Cha-cha-change the balance in schools

8th August 2014 at 01:00
Devote equal time to dance and maths, urges Sir Ken Robinson

Most schools would consider teaching the two-step considerably less important than teaching the two times table. But according to an international education adviser, schools should devote as much time to the pli as to pi.

Sir Ken Robinson said there was not a single education system in the world that taught dance to children every day, in the same way that maths was taught on a daily basis. But, he argued, it was important for children to learn to use their bodies as well as their minds.

"You live in your body all day long," Sir Ken said. "And our physical condition - how we relate to ourselves physically - is of fundamental importance to our sense of self."

He also criticised the increasing value placed on international league tables, saying that they had led to "a Eurovision song contest of education. And we all know what the Eurovision song contest has done for popular music, right? It's not led to an overall increase in quality."

Sir Ken, international adviser on education in the arts and former professor of arts education at the University of Warwick, outlined his ideas during the first episode of The Educators, a new eight-part series to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4, beginning on 13 August. The series aims to explore the ideas of influential education thinkers, and people who are prepared to challenge the way that children are currently taught.

"Very few people, after school, use calculus or algebra," Sir Ken said. "I've never anywhere said that the arts are more important than the sciences, or that dance is more important than mathematics. What I'm saying is that they're equally important."

Schoolchildren, he added, "are kept in a state of physical passivity - we're medicating kids to get them through the day. Their minds are running faster than they can keep up with."

In his ideal timetable, therefore, there would be "an equal balance given to sciences, languages, to the arts, to the humanities, to physical education".

As well as explaining his ideas about creativity, Sir Ken spends the programme revisiting his now-closed primary school and discussing how his own education shaped his later ideas.

In subsequent episodes, Eton College headteacher Tony Little explores the grounds of his school with presenter Sarah Montague, and schoolchildren talk to Daisy Christodoulou, an advocate of fact-based education, about whether they prefer factual or skills-based lessons. Other episodes feature Sugata Mitra, professor of educational technology at Newcastle University, and Dr Paul Howard-Jones, a neuroscientist at the University of Bristol.

Joel Moors, the programme's producer, said the idea for the series came about after a colleague noticed that people were always talking about two topics: house prices and education. "Education has been in the news so much," he said. "I think it's engaged lots of people who want to know what works in schools, what could change and what difference it would make. So the point of the series is to give time to some of those ideas, away from the heat of politics."

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers' union, said it would be difficult to give all subjects equal space in the curriculum without extending the school day. But he added that he could see the case for the collected performance subjects - dance, drama, art and sport - being given as much space as maths in the timetable.

"There's a reason why we spend more time on maths than on dance," he said. "It's there because employers need it, and informed citizens of a technology-driven society need it.

"You're going to need to be able to add up more than you're going to need to be able to foxtrot. Though that may be my own bias, because no one wants to see me lumbering around the dance floor."

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