Don’t cut the creativity

desk lay paperchase notebooks and postcards

I’ve seen a couple of tweets going around this week about creative GCSE’s / A-levels and educational reforms, and I’m not going to pretend that a) I really know what’s going on, because I don’t quite have the time to sit through reports and policies and analyse right now, or that b) it’s going to affect me, because I left sixth form five years ago and am coming up to the finish line of my taught educational life. 

But in saying that, I did go through an educational system where creativity was encouraged, at a school that was touted for it’s music department and its technological capabilities. I wasn’t a massive fan of school, in all honesty I hated quite a lot of it, but creative based subjects allowed me to at least express myself when there was no room for it in the strict formulas of maths, or hard facts of science. 

desk lay paperchase notebooks and postcards

I was lucky enough to be born into a family where my parents could indulge my sisters and I creatively. Dance class when I just about walking with my elder sister, piano lessons from my mum when I was old enough to start understanding, moving on to a teacher at 5. My dad would draw outlines for us all to colour in when we got bored of the printed books. Creativity was something that was nurtured. 

I was lucky enough to have that, lucky that my parents were able to provide that for us. 

I’m also starkly aware that not all children get the opportunity I’ve had, and that for them, school art, music, design, and drama lessons are sometimes the only way they can be guided with their creativity. 

Creative subjects (or, let’s go with Finland’s redefinition of topics), are necessary for those who don’t fit in the ‘academic’ box. Those who need a blank sheet of paper to scrawl their mind’s workings on instead of neat lines and square grids. Those who find that numbers don’t always make sense, but abstract artists are steadily solving the problems of the universe.

When you try and cram children – because really, as much as you protest dear students you are still children – with all their brilliance and their imagination and their want to do things new and exciting before responsibilites, into boxes, the same boxes, things start getting messy.

A one-size-fits-all system works for the majority, but the creative topics catch the ‘outliers’, the ‘anomalies’, the ones you circle in your scatter-graph of education.

If we’re talking personally, I was a bit of an all rounder at school. A dash of creative with a hint of athletic competitive, mixed with a healthy dose of academically sound. The only GCSE I really had to revise for was French, and I was constantly told in the run up to A-levels that I had a ‘natural ability’ for sciency topics. Mum was proud, she was excited for me to follow in her medically orientated footsteps. I followed my elder sister in the ‘tests well’ category.

I excelled most in music and textiles. They were, by far, my highest GCSE marks in a collection of A*’s and As, anything in ICT that was design driven was next, and then it was my creative writing English coursework, because I thrived in the environment. I’ve always been happiest creating,

Fast forward to A-levels and I can honestly say I was the saddest of my academic life. I ended up doing Biology, Chemistry, Maths and Music, because my parents pretty much forbade me to pick textiles as it ‘would lessen the chance of me getting into uni’ for ‘being a soft subject’. Music was a concession on their part – because I never wanted to do physics. Three sciences would’ve killed me.

As it was, I loathed Chemistry with a passion. The lessons were fun, the content was interesting, it just wasn’t for me in anything but the practicals. Practical exams I almost always got close to full marks in, but written mocks and actual exams I failed spectacularly. To the point where I got so frustrated with my lack of ability to comprehend fucking science that I ended up writing ‘magic’ on my AS paper quite a bit. Soz, examiner. I’m sure that was a thoroughly disappointing read. The unicorns were a fun addition though, right?

It was the first point in my academic career that I’d gone so horribly ‘off track’. I think my chemistry teacher described it to my mum as ‘derailing’ but they attributed it to a lot of stuff going on that AS year. That it was all messing with my head and once I was ‘fixed’ I’d be doing OK again. My Biology teachers concurred, I could ‘bring it back in my A2 year with resits!’ – no surprises I tanked that AS topic too.

Lol no. It was because I didn’t want to do it. I was pigeonholed into ‘being good at sciences’ and it made me so unhappy.

I managed to bring it back, as predicted. Switched Biology classes, dropped Chemistry (see you fucking never, unless I’m at The Alchemist or something), Maths was going OK, Music was fun, though I wasn’t a massive fan of the ‘analysis’ bit. But this isn’t a story about my academic trysts with the system (fuck you massively, aqa music a-level), I can do when I try or am pressured not to/too scared to fail. I’m lucky again, in that respect.

