SATS have recently come under fire for being too hard, putting too much stress on young children and being irrelevant to useful learning.
Nick Gibb proved the point beautifully on a radio show when he failed to give the correct answer to an absurd grammar question set for an 11 year-old.
As the founder and principal of a performing arts company for children aged four to 18, it’s no surprise that I think performing arts enriches children’s lives – but I also believe it is extremely educational, and across a surprising number of disciplines.
So I say scrap the SATs and let’s use that time to give primary school children performing arts training instead.
Drama, music, dance – all wonderful things to learn in their own right, but performing arts can help with the three Rs as well, adding a healthy dollop of self-esteem into the pot too; something that SATs seem to be responsible for diminishing in our children.
English and communication
There’s no doubt that drama helps with English. Learning lines helps reading skills and sharpens the memory, and delivering lines improves oral communication skills and diction, which is, after all, the way we communicate most of the time with each other in life.
Let’s not forget that plays and musicals are stories – with beginnings, middles and endings! Children get to look at characterisation, character motivation, storylines, the effects of language on the audience. They learn emotional intelligence too, and gain an understanding of empathy. A really important part of drama is seeing life from others’ viewpoints – even those whom you might have been quick to judge, until you actually had to be them. As Atticus says to Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird: ‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.’
Children who take part in drama and performing arts always show a marked increase in confidence levels
Plays help with history. The historical context of a play needs to be understood before it can be performed. Actors spend as much time researching the social and political times of the piece they are performing as they do their character. Plays give a wonderfully detailed insight into a moment in history, spark much lively discussion about history and often tell the story of an important historical event.
Read the paragraph above, and replace ‘history’ with ‘geography’.
All the world’s a stage – and performing arts does wonders for confidence. Children who take part in drama and performing arts always show a marked increase in confidence levels. Once a child has stood in front of an audience, or even just their fellow players, and acted a part, or sung a song, confidence levels will start to rise. Yes, it can be terrifying, but it is also thrilling, and is a huge achievement. The more that a young actor performs, the more skilled she becomes at speaking while all eyes are on her – and this is a very useful life skill to have, whether you are presenting in a boardroom, selling to an individual customer, teaching a classroom of students, or simply socialising and making friends.
Music helps with maths – OK, bear with me here! There are many studies that have suggested that children and adults with musical training have heightened skills in an area called executive functioning. This includes the mental processes that allow our brains to focus, remember multiple instructions, plan, and multitask. These skills are very handy generally, but particularly so in mathematics.
If you’re not at school for a maths lesson, someone else doesn’t need to do your maths for you. But if you miss a rehearsal, someone else does need to step into your part. Teamwork is essential when putting on a show – everyone depends on someone else for the show to work. Performing arts teaches you what it’s like to have to show up, to have to commit to something. A bit like work. A bit like life.
Performing Arts is active. You need to get up and get stuck in. Dancing, singing, acting – these are all physically challenging, so fitness levels soar. And so do those endorphins that help to create…
Performing arts is joyful. It also helps people to make and cement friendships, and maybe those friendships will be with someone that you may not have connected with any other way. Experiencing joy knocks stress levels for six and givens children a reason to get up in the morning and grab life by the scruff of its neck. And anything that is fun will mean that children will want to go to school, and will help with the learning process. Which is where we started really, with learning.
Sophie Boyce is an ex-Channel 4 scriptwriter and founder of Spirit YPC