English teachers are arts teachers too – and should be recognised and supported as such, says Amanda Rigali.
Whilst I entirely agree with Pauline Tambling in her article Arts in schools: the end of an era that the decline in certain arts subjects in the curriculum needs to be addressed, the definition of ‘arts teachers’ used in this article is, in my opinion, misleading and self-defeating.
Like Pauline, I have served time at Arts Council England, as Director of Combined Arts & Touring. Recently however, I took a slight career change and am now in my second year on the Teach First programme as an English teacher in a London secondary school. I have viewed my career change as a continuation of my work in the arts. But a definition of ‘arts teacher’ that explicitly excludes English teachers suggests this not so.
In the Cultural Learning Alliance’s recent publication The Arts in Schools, the case for arts in education is built upon the instrumental value of arts subjects in schools. I can only assume, however, that English is excluded from the category of arts on the basis that it is too instrumental, i.e. that English teaching is solely focused on teaching pupils the functional reading and writing skills necessary to fill out application forms or deliver business presentations. This is a false representation of the English curriculum and the fantastic work done by English teachers to foster creative reading, writing and critical thinking skills in students.
As an English language teacher, I teach students essential creative and critical reading and writing skills. In literature, we study Shakespeare, novels, poetry and drama. All modern GCSE Literature specifications expect students to have a sense of drama on the stage as well as the page. So, all English teachers are also drama teachers.
I recall that there was a meeting some while ago that came up with the current definition of ‘arts teachers’ for what were good reasons at the time. I would suggest that in 2018 it is time to revise that definition. Let’s keep the same definition of arts that Arts Council England itself uses and embrace the 37,000 English literature teachers in the UK. Let’s celebrate the fact that every pupil has access to literature in the curriculum, and support English teachers to ensure that pupils can make the most of this opportunity to develop their potential as future arts producers and consumers.
Amanda Rigali is an English teacher on the Teach First programme in a London secondary school.