But there are so many kids who can’t do that. Numbers really don’t make sense and science is effectively magic past the point of breaking things down into molecules before we start memorising the periodic table and how many protons are in shells and what way do they spin. But they create masterpieces on canvases that span walls, or write songs that are so bloody catchy they need a record contract, stat, or can dance Sugar Plum from the nutcracker exactly as intended.

There’s a quote from Andrew Garfield where he says:

I hated school, I hated school. And I didn’t realize why. I thought I was…I was, I thought there was something wrong with me for hating school, for not being able to deal with school. At the time it was ingrained in me that school was: if you’re not successful in school you’re not going to be successful in life. And the hierarchy with the subjects at school, like the arts are given no credence. And if they are, it’s false credence. So, I look back on it and and I’m angry. I’m angry about it because, you know, there might be a brilliant ballerina somewhere in school who’s being forced to do maths, and she sees it difficult. But if she’s just allowed to express whatever gifts she has to offer then she would be happy and then she could make hundreds of thousands of other people joyous for a couple of hours per night.

and it sums everything up so perfectly.

To add a ‘personal’ edge again: my elder sister is fantastically academic. She tests brilliantly. She has a scholastic record that shines golden and is now in a job that sounds horrifically stressful but she’s thriving. It’s her forte.

In the same family, you have one that fits into this ‘academic’ box, and one that doesn’t  really (and my little sister is like a cat, if she fits, she sits). If it’s like that in our family, and there are only three of us… then imagine the figures in schools where there are hundreds.

If the reforms can get rid of this stigma around creative subjects being ‘soft’ and sciences being ‘preferred’ then that’s fab. But if the reforms remove the budgets allocated to creative topics and their development – or that the examining boards see fit to remove them entirely because only a handful of students take them – you’re going to get even higher numbers of frustrated children who think that the world doesn’t want them, or that they can’t achieve because their strengths can’t be nurtured.

Please don’t axe the creativity.

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  1. Jadiee Gosh
    January 31, 2016 / 1:10 pm

    hey great blog post 🙂 I love blogs like this !! keep up the good work 🙂 come say hi !! Jadiee'sLittleBlogNewVideoJade

  2. Jemma Morgan
    January 31, 2016 / 1:13 pm

    YES YES YES!! I dont even have much to say here, because you've said it all! x

  3. Meg Siobhan
    January 31, 2016 / 2:05 pm

    Such a fantastic post, and I agree with basically everything you've said. For me, if I hadn't stumbled upon a creative subject (media when in college) then I'd not have found my love of photography. I wanted to love creative things back in school but felt I had to be talented at drawing and drama, which I'm not. I was always jealous of the creative folks as I never felt I fit in anywhere. So if they scrap the creative subjects? That's going to have such a bad knock-on effect for those kids that know being creative is where their strength lies. I mean, there is so much in the creative industries that brings in money for the country, you thought they'd want to nurture it just as much as the academic subjects.Meg | A Little Twist Of…

  4. Lizzie ♥
    January 31, 2016 / 3:54 pm

    This is such an amazing post! Luckily I've been okay with maths and science, but when I told my parents I wanted to do art & design they weren't as keen and pushed me to do maths… I was okay in both, but I found design much more enjoyable.I'm not too sure what would happen if they scrap all of the creative topics. Where will all the Bowie's and Rickman's if they didn't allow creative subjects at school? It really baffles me because then there won't be any films or singers or painters because they'll be pushed to pursue "academic" subjects. It sucks.Lizzie Bee |

  5. May Cho
    January 31, 2016 / 3:56 pm

    I think all of us here would just like to scream "YES" into your face, Fii, because this is brilliant, though my story rings quite different.I'll be honest and say that I fit the all rounder box — though that only came into effect in A Levels. A little background info: I started my academic life being an English nerd, a science and maths hater and a musician at heart.It was pretty interesting, because it was my high school that encouraged creativity with music, dance, drama, writing and everything else that falls into Arts being hailed the top priority of the curricular activities. I was a mediocre student then, averaging Bs in classes and achieving average results in my O'Levels.Come A'Levels — known locally for its rigid economics, science and mathematics focus — and I thought I was just going to die, but I flew by A'Levels swiftly, easily becoming the top student in ALL my classes (English, Computer Science and Mathematics) and earned top results for certain subjects in the entire country.It's odd, isn't it, that sometimes, creatives like myself (because I'm pretty sure I'm a creative soul — even if I am a bit of a nerdily creative soul) thrive in environment where creativity is kept at a minimal.But I do agree that creativity shouldn't be axed and should be continually fostered into students who require it. Thank you for sharing, Fii!May | THE MAYDEN | bloglovin'

