‘Pupils should be given a choice in what they study and their careers’, says Sheffield teacher

My child came home from a Sheffield secondary school PE lesson week having had a little fall and putting a small rip into their shorts.

Thursday, 31st October 2019, 10:20 pm
Our secret teacher said all children should have access to music education

There’s a temptation when something like this happens to just throw the shorts out and order new ones, but I decided to get the sewing kit out – we’ve taken a few too many hits on school uniform in the first half term.

The pay-out for school uniform at the start of term is one thing, but forking out for replacements every couple of weeks is something that needs to be reeled in, and so out came the needle and thread.

Developing an independent child is all part of the plan – as is cutting down on my long list of domestic chores – so I asked them to sew the hole up themselves.

The blank face that met my request was priceless. It wasn’t that they weren’t willing to have a go at sewing, they were just totally clueless how to go about it.

Then it dawned on me that recent curriculum at their school – and at my own secondary school – were starting to come home to roost.

In many secondaries across the country there has been a squeeze on artistic subjects at Key Stage 3 and at GCSE so that the focus right from the outset can be on the Ebacc examinations.

So many good and important topics are falling by the wayside as a result, including – much to my immediate annoyance – textiles.

Cooking at their school is limited to a handful of weeks in the year, and while my older child managed to make a pen holder in DT while they were at school they are still clueless when it comes to changing a plug or putting a shelf up.

I learnt all these things at school, believe it or not, and while I don’t pretend to be a domestic goddess I do lament the passing of these key skills in favour knowing what a subjunctive cause is and a forced interest in history.

There are some headteachers in Sheffield secondaries who have ignored the Ebacc league tables and focused instead on what the children want to do, allowing them a varied route to their chosen profession.

But those headteachers are becoming an increasingly smaller bunch; I can think of two that were forced out of their job in recent years to be replaced by Ebacc-loving number crunchers.

In this summer’s GCSE results, the numbers of those taking DT crashed by nearly a quarter; drama and music were also down. There was a small rise in those taking art, but these figures are still way down on what they used to be. Worryingly, there is a trend for art subjects to be taught out of the normal school timetable now, with students able to elect to join clubs after school.

Often music is something to be paid for and these clubs need parental support, all too often meaning that the arts in disadvantaged areas are being squeezed far more than in wealthier areas.

Independent schools, for example, don’t record the drastic fall in artistic subjects that has been seen in our state schools.

We all have the ability to be artistic and creative, so it’s so depressing to learn affluent kids are still more likely to learn instruments, go to the theatre and take artistic subjects.

There’s a practical as well as an expressive need to offer a broader curriculum. Some of our children will grow up to be artists, some of them will go on to work in textiles and some will perform for a living. We have a chronic shortage of young people able to work in engineering and tech-related industries.

Schools are far too eager to produce clones with the skills to be accountants and HR managers than they are to give them a choice.

This is down, of course, to Michael Gove’s Ebacc and league table obsession that is still hindering the GCSE choices of Year 9s and limited the academic palette of those doing GCSEs.

It’s time to tear up the rule up, rip up the expectations put on headteachers to conform with this damaging anti-art system.

Speaking of tears and rips, I still need to get to work on those shorts…