BBC News film at Heathfield Community College

23rd January

Defence of the Arts

The proportion of students taking arts subjects has fallen nationally to the lowest level in a decade according to recent research reported at the start of this academic year. “A report by the Education Policy Institute suggests schools have reduced the number of pupils taking subjects like Drama and Art at key stage four, claiming reforms have pushed pupils towards more traditional academic subjects such as Geography and English.” (The Guardian) Reports like this, on the findings, suggested education funding cuts were also a factor in this decline. Last week, staff and students at Heathfield Community College took part in filming for a BBC investigation into these findings which will be aired this week on BBC News nationally. The BBC’s Education editor Branwen Jeffreys, her producer and film crew, visited Heathfield to film lessons in Music, Drama and Art along with English as well as to interview staff about the impact of the alleged pressures on our College.

The students spoke clearly and eloquently about the reasons why they value the Arts subjects; they spoke of the breadth of understanding it gives them, self-confidence, expression and social skills. They conveyed how they could easily see the relevance to other subjects, the workplace and in wider life to be able to project, relate and communicate effectively. Older students, Caleb Garvey and Neave Barnard, were interviewed direct to camera and spoke about their roles as Arts Leaders and the benefits they have experienced through their study of Music and other Arts subjects. They were effusive about the wide range of Arts subjects experienced here at Heathfield and how they feel this has advantaged them in their own development and their future pathways.

On camera with Branwen Jeffreys, Headteacher Caroline Barlow was questioned about why some schools are feeling the need to reduce access to subjects like this and what pressure there is to maximise results often at the cost of the Arts. Nationally, schools are experiencing what the Head described as a “triple edged sword” of:

• exam reform leading to courses with significantly more content, meaning many schools are reducing the number of options subjects for students so they focus on 3 options instead of 4 or more;
• performance measures which award double weighted importance to English and Maths and a focus on the “EBacc” subjects of Science, Humanities and Languages. This leads to some schools putting more focus on these subjects at the expense of others and
• school funding cuts meaning that as staffing costs increase, the need to ensure viable class sizes and reduce costs has led to some making the decision to cut Arts subjects or reduce time.

“Hopefully, it will be clear in the final programme that at Heathfield Community College, we are committed to maintaining a realistic
breadth for our students. All subjects are covered in KS3 as distinct subjects and GCSE students select 4 options allowing for a genuine choice. At GCSE and at A Level we continue to offer the full range of Arts subjects to students, although we too do have to make sensible financial decisions about class sizes. The vast range of extra-curricular activities in arts subjects allows students to maintain an interest and engagement with the Arts even if they choose not to study for a GCSE in that area.”

HCC is proud of its heritage as a Performing Arts College; and are also mindful of the future and the interest global countries have in
Britain’s expertise in creative and innovative industries. As long as the college is able to, through the funding and staffing pressures which affect all schools, they will continue to offer students the choice and breadth that they believe is vital for their futures.

Thank you to Heathfield Headlines Newsletter for the original article which we have edited and reproduced here.