Why we should all be turning out ‘A’ students

Antonia Berry, Depute Rector at St Columba’s School, explains why schools shouldn’t forget the ‘A’ in STEAM

Every school in the UK acknowledges the central importance of STEM in the preparation of young people for the world of work. Increasingly squeezed and side-lined, however, are the arts. In the last month it was reported that the number of Scottish school pupils taking social sciences and the arts has fallen. Inevitably this raises concerns about a narrowing curriculum and as the curriculum contracts so does the world that is accessible to our young people.

At St Columba’s, a co-educational school on the outskirts of Glasgow, ranked fourth in the Sunday Times league table of top Scottish Independent Secondary Schools in 2017, we believe schools neglect the arts at their peril. In order to truly innovate, to create something original, to see how a space might be filled, to genuinely succeed in the world, pupils must be encouraged to develop a sense of themselves. It is our job as educators to teach pupils how to trust and challenge their own ideas, to nurture creativity and imagination.

 If we focus on science, technology, engineering and maths in isolation and neglect the ‘A’ in STEAM we limit children’s futures

It is, of course, essential that the foundations are strong – that literacy and numeracy are mastered – which is why at St Columba’s each young person receives 8 hours a week minimum of English and Maths combined. But if we are blinkered in our approach, if we focus on science, technology, engineering and maths in isolation and neglect the ‘A’ in STEAM we limit children’s futures. Those at the forefront of innovation, those carving out new spaces in the world, combine arts and science. If we are to produce the next Vint Cerf (the “Father of the Internet”) or Da Vinci, we must embrace multi-disciplinary learning that champions the arts as much as it does the sciences.

This weekend St Columba’s School welcomed award-winning graphic artist, Metaphrog, who delivered a comic book workshop for seven to 12 year olds. In another area of the school acclaimed fine artist, Ian Murphy, worked with teachers inspiring them to ‘improve their visual language’. On the same day two of St Columba’s pupils were selected to represent Scotland in a team of just five at the World Debating Championships in Croatia next year. And on the Sunday, it was confirmed that based on examination performance in 2017, St Columba’s was amongst the highest achieving schools in Scotland.

Investment in the arts does not mean a reduction in A grades, quite the contrary. With 82% A grades at National 5 and 84% A-B at Higher, it is difficult to argue that our approach is flawed.

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