Art Matters

It is the first day of school.   The teacher asks you to draw a picture of her.   How on earth?  Luckily, you look around and see your classmates drawing rudimentary stick figures.   Problem solved!

You looked and learned.  Drew and learned some more.   In the end, another life skill was added to your repertoire.   This is still true for thousands of pre-school children.   In the elementary phase, there is a lot of emphasis on being creative.  But, very soon, something changes.   That day arrives when your child gets a homework sheet with this message:    “Our top learners are reading 95 words a minute and are on their 50th math worksheet.  How does your child compare?”

Art died in Britain schools.   Being creative is not that important anymore.  It gets allocated, if you are lucky, an hour a week in a controlled environment. (“Use this and make this”).   There is no more time to be spent on being innovative and inventive.

It is a sad truth

Children are overloaded with academic work.  There are standards to be met, heaps of work to get through within specific timeframes.   Reading and Math are Important.  Classroom time is precious.   It cannot be wasted on art.  In third world countries, the situation is even worse.   Budget cuts, resulting in more pupils per educator, only exacerbate the situation

And so …

Schools in all of Britain are forced to better results in standardized math and language tests, but all learners are still not successful.  Schools are becoming battlegrounds between teachers with low morale, unhappy parents, and dispirited children.

In the end, these struggling schools end up losing pupils, resulting in loss of income and being unable to attract good teachers. Also, improving outcomes aside, we are sending the message to our children that arts, drama, and languages are not important.  Children with access to private music- and drama lessons and art classes benefit, whereas the bulk of children who only have access to these within the school curriculum are losing out.

What about that child that really struggle with academic work, but are a genius with a paintbrush?  Or that shy girl that comes alive on stage?  How can a child’s potential be reached if he is not tested on his non-academic strengths?

The solution

Feversham Primary School in Bradford used to be known as a school failing to achieve even average results in English and Math. Luckily, Naveed Idrees became headmaster in 2013.   He has since transformed this school.   Students now EXCEED national standards.    In 2017, 74% of its pupils achieved the projected standards in literacy, writing, and math, whereas the national average was 53%.

How did this turnaround happen?

Idrees took a big risk and brought music, drama, and art back into his school, hence the remarkable results. When you take into account that 99% of the learners from this school speak English as a second language and are from poorer, over-populated neighborhoods, the results are astounding!

The school chose the Kodály approach.   It teaches children to learn through playing musical games. Rhythm, hand signs and movement are used in a way that improves reading, writing and math.    Even asking children to memorize Shakespeare helps with this.

At Feversham, every child will get at least two hours of music a week:   that is two 30-minute lessons plus a one-hour assembly where a guest musician leads group singing.  Children listen to pop songs or Christian music and sing Muslim worship songs. Parent concerns disappeared when they saw their children doing so much better.

How art helps

What happened?  How did art, drama and music help?

Art is fun!  But it also teaches important life lessons and skills:

  • Fine motor skills are developed when holding a brush or crayons.
  • You learn to problem solve and be creative when you act in a drama, add percussion to a piece of music or dance expressively.
  • Applause for a good performance or praise for a painting gives youngsters confidence and better self-esteem.
  • Art helps to teach perseverance and the fact that hard work is rewarded.
  • Practicing any art form requires focus and that is necessary when studying.
  • Lastly, involvement in a choir, a play, orchestra or dance group emphasizes the importance of working together towards a goal and teaches accountability.

In America, a study was done where teachers discussed great works of art on with pre-schoolers.   These children excelled in math and reading and were better adapted socially later on in life.

The skills acquired when talking about the arts, impact on other academic areas and improved academic performance. These programs also develop visual literacy, something that is very important but neglected, in our digital society today.


All is not lost when your child has to go to a school where art is not yet valued.  As parents, we can determine what we want to expose our children to and how we spend time with them.

Read aloud to your child.   Use different voices for each character. Play dress up and attend craft workshops.  Listen to different kinds of music, sing in the car and dance on a catchy tune.

Opportunities to include art in children’s lives are numerous and, as an added bonus, it will enrich your life too!


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