Obama research calls for creativity to be put at heart of curriculum

24th June 2011 at 01:00
Findings add to debate about absence of arts subjects in English Baccalaureate

Creative subjects lead to "significant and lasting" benefits for pupil achievement and should be put at the heart of education reforms, according to a major study commissioned by President Obama.

Art, music, drama and other creative activities deserve an "unambiguous place in the curriculum", American researchers said.

In a foreword to the 18-month study, influential US education secretary Arne Duncan said the arts were "essential" to a complete education and claimed they led to better results in other subjects.

The findings follow the fall-out from the Westminster Government's decision to exclude creative subjects from the English Baccalaureate. To qualify for the EBac, pupils must gain A*-C GCSEs or IGCSEs in English, maths, two sciences, history or geography and a language.

The Reinvesting in Arts Education report (see box) was prompted by one of President Obama's campaign pledges to improve school support for creative subjects.

In addition to gains in student achievement, the report also identified increased motivation and engagement, and improved problem- solving, critical and creative thinking skills as key benefits of arts education.

"Decades of research show strong and consistent links between high-quality arts education and a wide range of impressive educational outcomes," it said.

Using the arts across the curriculum has led to promising results and helped to close the achievement gap between pupils, it said.

The findings have been seized on by campaigners in England who fear that arts education is being squeezed on the timetable following the introduction of the EBac and cuts to funding for extra-curricular arts projects.

The report also comes as the government-commissioned review of cultural education - led by Classic FM managing director Darren Henley - is gathering evidence.

Jeremy Newton, chief executive of The Prince's Foundation for Children and the Arts, which forges links between schools and the arts, said: "The report's findings are even more pertinent to the UK, where the EBac has raised the temperature of the debate.

"Less able and under-achieving pupils in particular respond to breadth - the arts in particular can offer new and innovative approaches to help re- engage these pupils."

Patrice Baldwin, chair of National Drama, an association for drama teachers and theatre educators, said: "The arts have never been in as much danger as they are at the moment. I am deeply concerned about what is happening in schools since the EBac was announced - they are getting rid of arts teachers, and students are choosing not to study arts subjects."

A survey by the National Association of Music Educators earlier this year found that 57 out of 95 schools questioned were planning to cut opportunities to study music from this September following the introduction of the EBac.

Association chair Sarah Kekus urged the Government to take heed of the US report. "It is important that the arts are not (seen) as an add-on, especially if we want motivated and creative students," she said. "We are at a very dangerous stage with the EBac."

A Department for Education spokesman said: "The EBac is not the be all and end all.

"The ball is in each school's court over how they structure their curriculum. The number of EBac subjects has been kept deliberately small - leaving plenty of lesson time to offer valuable arts qualifications."


Key findings: benefits of the arts

- Arts education helps increase academic achievement, school engagement and creative thinking.

- Integrating the arts into the teaching of other subjects can dramatically improve results and close the "achievement gap".

- Schools that are "arts-rich" uniquely reach out to disengaged learners.

- Creativity is best developed through arts education.

- Research about the value of arts education is positive and consistent.

Montessori's method

"We cannot know the consequences of suppressing a child's spontaneity when he is just beginning to be active. We may even suffocate life itself. That humanity which is revealed in all its intellectual splendour during the sweet and tender age of childhood should be respected with a kind of religious veneration. It is like the sun which appears at dawn or a flower beginning to bloom. Education cannot be effective unless it helps a child to open up himself to life." Maria Montessori (1870-1952).

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