitment to arts and culture in our schools means that over 103,000 pupils in the region can be reached – and can have their lives transformed by the power of arts and culture. This level of transformation means that our children and young people are not only just finding the point of school, but are being prepared for a future which they can benefit from, rather than being frightened of and controlled by.

Our job at The Mighty Creatives is to catalyse this transformation.  We do this by:

  • encouraging, sharing and celebrating outstanding practice in schools with their Arts Mark and Arts Award programmes;
  • Understanding that we can reach young people outside of schools too with our social action and our festival projects;
  • Forming communities of collaborators through local cultural education partnerships,
  • Providing learning and training opportunities for practitioners
  • Helping you measure and value the collective impact of your work.

We are now, following our recent successful bid to the Arts Council England,  delighted to be able to continue that support for schools like yours for the next five years.

Thank you all for the tremendous, life changing work you have been bringing to bear on our children’s lives.  They will look back, in the future, to the work you have done and will bless you for it.  Thank you – I hope you have a great afternoon.

(Speech presented at the Artsmark Celebration event, Nottingham Contemporary, July 2017

Author: drnicko

Cultural Architect

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