Diary of a Parent: The Cinderella subjects?

Written by: Diary of a Parent | Published:
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After seeing the impact of a trip to the theatre on her daughter, our parent diarist is concerned that the academic focus of education is limiting children’s life chances

My daughter’s year group recently went to the theatre. The trip was a welcome diversion from the post-Christmas return to school and was met with huge excitement. They watched Cinderella, to enhance a theme they were working on in class but also, no doubt, to give children the wonderful opportunity of experiencing drama in its rightful environment.

At pick-up time, she and her classmates were glowing with joy. By all accounts, the trip had been a great success and she spoke of it for days afterwards – of the colourful costumes, that men dressed up as women and vice-versa and recounted the jokes from the script.

Our one previous trip to the theatre, to see the English Youth Ballet, hadn’t been so successful. With hindsight, she’d been too young and my hopes of inspiring and encouraging her own dance lessons didn’t work out.

Her over-riding memory of it three years on is that she had needed to go the toilet but had to wait for the interval. But this trip was different, if nothing else for the pleasure and emotions it evoked.

But it was only a couple of days later that news stories emerged casting doubt on the usefulness of such activities. The Education Endowment Foundation, it was announced, was to lead a project looking at whether taking pupils on theatre and museum trips has any educational impact.

The research, which will cost £2.5 million, will focus on schools in areas of social deprivation, and examine whether this approach has any educational value in terms of raising attainments.

It will also look at whether it helps children acquire skills such as resilience and self-confidence. My guess is, however, that the ultimate purpose of the exercise is to look at how effectively schools are spending their money.

This was followed a day later with the news that learning a musical instrument does not make children any smarter. According to researchers at Liverpool University playing an instrument “doesn’t offer any benefits for a child’s school work” and it is unlikely that music training can enhance a child’s cognitive or academic skills. Any parents who are forking out for tuition are, therefore, wasting their money and their child’s time.

What a thoroughly depressing start to the year for our children, then.

Whatever happened to watching drama or playing an instrument for the sheer joy of it – for developing a skill that may offer a lifetime of enjoyment, for nurturing the senses and providing a means of self-expression?

Must the by-product of all our children’s activities be increased and ever-higher SATs scores, and nothing else? And if so, why and what for? What is it intended to show or prove?

As a parent I care more for my child’s social, emotional and creative development and wellbeing than the score in any spelling or maths test. The time to nurture these human attributes is now, at the age of 7 and to offer opportunities that may, in time, shape her adult life.

Who knows whether a trip to see Cinderella at primary school won’t linger in a child’s memory for years and lead to a career on the stage or in films. Or that the child destined to be the next Andrew Lloyd-Webber realised they had the gift of music at primary school while learning the recorder.

If school really is to be about ticking boxes and passing tests, then we need to look again at what education is for and whom it serves. Because it surely isn’t our children, or society in general. We have to stop chasing the PISA scores of Shanghai and Finland at the expense of our children’s development, because we are never going to achieve them without a major shift in attitudes.

It was Nicky Morgan, as secretary of state, who once said that studying creative subjects was limiting one’s career options. This, in a country that has given the world some of the top fashion designers, modern-day composers and inventors, and where the creative industries contribute £90 billion to the national GDP, and one in 11 jobs. Her predecessor Michael Gove was no better, as the introduction of the EBacc in secondary schools shows.

These are not people who care for the education of the next generation. They are the comments and actions of philistines, who are limiting – not enhancing – our children’s life-chances.

  • Diary of a Parent is written anonymously by a mother living in the South of England who has a child in year 2 in primary school. Names have been changed where appropriate. Email your views and questions to editor@headteacher-update.com

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