Should we allow the sciences to push out creative subjects?

Ever since the introduction of the Ebacc, the debate surrounding arts vs science has dominated educational conversations. The Department for Education believes that “we need high level of skills in science, technology, engineering and maths [as] science and research are major contributors to the prosperity of the UK”. Whilst prospective STEM teachers are given generous bursaries to study, those from the arts subjects are forced to take out hefty loans. But how important is it to study Ebacc subjects, and are we forcing scientific creativity at the expense of artistic creativity?

As someone who studied the Ebacc subjects, I do believe that a rounded education is vital. Alongside English, maths, geography, French, biology, physics and chemistry I studied music. It was a throw-up between art and music, and my heart at the time told me music was the choice to go for. I loved the sciences, particularly physics and biology, which I studied as Highers in the Scottish education system (equivalent to AS level). I probably enjoyed them more than my music lessons.

When we chose our GCSE subjects (then Standard Grades), we were given a table filled with potential subjects. It was an easy process. We were to choose one subject from each column and our timetable would be created from that. I never faced any pressure about which subjects to take, neither were fellow students. It was our choice.

However, when I think about the subjects I have used since my school days, the sciences have been absent. In my spare time, I like to write, create prints and sometimes tinkle on the piano. I don’t prepare science experiments, read about advancements or even test whether I still have the knowledge to work out problems (mostly because I suspect that I can’t). I love to cook and make up recipes, yet I only took Home Economics as a short course (you never saw my pure lack of ability when it came to sewing). None of my hobbies are even remotely linked to my love of the sciences at school. So, what happened?

I knew from the age of 14 that I wanted to be a teacher. Either that or a psychologist, because when you suffer from mental health difficulties, the pull of learning more about the brain is alluring. I considered primary teaching at this point, but felt that being an English teacher was a better fit. Never once did it occur to me to teach physics (which would have been the choice). Why would I? Even as a teenager, I used to write all of the time: journals, poetry, short stories. Although I loved science, I didn’t feel passionate about it in the same way.

I am sure STEM subjects allow one to be creative in another way, but the self-representation afforded by music, art and writing, to use the oft quoted cliché, really is a window into the soul.

Earlier this month, BBC News School Report questioned whether there was enough support for students choosing a different path. Because of the lack of support from the public sector, schools are feeling the pressure to ensure their students are equipped with knowledge of STEM subjects over the arts. In addition, schools are feeling the burden of the progress 8 measures, which will in likelihood cause a shift from creative subjects to ensure they are meeting national standards.

I believe in choice. Choice of which school you go to. Choice of the subjects you learn. Instead of putting off young people, let’s involve them in the education process. In a world where you can go back to school at any age, change your profession as often as you want, shouldn’t we be promoting passion over the decision that science is somehow better than arts?

About the author: Now an English consultant, Jill formerly worked as both a secondary Head of English and a primary teacher.

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