Number 11 in our countdown of '70 Ways Art Improves Our Health' highlights the key role of creative subjects in our schools…

The arts have long been known as an important part of a well-rounded education. Then why, when it comes to setting budget priorities, have the arts dropped to the bottom of the list?

According to a BBC survey of over 1,200 secondary schools last year, 90% of schools have been forced to cut back on resources for teaching the arts, including lesson time, staff and facilities.

Art, music, drama, and design technology have all suffered cuts, with schools stating that this is due to the government’s increased emphasis on core academic subjects and pressures on budgets. The arts, it would seem, are still seen as ‘soft subjects’.

However, there is evidence to suggest that education in the arts offers benefits in academic achievement. Learning, Arts, and the Brain, a study by neuroscientists from seven leading universities in the US, found a number of benefits including: intensive music training improved school children’s performance in abstract geometry tasks, and experience in the visual arts had a direct link with children’s maths calculation abilities.

Paintings in Hospitals family engagement activity at Vassall Medical Centre

But these are only potential pleasant side-effects of having the arts taught in our schools.

In May the NSPCC reported that the number of referrals by schools seeking mental health treatment for pupils has risen by more than a third in the last three years. Shockingly, more than half of referrals came from primary schools. At least 10% of children and young people are thought to suffer from anxiety and depression, with exam stress a major contributor.

We already know that the arts can enrich the lives and boost the health of people of all ages. The APPGAHW inquiry report, Creative Health, found that people who engage with the arts are 38% more likely to report good health, and for people who participate in arts activities, 82% report better wellbeing. So, what could art do for these schoolchildren?

Last year a Bradford primary school announced to the world that its newfound Sats success was not due to doubling-down on pressures to reach targets in English, maths and science but due to embedding music, drama and art into every part of the school day. This boost in creativity also boosted pupil and staff morale. The results are inarguable: seven years ago the school was in special measures - now it is in the top 10% nationally for progress in reading, writing and maths.

The arts can inspire and motivate. They can offer children a new vocabulary with which to explore difficult subjects. The arts allow pupils to test their own voice, as well as opening them up to the voices and perspectives of others.

In order to help their pupils succeed, schools have a role to play in supporting them to be resilient and mentally healthy.

Mental health and behaviour in schools, Department for Education, 2014

All of these additional benefits aside, what is wrong with studying art for art's sake?

The creative industries in Britain are currently the fastest growing sector. A report from Nesta this year found that creative industries are driving local and national economic growth. Local economies in the UK have grown their creative industries by an average of 11% - twice as fast as other sectors. If they continue to grow at the same rate, they will create nearly a million new jobs by 2030.

Removing arts from our schools is not producing any greater success in core academic subjects. And piling the pressure on both pupils and teachers to achieve in this narrow range of academic subjects is dissolving morale, motivation and mental health.

Treating the arts as ‘soft subjects’ not only shows a lack of imagination but a lack of willingness to look at the evidence.

Arts are not extra, they are integral.

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