By Ken James, Headmaster, Red House School
How right Victor Hugo was. Little did he know when he wrote this that one of his novels would become the inspiration for the greatest musical of our time, Les Miserables. Even without forethought, he recognised the importance of music and the part it should play in our lives.
Growing up, I had the privilege of being taught in excellent state schools, committed to the performing arts. I was often on stage or performing in concerts and this is something which has stayed with me to this day. Whilst I may have put down my violin and bow some time ago, I still perform in musicals and help the children in school too.
There has been significant coverage recently about cuts to funding in state schools. Whilst the Department for Education is insisting school funding had been protected in recent years, a number of state schools are saying there will be a significant impact on their offering. Staffing costs equate to about 70% of a school’s expenditure. Therefore, most of the savings will primarily come from staffing cuts. But which subjects will be affected the most?
Attainment in schools is measured in part by how the pupils perform in the English Baccalureate (the EBacc). The EBacc is made up of: English, mathematics, history or geography, the sciences and a language. It stands to reason that schools will want to perform well in these subjects and wish to protect them. You’ll notice there’s no mention of music or drama. Where’s art? Or design?
George Bernard Shaw said “Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable” and whilst we would expect a literary great to support the arts, an appreciation of the part they play in the world of technology was also displayed by a less likely man, one of our greatest inventors, Steve Jobs. When introducing the iPad 2 in 2011, he stated “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough – it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.” Not only will the world be a less colourful place without the arts, but how will other areas of life be affected by a decreased focus on this area of the curriculum?
As an independent school, Red House has much more freedom when it comes to the curriculum. Our children are heading towards the same terminal examinations but we can expose the children to the broadest of educations without the fear of merely being judged on our performance in the EBacc. Our statistics for the EBacc are still published but, thankfully, parents and our governing bodies appreciate that the quality of an education should not be reduced purely to a statistic. We openly encourage the arts: a fashion show last term showcasing the work of the pupils, our talent show, concerts next term and our musical, Oliver!, in its final stages of production. We will continue to promote the arts, continue to offer a broad curriculum and continue to produce the Steve Jobs of the future.