  6. Eleanor Hirst
    January 31, 2016 / 5:13 pm

    YES GIRL YES! All to this. I'm always an English student at heart, I'm grade 8 at violin but I've been struggling to find an orchestra since university 🙁 E x

  7. Cherie Koh
    January 31, 2016 / 5:43 pm

    There is sadly, as you say, much progress to be made for the entire educational curriculum. Although I did leave high school 7 years ago, not much has change (though I was taught in a different continent) – back where I'm from, the 'artsy' subjects were always taunted and it's a very stifling environment to be in because you're being told you're azn (lol) and you gotta be good at science subjects. In my Australian school (where I moved to afterwards) it was definitely more of an all-rounded focus – sadly I did have to take all 3 sciences because I thought I wanted to do medicine and it was a pre-req but then I changed my mind, for the better I hope!Nonetheless, I think it's important for secondary education to really draw out the best in each individual instead of dampening it out because ultimately, it really doesn't define what you end up in in the future. E.g. music grads are freaking lawyers, lit students become politicians or actors etc. But it has a lot to do with motivation in children too, much of this reform is tied to how educational institutions is utlising technology as children get very 'lazy' and think there's a shortcut for everything in this new era. I feel like there seriously needs to be a wake-up call and pushing for more educational impetus in whatever form, be it creative or technical! OOPS RAMBLE OVER. I'M NOT EVEN FROM THE UK LOL Cherie xsay hi at sinonym

  8. Alyssa G
    January 31, 2016 / 6:12 pm

    I totally agree with you. Here in the US, everything is about STEM at top universities (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), which is exactly everything I'm not good at/don't enjoy. It really bugs me when people only measure "smartness" in terms of math and science – the most creative person who excels at music, art, and subjects should be treated as equally smart!xx

  9. Panty Buns
    February 1, 2016 / 3:05 am

    I have a lot of mixed feelings about what is being taught at universities and what is and isn't available to learn and pursue. You highlighted a lot of it beautifully. It's been eons since I've been in school and I suspect much has changed. I wish I had been able to attend a coed boarding college with a broad range of courses including music, art, etc.. Instead it was math and sciences. I wonder how far one has to go in school before creativity is accommodated in science and math? Are they teaching super-string theory or other unification theories? Do they gloss over dark matter and dark energy? Does anyone care? Some of the inhumanity advocated and taught by people at american colleges like Yale and University of California is shocking, i.e.: some of the things taught by Paul Wolfowitz and John Yoo. I hope their student were creative enough/independent enough in their thinking to realise their professors were would-be (and now are) war criminals.

  10. aimee cottle
    February 2, 2016 / 12:44 pm

    I'd not even heard about these possible reforms until I read your post. But I really, really hope they don't get rid of the creative subject. I'm one of those non-academic persons. I was awful at science, couldn't make sense of maths (not helped by dyspraxia!) But when it came to music, art, and especially creative writing, I thrived. I would have hated school if I couldn't take those creative subjects. I would have tanked spectacularly and not have the moderately okay results I have now. I hope, for all the kids out there like me, they don't axe the creative subjects. They're so important to some. x x

  11. Minaali H.
    February 5, 2016 / 5:48 am

    I AGREE SO MUCH WITH THIS POST. Maths was nothing short of torture for me. I was in tears the night before my O levels, because I was so sure I'd fail! The school system so often fails to provide students with a creative outlet and completely fail to acknowledge that a lot of people are more gifted in that aspect than anything else. MinaaliThe Snap Narrative

  12. Katie S.
    February 6, 2016 / 1:35 am

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading this, everyone has different strengths so why should those whose strengths fall outside of "academic" be forced to go down that route? Thanks for sharing!!Katie // ZZ&H

  13. Julia G
    February 6, 2016 / 10:37 pm

    This post is so true, I mean not everyone has a fantastic academic ability so why axe the chaces they have to thrive in life. Britain as a country excels with the arts and the amount of actors or musicians that come out of our educational system so why change this. Gifted and talented is that for a reason, this list isn't just for people who excel scholastically so why make school just for the academics of this world?

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