Two reports that have crossed my desk since my return from Vietnam have set my mind racing. The first is a report by the British Council about the top 5 languages which will be most in demand post-Brexit. The second is a report by the Cultural Learning Alliance extolling the virtues of the arts as an integral part of any proper education. Both of these areas are close to my heart and both reports, in differing ways and for different reasons, send a slight chill through me. Once again, I cannot help feeling so fortunate to lead a school within the independent sector where we have the freedom to run with a curriculum which we truly believe meets the needs of 21st century learners.
As we stagger towards some kind of Brexit roadmap, I become increasingly concerned that the UK could become an isolated island nation, even more reluctant than before to embrace language learning and broaden cultural awareness. The British Council’s Languages for the Future report does nothing to allay my fears, noting as it does the steady decline in modern language learning in Britain; there was a 7.3% drop in the number of pupils taking GCSE language exams in England, Wales and Northern Ireland last year. The British Council report recognises that the UK has “reached a critical juncture for language learning and that investment in upgrading the nation’s language skills is vital if we are to remain a globally connected nation”. This can only happen if schools, like Rossall, continue to teach modern languages as an integral part of the curriculum to age 16 and beyond. Sadly, there is a decline and then a catastrophic drop-off in language learning post 16. I have often wondered though, as a linguist myself, whether there should be an alternative to the traditional sixth form modern language offering which could focus exclusively on oral and aural proficiency in a language? After all, the majority of adults who call on some of their schoolday languages, let’s say an engineer working for Siemens, only really call on their listening and speaking skills. Wouldn’t it be great if we could offer an examined ‘Spoken Language’ course in the Sixth Form to anyone not already taking a modern language as part of the IB or A Level portfolio?
And the languages which will most be in demand post-Brexit? Spanish, Mandarin, French, Arabic and German, followed by Italian, Dutch, Portugese, Japanese and Russian. Ultimately though, any second (or third) language is a positive, so students shouldn’t be too hung up about choosing the ‘most popular’ languages.
The second report on my desk is ImagineNation by the Cultural Learning Alliance. The document is clearly an appeal to English schools not to jettison creative subjects from the curriculum now that the Government has decreed that arts subjects do not count within the eBacc, the standard against which all state schools will be compared. The change has had a significant impact on the health of the arts in schools in England and more widely, arts funding has also suffered cuts.
ImagineNation is a powerfully written document (no doubt drawing on the thoughts from some of the most creative minds in the land!) which sets out the social, educational, economic and personal value of the arts. Without doubt, education and life at large are enriched by the various elements of the performing, creative and visual arts. The arts quite literally light up our lives.
And for many, the arts do not just enrich their lives, they are also a livelihood, a career, a vocation. The UK is known and admired worldwide for its rich heritage in the arts – design, architecture, music, fashion and theatre to name just a few.
Yet for me, the greatest danger in eroding the arts is the fact that the creative sides of our minds and bodies will not be allowed to flourish. Irrespective of whether the arts lead directly to a career pathway, it is still important to nurture every single person’s creativity – the crossover between arts, sciences, maths is truly exciting. Da Vinci is a classic case in point. We may be in an age that even Leonardo da Vinci could not have conceived, yet we will always need scientists who can think creatively, mathematicians who delight in patterns, artists who can defy logic…
Is the world flat? It simply depends on how you view it. I continue to do my best to keep it as round, colourful and innovative as possible.