Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
You do not need to pay much attention to politics to be aware that our Conservative government are anti-Arts. Historically, this is a typical Tory stance. Currently, the attacks from the government on the arts and humanities are coming thick and fast. In the COVID-19 climate, which is irreversibly damaging the place of arts within our society, these attacks are callous.
The arts and humanities make up a huge part of our lives. From the books and magazines you read, the TV you consume, the music you listen to, the pictures on your walls and the clothes you wear, the arts make up your everyday life. In fact, this is only a small sample of the endless list of everyday things we do and own that come from people trained in the arts. For the government to defund and encourage people away from the arts is abhorrent.
In the latest attack on the arts and humanities, the government have stopped bursaries and scholarships for trainee teachers in arts and humanities subjects. Maths and sciences have taken a cut, but they do still receive funding. The importance of bursaries and scholarships for trainee teachers is immeasurable. As a PGCE English trainee myself, training to be a teacher without a bursary would not be manageable. Whilst I do also receive a student loan, this does not cover the extra expenses that come with being a teacher. I am only five weeks into my course, yet I have already had to spend an unfathomable amount of money. I have bought course books, schoolbooks, resources, like stationary etc., and even professional work clothes as I am straight out of university and have little experience in the professional world. Not to mention the cost of travelling to and from school every day adds up fast. The reality of training to be a teacher is that you have very little spare time, and certainly not enough time nor the energy to have a part-time job alongside your training. Indeed, there are some exceptionally organised people who do manage this, but for many, and certainly personally, this is not sustainable for a year.
I think I probably fall into a fairly lucky category that I am straight out of university. Moving into a very cheap student house (one that is cheap for a reason) was an easy move for me. I do not have extra expenses like a mortgage, a partner, children, a car, pets, etc. I also have not had to give up a job, and consequently take what was a pay cut even with the bursary, to undertake my training. Many people are not in this category, and the expenses of continuing their lives whilst training to be a teacher is not possible on even a maximum student loan (around £9,200).
There is already a shortage of teachers within the arts and humanities. Already not enough people are training, which puts extra pressure on schools as they find themselves struggling to staff these subjects. This also results in teachers having to teach a subject that is not their speciality, which means the students could suffer as a result.
The Tory government do not think that the arts and humanities subjects are valuable. Evidently this tells me they have not even tried to understand why it is that these subjects are vitally important in both a child’s education but also our lives.
I teach English. But in doing so I do not just teach students English literature and language; I teach them so many other valuable life skills. In studying English, students also learn speaking and listening skills, which are vital for the work force for tasks as small as answering a phone to teamwork and presentations. English encourages students’ creativity and imaginations; it aids their engagement with the world; it improves their debate skills; it teaches them basic skills like reading, writing and comprehension that many children would not learn without this education. The list here is yet again endless. English shapes students and their minds, whether they enjoy the subject or not.
You could say this about all the arts and humanities subjects. History educates students on our past, the good and the bad, developing children’s empathy and awareness about how these events happen, and in many cases why we should stop history from repeating itself. Dance, drama and music allow students to express themselves in a different way. Philosophy develops critical thinking and problem solving. Media and communications studies allows me to write this article for you to all read and allows us to consume the news daily.
I could go on forever talking about how important the arts and humanities subjects are. But I’ll stop here. Not everyone loves science and maths, and that is okay. We need students who loves the arts and humanities. We need students who want to go and contribute to these sectors. We need music books, TV, movies, art, theatres, dance shows, fashion, etc. We unwind by consuming all these mediums. And we need arts and humanities teachers who will inspire their students with a passion for the arts.
Without bursaries and scholarships for trainee teachers, many people will not be able to afford to train to be a teacher. So many great people will miss out on the opportunity to do their dream job, and many students will miss out on amazing teachers that could change their lives.
As a final point to mull over, consider the support the government have offered front-line workers. NHS staff risked their lives for months to save ours through the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and they continue to do so. They were denied a pay-rise. Now schools are back open, and teachers go in everyday and interact with hundreds of children. They too are risking their lives to ensure these students get the education and lives they deserve. And the government respond by cutting funding so that trainee teachers will struggle to enter this sector. It is abhorrent and the government’s stance is clear.