Fighting for Creativity in Education

Following news that several universities and other higher education institutes are beginning to scrap humanities and arts-centred degrees and opportunities, we’re taking a look at the importance of creativity in education, now and for the future.


In recent weeks, it has been announced by numerous universities across the UK that they are planning to drop some of their arts and humanities courses to make way for Stem (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) led degrees in the wake of lower admissions to Shape (Social sciences, Humanities and Arts for People and the Economy) courses –  no doubt a knock-on effect from the government’s crackdown on so called “Mickey Mouse” degrees. But why have we seen such a drastic drop in applications to these courses?

Speaking to FE News, headteacher of the independent Minerva Virtual School, Lawrence Tubb cited the continual effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the ongoing mental health crisis of children and young people, and the positive influence of arts and humanities in classrooms and lecture halls.

      For many children and young people, the arts offer them an outlet for them to express and make sense of their emotions. Whether this is through music, drama, art, or dance – it is proven to increase confidence and overall self-esteem. Being engaged in a creative arts activity can allow a young person respite from the increasing difficulties that they face in today’s society”

— Lawrence Tubb

This however isn’t a new issue. 40 years ago, the Gulbenkian Foundation’s UK branch published The Arts in Schools: Principles, Practice and Provision, a report edited by Ken Robinson which had a huge influence on the schools of the UK and inspired many arts practitioners to engage with education for the first time. The report outlined five key challenges for the arts in schools back in 1982: communicating the value of the arts in education; the need for a coherent vision for the arts in schools within an equal framework for all subjects; linking what is taught, and how it is taught, to the needs of a changing society; the need for new modes of assessment and accountability; and what we would now term addressing equity, diversity and inclusion.

Forty years on, and these same challenges remain almost the same. Narrowing applications for GCSE and A-Level art has had an effect on higher education admissions in the arts. Lockdowns, closures, and cancellations due to the pandemic have meant even less opportunities.

But what can we do? Schools in Wales have begun to implement their new curriculum which acknowledges the arts and humanities as essential parts of education, with their six areas of learning including “expressive arts”, “humanities” and “literacy and communication”. The Welsh government have also started introducing more Global Majority history into classrooms.

A New Direction, ACE Bridge organisation for London, are also leading on recommendations for arts and humanities in school, reflecting on The Arts in Schools report, working with the support of ourselves and the other eight Bridge organisations to consult on all the themes of the original report, including “the purpose of education and the role of the arts, primary and secondary provision, the role of professional arts organisations, creativity, cultural capital, assessment and accountability, and provision beyond schools”.

According to the Cultural Learning Alliance, people who take part in the arts are more 38% more likely to report good health – with Arts Council England working with the NHS to promote the integration of arts into general health and wellbeing, with statistics showing the ability of arts therapies to alleviate mental health stresses. The ability to express oneself through drama, literature, music, and art can be a great impact on CYP wellbeing especially in the wake of the pandemic. By allowing all children and young people to access this can positively influence their mental health. These positive effects on mental health and wellbeing have a huge influence on how children and young people continue to engage with the arts and humanities in higher and further education.

The sustained efforts of creative organisations, practitioners and supporters will hopefully keep the arts and humanities alive in our schools, colleges, and universities. We have seen just how creativity can improve the lives and mental health of children and young people through our Creative Mentoring programme and we hope this will retain the importance of creativity and culture for future generations.

Want to have your say?

Get involved in the conversation by sharing your thoughts and reflections by clicking the ‘share my thoughts’ button below. These will be fed into the final report launched by A New Direction, set to be published later this year. Don’t forget to get involved on social media using the hashtag #ArtsinSchools.

Fighting for the creative voices of children and young people is at the heart of our mission and we couldn’t do it without your support. To join our fight and support our mission, you can donate to us and every penny we raise goes towards vital work for creative young lives.