Why are the arts so important for pupils?

Posted on: 05 Feb 2018
Posted by: Simon Mower

Simon Mower, principal at Bellerbys College in Brighton, discusses the importance of the arts for school children - enabling them to gain confidence and self-awareness as well as linguistic and interpersonal skills.

Whilst we always welcome internationally minded UK students to Bellerbys, our student body is almost entirely international; currently made up of representatives from 64 countries. All arrive with a very clear mission to work hard, make friends and get into a top university. With this determination and drive come some preconceived ideas, almost always due to a lack of understanding about wider education and a feeling that route one is the only way ahead.

The arts suffer as a consequence. Whilst we have very large and successful art and media departments, those are populated by students whose families are open-minded enough to allow them to follow their passions. Clearly, as educators we understand the huge value of literature, dance, music and drama and as our students will rarely have such delights on their radar at Bellerbys Brighton we apply a stealth approach.

Reading around the subject is not something many of our students have done before they arrive; most coming from cultures where they just do as the teacher tells them. As Daniel Rovira, English teacher, says: "We read not only to be entertained or informed but also to expand our imaginative horizons. By knowing of the worlds beyond, we know our own and can therefore extend it by knowing its limits……We read to learn how to write, to then learn how to speak. It happens twice in life, learning to speak. The first allows us to communicate, the second to communicate effectively.”

We have a drop-in writing centre where students go to develop their written English skills. In fact, it was here that one of our Thai students wrote her winning ISA Essay competition entry a few years ago.

There is no better way for timid students to gain confidence and self-awareness than taking to the stage. Tanya Munday, actor and teacher, says: “Kinaesthetic learning is a psychophysical experience and drama as a subject is perfectly positioned to support that learning. A world that increasingly models collaborative work practices and flexible interpersonal social skills requires individuals who are self-confident, imaginative and brave, qualities that are well met through drama.”

International students rarely arrive with experience of the performing arts, which is a shame as the cultures from which they come almost always have hugely rich arts backgrounds. We are taking things slowly and Tanya will start teaching LAMDA classes after half term. The certificated outcome will be attractive to our students.

The excellent ARTiculation competition is another fantastic example of how students can engage in public speaking and has proved to be very popular not only with our art history students but those from across all academic areas.

As teacher Josh Hawthorne says: "Literature teaches us how to live. Literature makes the reader visit places, experience events, meet people, listen to them, feel their joys and sufferings. It takes years to acquire so much wisdom that a single book of literary merit instills in a reader. Studying the human condition with detachment is not enough. One has to feel that condition in order to gain wisdom and what better way to feel that condition than through literature.”

At Bellerbys Brighton we are expanding and developing the relevant digital skills and work experience in our media students through our joint collaborative practical project with BDMA (Brighton Digital Media Academy) based at BACA (Brighton Aldridge Community Academy). Through the BDMA umbrella and the facilitation of teaching staff, students work with media industry tutors learning up to date industry and production skills.

Our enrichment programme is becoming the matrix which permeates all aspects of student life at the college, so much so that we have just decided to remove its physical presence. By framing all of our enrichment activities in the context of future benefits (i.e. emphasising skills learnt) we engage far more students. Admittedly this is a bit of fudge to get round the natural reluctance to participate but over time we believe that the arts will become ingrained in college life. Alix Dreiling, head of enrichment explains: “Not only do the arts connect our communities, cultures, lives and shared experiences, providing enormous social benefits, but the arts also play a fundamental role in our economic growth too. Throughout history, all great civilisations have been founded on and excel in the arts, humanities,sciences and mathematics combined. A society without art as part of the education of its citizens will be unable to flourish, compete, innovate or solve problems creatively.”

So in short, we recognise the huge value of the arts to the education of our students and are using it increasingly to help them develop confidence, linguistic and interpersonal skills they will need at university and beyond.

About Simon Mower

Simon Mower is principal at Bellerbys College in Brighton.