The art department is supported very openly and passionately by a senior leadership team comprising of teachers from Art, Dance, English as well as Maths and Science. The school is represented at many arts advocacy events from Parliamentary committees to the Durham commission – and its research in creativity.
The school clearly ties its colours to the mast at a time when the socio-economic drive, Department of Education policy and constraints in state funding pose a threat to the arts in schools. The arts have long been the fuel behind the success and vibrancies of schools like St. Marylebone. They inform our pedagogy, creating a culture of confidence and achievement and enabling us to develop interested and interesting young people. Yet the establishment message to parents and young people counters this. We could not stand by and let ignorance and headlines fuel the false belief that creative subjects are “soft” and hard courses which get you jobs are “academic”. Art, dance, drama and music, well taught, are academically rigorous – and maths, history and science are creative!
The desire to analyse and understand success is not detrimental to the arts, but a misunderstanding of how success can be achieved, is. Measuring attainment through grades and qualifications is important. It matters to students to know how well they are doing and how they can improve. Yet this cannot be at the expense of great teaching, promotion of the creative process and the nurturing of relationships between teachers and students.
We cannot forget the unmeasurable things that make for a great, explorative education: the courage, joy, variety, exploration that schooling should promote. How do you measure the growth of confidence to speak out, new ways of learning, the ability to see things from more than one perspective, empathy, social sensitivity? Success need not be measured in terms of immediate employability. As soon as you create a spreadsheet which quantifies creativity, the creativity drains away.
Young people who study arts courses develop the resilience to plan, implement, review, amend, complete and evaluate their work from start to finish. They learn that outcome isn’t everything, they learn patience, collaboration, leadership, self-discipline, fair and reasoned ways to evaluate themselves and others, a sense of pride in their work, how to give and receive feedback, how to offer appreciation and criticism, how to explore and see things from more than one view, to interpret and re-interpret. They learn to learn, to be curious and inquisitive. St. Marylebone is a state girls’ school in central London which, yearly, turns young people out into the world to take pathways into everything from engineering and biomedicine to classical civilisation and languages. They all had an arts education, even if they studied sciences and technology as A-Levels.