‘Choice’ is a word that’s sadly missing from children’s education. So-called ‘creative’ subjects and arts subjects don’t feature in the ‘essential’ GCSEs prescribed by our politicians (though we know that many teachers of the subjects that are included in the EBacc are creative and encourage creativity in their pupils).
Another omission from education is often the voice of students. All too frequently young people aren’t listened to and they’re not included in conversations about what, where and how they might like to study.
So it’s refreshing, yet simultaneously upsetting, to be able to read two articles written by two young women decrying the opportunities, attitudes and choices afforded to them during their school years.
The first article is by a 16-year-old who chose to study dance at GCSE.
The second article is written by a 24-year-old who chose not to go to university.
Luckily, both of these young women had the freedom and encouragement to make choices for themselves, though many ridiculed them for their decisions. Many more are not so fortunate.
“At 16, I am constantly baffled by people who believe they can define what is of academic value. People see me as an equation – because I am ‘academic’, I should not choose dance and drama at GCSE.
I still struggle to be taken seriously for taking arts subjects. I was told by advisers that dance and drama wouldn’t help me to get a suitable career, and by other adults that I was wasting my potential. But the only potential I was wasting was to be sat in classrooms, with no motivation for what would never interest me.”
How sad that this young woman doesn’t feel that she was “taken seriously” when she made a very serious and thoughtful decision. She was determined to find her true element and her personal forte, and she resolved to follow her instincts and her intuition. Thankfully, she’s “intelligent” enough to understand that her arts subjects will afford her vital skills and strengths that she may not gain in other subjects.
“To study arts subjects, you have to take risks, push yourself emotionally, expressively and creatively in every lesson, you have to persevere and be interpretive, passionate and collaborative. I’ve worked harder in these subjects than I’ve ever worked in my life.
To deprive anyone of the opportunity to find what dance and drama gave me is to strip them of a real education that goes beyond the walls of a classroom.”
She concludes her article with a heartfelt plea.
“To the teachers, the parents, the government: expand your definition of what is possible for the children you know. Let them make their own decisions, let them be inspired and live in the present. Let them have a real, unrestricted education.”
Making decisions, being inspired, living in the present, having an unrestricted education – not being ridiculed for loving learning through the arts. What’s not to like?
The other young woman chose not to go to university. She decided academia wasn’t for her in spite of the fact that she was “capable” of getting the required grades to do so.
“In my final year at school, people seemed to think that choosing a university course was the biggest decision anyone would make in their lives, and when I told my tutor that I wasn’t going to university, she stopped talking to me. Not only was I no longer of interest as I didn’t contribute to the school’s targets, but she was probably also struggling to work out how to advise me on what my next step should be.”
So if you choose not to go to university you’re no longer worth a teacher’s attention? Is this the only purpose of education?
Even though she knew she’d made the right decision, it was initially a struggle to find a suitable job without having a degree. But she persevered and used her initiative.
“I began to learn how to adapt my cover letter to get myself noticed. I started to research companies I wanted to work for, finding email addresses of people I’d like to work with and contacting them directly.
I learned how to approach people I looked up to – asking them for coffee or lunch to hear about their path to success and see if they had any advice for me. Building these relationships was the most important thing I did in my early career.
The volume of people I had to communicate with on a daily basis improved my ability to put my point across eloquently – another skill that has been invaluable to my career. My manager at the time encouraged me to read as much as possible; he had a rule of rotating his reading between non-fiction and fiction, and I still follow this rule today. Reading extensively helped build up my vocabulary, my general knowledge and understanding of the world, and my creativity.”
Learning through experience? Developing personal, social and emotional skills that decent PSHE lessons might possibly provide – if only PHSE was on offer as a compulsory part of education? Developing a real love of this learning?
This young woman demonstrates the fundamental value of skills that are so often ignored in schools in the rush for academic success – key research skills, speaking and listening, reading for pleasure and purpose, developing creativity, etc.
She too concludes her article with a very clear comment about the need for and the value of choice, having eventually decided to sign up for a degree course:
“I’m not studying because I feel I need it for my career; I’m studying because I feel like I’m finally at a point where I can and I want to. For me, the key to a happy career is making decisions for yourself and choosing to do things the way you want to – even when it doesn’t seem like the obvious choice.”
We found these two articles very arresting. It’s sad that these cases are probably typical of young people’s experiences and how our system coerces and often directs them towards choices and educational pathways which simply aren’t right for them.