At the chalkface: The Arts

Written by: Ian Whitwham | Published:

Drama teachers are being cut. If you want to see the best lessons in a school go to the drama department, while you still can. Marvel at the school play. Dance is going the same way.

My grandchild Sylvie spends most of her waking hours talking to bears or dancing like a dervish or bashing drums or painting abstracts or telling barmy stories – negotiating a liminal state somewhere between dreaming, larking and lunacy.

It’s called the “arts”.

It’s all I can do to keep up. She’s learning at a trillion miles an hour. It is magical time.

Well, we can’t have this. It must be slowly crushed. Modern education will see to it. If the primary school doesn’t quite do it, then the secondary school will. The arts – especially music, drama, dance – are disappearing from the syllabus.

A recent report by the Education Policy Institute informs us that the proportion of 15 and 16-year-olds in England studying arts has fallen to the lowest level in a decade: “It’s clear that the EBacc and Progress 8 performance are squeezing arts subjects out.”

They’re now peripheral. This is criminal. They’re not “core”. They have little status. Oxbridge doesn’t do Dance. Academics can’t dance. They resemble collapsing deckchairs.

Education must be cerebral. So “better” middle class pupils will increasingly only do the heavy-weight “academic” subjects.

Why can’t everyone do both?

Who knows? Is it some idea of High and Low culture? Or some notion of pleasure? A way of preserving heritage culture? Like in my day. Music was only High Culture. We were press-ganged into attending useless operas to witness obese ladies bellowing rubbish in attics as they expired from romance or anorexia.

We endured Handel’s Water Music on a wind-up record player. Drama seemed to be declaiming incomprehensible French Tragic verse. And dancing? We didn’t – except for not learning the fox trot or quickstep with deeply reluctant high school girls. We were repressed, miserable and uncomfortable in our bodies for life.

The situation got much better for many years. The arts became central. Most nourishing. Well, no longer. Music is peripheral and narrow. Only White and rich learn an instrument. Every pupil should learn one.

Drama teachers are being cut. If you want to see the best lessons in a school go to the drama department, while you still can. Marvel at the school play. Dance is going the same way. We used to have dance studios in which everyone danced to anything – modern, jazz, street, ballet, jive, hip-hop. Move! Endorphins! Pleasure! Body. Heart. Soul. Discipline.

Zadie Smith has spoken of the crucial importance of music and dance to the working class. These subjects are as serious as your life.

Meanwhile Sylvie plays and dances and laughs – and school looms.

  • Ian Whitwham is a former inner city London teacher.


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