Arts In Education

Part I: Soft Subjects

Throughout our childhood and lives we are told by every person, film, song, book and anything else in between that we can shoot for the stars. That we can leap up and grasp our pick of the innumerous possibilities and dreams of our aspirations and see where it will take us on a whirling adventure through the night sky. Of course, we know this is not always the case, dreams have to be worked hard at in order for us to attain them and are not always as filled with the stardust we expected. But then why are we seeking to limit these aspirational possibilities even further by restricting school curriculums and within them marginalising subjects deemed not ‘academic’ enough such as the arts? We are constantly surrounded by a rhetoric of being able to be and do whatever you want, only for it to be coldly cut out beneath us in a calculated assessment of percentages and evaluation of the ‘value’ of the future we seek for ourselves. Nowhere is this more evident than in the marginalisation of the arts, something I myself hold very dear to me, and I despair at the continuous horror stories I hear of pupils choices being limited and their aspirations shut down as not being aspirational enough. But why is this seemingly more and more often the case? And what effect can it have on students, their education and why is it so important?

A little bit of background, I’m from the UK, England more specifically, and over several years now the government has been frantically flip flopping over how best to maximise results, what examinations system is best and overall how to help students develop better and more successful learning throughout the curriculum. Of course, trying to improve education and its systems for everyone involved can only ever be a good thing, but what’s been concerning is the way in which they have chosen to go about it. Academy schemes were set up supposedly to provide more free control for schools directly over funding, the school’s curriculum and teacher’s pay and conditions without having controls imposed by local authorities in a supposed kind of ‘education revolution’. Ultimately however, the reality is that these kind of schools, more often than not, have become businesses rather than places of learning and are being run as so, and so subjects and activities are often valued more on their money earning potential and chances of job and financial success rather than trying to adapt, push and challenge each individual student in the ways that will help them succeed in what they wish to discover and strive for.

An example of a so called blacklist of 'soft subjects'. Posters and 

lists like these are incredibly damaging not only for these subjects and the aspirations of people doing them, but also reducing the individual and unique values of such subjects. Some of the subjects and suggestions of 'worthless' subjects are beyond bizarre and ridiculous. We need to get rid of this kind of thought process and rhetoric.


All too commonly I’ve heard and been first hand witness to stories and events of schools leaving struggling students behind to applaud and push ‘top’ students for the best university places and acting as if students who have picked ‘soft’ subjects didn’t exist. I myself in Sixth Form had been placed with a load of my friends in a ‘high achievers’ group to try and push us to get into the best universities, we all scathingly called it ‘The Glorious 21’ as even then it seemed like a ridiculous and unnecessary forced ego trip for students and teachers alike with no such extra help given to other students other than the standard Sixth Form transition officer. It seemed exceptionally cruel and hypocritical to say that everyone can achieve their best and then leave other, equally as valuable and worthy students by the wayside. And then when, in the first ridiculous group meeting of ‘The Glorious 21’, I stated I wanted to pursue my love of art at University to better develop my skills and experience, there was an awkward silence from the teacher before saying, “Oh, that sounds really good”. Of course I was never invited back, it was no great loss I told myself, but still as with anything like that it made me and my aspirations feel worthless. 

Published by Rebecca Elise