A leading headmaster will warn that “questionable” reforms to GCSEs may not be developing the qualities valued by employers.
Michael Windsor, headmaster of Reading Blue Coat School, will say that ‘soft skills’ sought by businesses, such as creativity, critical thinking and social confidence, can be advanced by involvement in the creative arts.
However, Mr Windsor will warn that, while arts subjects are an “essential part of the fabric of school life”, national focus on these disciplines is lessening in favour of an “overly utilitarian vision of education”.
Mr Windsor, who is Chairman of the Society of Heads – a group of leading independent schools – is set to outline his concerns in a speech at the society’s annual conference next week.
In his speech he will highlight the importance of a creative arts education, saying that the “inestimable” benefits can be seen on a daily basis in schools, and should be an “integral part” of learning to equip students to be “successful and happy adults”.
According to Mr Windsor, the benefits of studying the creative arts include: “the growth in confidence that comes from performing in front of an audience of any size; the opportunities for collaboration and working as a team; the need for concentration and discipline and to escape from distraction; taking risks … and learning to cope with the inevitable failures and false starts that are part and parcel of the creative process.”
Citing a recent CBI survey, Mr Windsor will say that the qualities that employers value the most are “the very qualities we might list as being developed by involvement in the creative arts.”
While Mr Windsor welcomes the disappearance of January exams, he will say that it is “questionable” whether recent GCSE reforms, currently being implemented, develop the qualities sought by the CBI or “reflect the changing requirements of society”.
“Furthermore, the piecemeal way in which these reforms are being carried out has done little to sustain public confidence in the examination system, especially in the light of ongoing concerns about marking.
“We do not seem any closer to producing a worthwhile and well-regarded system of vocational education and instead we are left with a one-size-fits-all system that plays to the strengths of a few,” he will say.
His comments go against a speech made last year by Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, in which she warned that schoolchildren who focus exclusively on arts and humanities-style subjects risk restricting their future career paths.
She said that the skills gained from studying STEM subjects would “come in useful in almost any job you care to mention.”
However, Mr Windsor will argue that a focus on the arts could help develop the skills young people need to succeed in the workplace.
In further comments, Mr Windsor will say that while technology provides “exciting” new opportunities to engage students, schools should offer students a “welcome respite” from screens.
“When we discuss technology and education, it sometimes seems to me that we are trying to prepare students for some sort of preordained and inevitable technological future over which we have no control. In fact, it is the young people in our schools who are going to be shaping that very future.
“More than ever, we have a duty to imbue within them the values of respect, warmth, tolerance and courtesy, so that those values can be the bedrock of the future that they form,” he will say.
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