Since you picked up the story (Ofsted chief: ‘Arts courses claim unrealistic career prospects’ , November 29, p1), many of your readers have been climbing on rather high horses on Twitter to slay the evil dragon of Ofsted, who has supposedly disparaged the importance of studying arts and media subjects.
It may disappoint you, then, to know that I did nothing of the sort. In fact, I have repeatedly drawn attention to the fact that creative and practical subjects are valuable in their own right , and are too often being squeezed out of school curricula.
What I did point out is a finding from our recent survey of level 2 study programmes, which are a set of relatively low-level further education courses taken mainly by students who have done less well at school. Colleges recruit considerable numbers of students to courses in arts and media, yet they also say that these courses are the ones from which their students are least likely to progress to jobs in the same sector. The level of mismatch is very clear, and has been acknowledged by the Association of Colleges’ chief executive.
I want to make sure that we are fair to these young people, and do not use the glamour of jobs that they are very unlikely ever to attain to encourage them down a path that could turn out to be a dead end.
With a family member who spent more than a decade as a frequently underemployed actor, I have seen at close quarters quite what a demoralising experience that can be.
Chief inspector, Ofsted
I see that The Stage has been covering comments made by Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman that arts courses promote unrealistic career prospects for young people.
At City and Islington College, we have a vibrant performing arts faculty and run a range of acting and performing arts courses. We were surprised by Amanda’s comments and, in our view, she is looking at the issue from the wrong viewpoint.
To assume, as she did, that a level 2 arts course must translate into a job in an arts field, misses the fundamental reason why many learners opt for a level 2 arts subject. In our experience, level 2 arts subjects are seldom a direct route into work in their own right, but are a stepping stone into a level 3 course for those who – for whatever reason – didn’t achieve the GCSE grades they needed. Indeed, almost all our learners who do a level 2 arts course also do English and Maths GCSE resits.
For many of our level 2 students therefore, college represents a second chance at education. And doing an arts course alongside their GCSE resits develops students’ life skills and massively improves their confidence and prepares them for further study. More than 90% of our learners progress from level 2 to a level 3 course at City and Islington College, and from there onwards to work or university – not necessarily in a performing arts field.
Curriculum leader in performing arts at City and Islington College
Anyone wishing to pursue a career in any of the arts subjects, please, please ignore everything this woman is saying. Ignore it and follow your instincts. We need way more talented and tenacious people who are not from privileged backgrounds making and performing all forms of art.
Access to the arts isn’t only about careers. It’s about confidence, articulacy, emotional intelligence, creative problem-solving and team work. Private schools with on-site theatres understand that arts [subjects] develop character and resilience. Enrichment for all.
Tracy Brabin MP
The number of replies to this accurate and very important article is almost proof in itself that there is a problem, perhaps an even greater problem than the article identifies.
The arts in general have always been over-serviced by mainly young persons hopeful to become professional artists of one kind or another. Many myths have arisen and loomed alongside the fact that there are more wanting than the combined arts can, or have ever been able to, accommodate.
The old myth of the 1970s was that there were fewer jobs for women. This was half true, but the fact that there were twice as many women looking for work in the arts was rarely considered a contributor. Most men were looking for guaranteed employment, because they were, in those days, expected to apply their income to the support of a household. In fact, young men of that era trying to become actors, dancers or visual artists were looked down upon by the general public as irresponsible dreamers, or time-wasters, or lazy bastards. I know this, because I was one of them.
Today, we have art degrees being handed out like pamphlets, to such an extent that we have more people who identify as ‘artists’ walking the streets than were ever in existence in the entire Renaissance period.
Why all these certified artists of all kinds? There is money in so-called education, and there are gullible people who are inclined to believe that a degree in the arts, or a diploma, or some fancy colourful certificate after a few years of paying through the nose, will make the road to artistic recognition an easier one.
The truth is that so-called education providers require customers, and the easiest customers to get are those with dreams and money. Enter all the young people who have funds (or parents with funds) and a dream of stardom, turn them out like certificated sausages, and to hell with where they may go from there.
In the past, for every 10 art students who made it, there were hundreds who fell by the wayside and pursued other avenues of employment. Today, it is more like thousands – and if the so-called education providers succeed, there will be tens of thousands followed by millions.
Quotes of the week
“The harsh and uncomfortable truth is that British East Asians have no canon. I only have theories as to why. Theatre sounds simple: someone writes a play, you get some actors and you put it on. In actuality theatre is an industry with layers and layers of gatekeepers that you have to navigate, impress, convince and (occasionally I’m afraid) deceive in order to get your play into a hallowed privileged space where anyone other than your immediate family and friends will actually see it.” – Daniel York Loh (blog post on Bruntwood Playwriting Prize website)
“I write about people who are marginalised because, as an African-American woman, particularly now I am a middle-aged woman, I walk down the street and people will bump into me. To much of the population, I am invisible.” – Playwright Lynn Nottage (Twitter)
“I love panto. I go every year, and I’m really angry if it’s not good – and by good, I mean all the rules. I want to see ‘Oh yes he did! Oh no he didn’t!’. I want all of that. There was a time when lots of weird Australian actors were in them, and sportsmen… the ones I went to see, I thought, ‘Oh come on, we’ve loads of great actors who are funny who can do this, why is this not funny?’” – Palladium panto star Dawn French (Telegraph)
“I have learned a lot from playing the character of Hermione on stage in the last few years. Although generally calm and level-headed, righteous and empathetic, Hermione knows how to use anger effectively when it’s needed.” – Actor Noma Dumezweni (BBC)
“Theatre marketing teams, if you care about reaching diverse audiences to the theatre please put that at the core of the work. If you care, you should be thinking about it way before the show opens. Don’t suddenly think about us last minute. Especially when a show closes in a week. Absolutely sick and tired of it. Respect us like you respect your white middle-class theatregoers.” – Director and founder of the Diversity School Initiative Steven Kavuma (Twitter)
“For me it’s about the quality of the work of the minority, representing our different voices on stage. We have a social responsibility here as artists about what we put out there. It’s to challenge, isn’t it? It’s not light entertainment.” – Designer Rajha Shakiry (i)
“I’ve been working my butt off so I could earn the right to sing songs I haven’t written. You know, the only reason I started writing musicals was because I loved musicals but couldn’t see my way in.” – Lin-Manuel Miranda (Observer)
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