An open letter to a school cutting the Arts

I am devastated to hear that Cooper’s Company and Coborn School has decided to remove Drama and Theatre A level and Music A level from 2018. The school’s phenomenal reputation in Havering and Essex for Arts education is put in jeopardy by this decision. The school is considered a leader in the local area and this decision will surely have a ripple effect on other schools. It will only be a matter of time before studying the Arts in sixth form will not be possible in Havering and South Essex.

If you remove Arts A levels it will lead to reductions in arts specialist teachers, perhaps not immediately but when current teachers leave they won’t be replaced. If Arts teachers go then you will have no one in your school whose sole purpose it is to advocate for Drama and Theatre or champion Music. Interest will wane and you will find yourselves in charge a school where the Arts is suddenly absent from the experience of most students.

I understand that the financial outlook is not good for schools because of government cuts. I appreciate that heads will be turned by financial incentives that encourage schools to push students to take subjects that are not suitable for them. However, it is your responsibility as governors to defend a broad and balanced curriculum. It is your duty to foster creativity and collaboration in your students.

I have no doubt that you will argue that there will be other opportunities to access the Arts within your extra-curricular provision but this is not good enough.

The idea that the knowledge that fuels creativity in the Arts can be accessed in other areas of the curriculum is simply not true. This presumes that every teenager will be able to tap into their instinctive creative urges and navigate and shape their ideas until they stumble across a piece of art. Whilst this may be true of an elite few, the many have to learn a way of crafting their creative instincts into art.

The knowledge that is taught on the Drama and Theatre A level and the Music A level introduces students to this idea of craft. They study examples of great artists who experimented and honed their craft. They experience live examples of beautiful art crafted by professionals as a regular and necessary part of the course. They are exposed to ideas, stories and cultures that are different from what they know already. And once they have acquired all that knowledge and experienced all that challenging live performance they then have to take inspiration from it and create something original. This may be the interpretation of a classic text, the reimagining of a great piece of music or it may be the composition of something completely new.

This creative composition and interpretation is often completed in groups, fellow students experiencing the high-stakes of public performance together. It is this live public presentation of coursework that really makes these subjects essential. Yes, creativity, empathy, teamwork, analysis, problem-solving can be found in other subjects but nowhere are these skills so concentrated, so essential to assessment or exposed live in front of an audience.

It is the combination of active analysis, historical awareness, cultural intelligence and creativity within the pressure cooker of a public performance deadline that will ensure that Arts students will be the most employable.

The internationally renowned theatre maker and opera director, Simon McBurney heard about Coopers’ Company and Coborn School via Twitter and this is what he said:

The arts are not an add on…. they are not a luxury…. They are not for the few… every word uttered is a creative act…. and just as language builds our conscious selves, music builds our unconscious. To abandon either is self harm. To deprive children of them is abuse.

The petition has gathered over 5000 signatures including some of the UK’s leading artists, critics and academics. I urge all in charge of leading Coopers’ Company and Coborn School to reconsider their decision to cut Arts A levels. The damage that this will do for Arts provision in Havering and South Essex will be devastating.

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