Putting the ‘A’ into ‘STEAM’ - Keith Budge in The Spectator

Posted on 22nd March 2018

In an article for The Spectator, Keith Budge laments the marginalisation of arts subjects in our schools, and argues it is vital to a rounded education – not least for scientists.

In recent times, the educational mood music from Whitehall has been that STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) are the horses to back in terms of skills for employment in the global race. However, Keith sees an instinct to promote STEM at the expense of a wider education, and argues that policy makers should heed the growing body of evidence concerning the crucial importance of the arts and humanities to STEM practitioners.

The educationalist Bill Lucas has written that a focus on STEM at school is not sufficient for would be engineers. Other subjects matter too, argues Lucas, and Art and Design in particular. It is the arts that provide the ‘A’ in STEAM (adapted from STEM), and they help to facilitate what he proposes are the necessary habits of mind.

More generally, a 2017 report on socioeconomic status and science learning has found literacy to be ‘the strongest and most consistent predictor of pupils’ scientific attainment’. The report's authors found that literacy is essential to both the production and consumption of science. Keith says: “We need the linguistic wherewithal to understand it as practitioners, and to calibrate the scientific components of the pressing issues of the day through political discourse. This is crucial, if we are to educate young people as fully active citizens and, should that be their preference, scientists and engineers with an understanding of the wider societal implications of the work that they do.”

Sadly, however, nine out of every 10 schools in a recent BBC survey confirmed they are cutting back in at least one creative arts subject.

Keith concludes: “Not everything worthy of analysis can be confined to a laboratory, and be reduced to set of measurable variables. Why should we settle for simply schooling our young people to be competent users of the intellectual orthodoxies of the day, when we could encourage them to take a step back and find new ways of thinking about what they are doing?

“The purpose of schools is about encouraging young people to discover how they might live in the world, rather than just work in it, and when I imagine schools stripped of the arts it chills me to the bone.”

The full article can be read on the Spectator website here.

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