Mike Leigh blasts `totally illogical' arts provision

29th May 2015 at 01:00
Oscar-nominated director says creativity should be a key focus

Art should be compulsory for students up to the age of 16 in order to restore its place as a "core" subject and prevent it from being regarded as an "indulgence", according to award-winning film director Mike Leigh.

He warned that art, and drawing in particular, had been relegated to little more than a "marginal, minority, specialist" subject in schools.

Leigh, who directed hit films such as Secrets and Lies and Mr Turner, is the latest figure to argue for the arts to be given greater prominence in the curriculum. Last year, half the 172 schools surveyed by the National Society for Education in Art and Design said they had experienced cuts to arts provision as a result of greater focus being placed on English Baccalaureate subjects.

Earlier this year, a commission led by the University of Warwick warned that the arts were being "squeezed out" of schools and that pupils from low-income families were the worst affected. It recommended that an arts or media subject should be included in the EBac.

Speaking last week at an awards ceremony for schools, community groups and museums that had taken part in the Big Draw international festival of drawing, Leigh hit out at the "ridiculous" way that art was being sidelined in many schools.

"Of all the subjects, art should not only be one of the core subjects, but the core subject," he said. "It is totally illogical that one of the basic tenets of our education culture is that art in general, and drawing in particular, are relegated to the status of marginal, minority, specialist subjects which are regarded as a privilege or an indulgence, only to be studied by talented students or rich kids who don't need to earn a living.

"Everybody can draw in some way and everybody should be encouraged to do so."

Pushing beyond privilege

After the ceremony, Leigh told TES that the idea that artists should be regarded as a "privileged group" was "ridiculous".

"Art should be a core subject of all subjects, like English is, but even more so," he said.

"Other subjects should be taught through art. It should be compulsory to 16. It's not a question of whether I would like to see it as a kind of fancy. It just should be a core subject throughout the whole education system."

Leigh, who was awarded a Bafta fellowship earlier this year, studied in London at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts and the Central School of Art and Design.

He said it was while studying life drawing at Camberwell that he realised creativity was not about going through the mechanics of a craft, but making your own interpretations of the world.

His calls for the arts to be given greater prominence were welcomed by Peter Nutkins, headmaster of Humphrey Perkins School in Loughborough. "Creativity is something that is so fundamental to us as people," he said.

The Department for Education said that although no arts subjects were included in the EBac, it wanted all pupils to experience a broad and balanced curriculum, including the arts.

The DfE has provided pound;109 million to support music, art and cultural education in 2015-2016.

`Creativity is fundamental'

At Humphrey Perkins School in Loughborough, every student must take a creative subject, such as art, through to the age of 16.

"We don't have an options system and it is compulsory to do something creative because we believe creativity and the ability to express yourself are fundamental," says headmaster Peter Nutkins.

"I think art is something every child should experience and should have the opportunity to carry on with.

"I'm heartened by Mike Leigh's comments because creativity is so fundamental to us as people."

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