Boarding schools: the value of the arts in a Covid-19 world

“Creativity, critical reasoning and team building are all vital soft skills for the 21st century”

It certainly seems true that while academic skills and qualifications continue to be vital stepping stones to a top university and a fulfilling career, the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the value of the arts in not only helping to deal with the impact of the pandemic, but also in developing skills that are really suited to success in a post pandemic world. UK Education Guide director and co-founder Pat Moores explains.

How have schools embraced the arts during the pandemic?

Ensuring that creativity was able to flourish during lockdown was a focus for Felsted school, with music and drama lessons continuing to be delivered virtually, concerts presented online, and even choirs and orchestras performing together digitally.

At Hampstead Fine Arts College, the pandemic has been a source of creative focus: sixth form students are researching their personal investigation theme ‘Location in Isolation’. Issues like security, captivity and claustrophobia have come under consideration due to the impact of the pandemic.

Students in all year groups have become more aware of the need for creativity, and this year the students have made individual Christmas cards for the elderly in Camden.

At Brooke House College the value of the arts during the pandemic has been particularly noted.

“The benefit to mental wellbeing has been incalculable,” says principal Mike Oliver.

During the peak of the pandemic, the college held the principal’s challenge, which prompted poems and a dance off via Zoom.

This term, pupils formed a group to get together to practise their singing and instrumental playing (all socially distanced). The art faculty has also producing a mural, which is allowing pupils to illustrate some of the issues they have faced during the pandemic..

Having the arts at the heart of a school during the pandemic

“The arts is not – nor should be seen as – an extra or an ‘add on’ that is only available to some, but it should be an intrinsic part of every student’s educational experience and journey,” says Stephen Mullock, deputy head external relations at Ellesmere College.

“It is not about being on the stage, but about giving each student a platform for expression at each stage of their educational journey and, during the pandemic, the freedom to express emotion and to find an outlet for these emotions has been invaluable to many pupils,” he adds.

Ellesmere was also the first independent school in the UK to be awarded an Artsmark Platinum Award, the highest arts school award from Arts Council England.

How valuable will skills developed through the arts be in a post Covid-19 world?

“Creativity, critical reasoning and team building are all vital soft skills for the 21st century and ever more so in a world that will require everyone to develop new skills to survive in a hostile jobs market,” says Chris Townsend, headmaster of Felsted school.

These soft skills will be valued more than ever, as non-routine tasks such as problem solving and critical reasoning are much harder to automate, and employers worldwide are finding it increasingly hard to fill the soft skills gap.

Even in highly technical roles such as IT, a quarter of all skills required are soft skills.

International parents, some of whom have been subjected to a narrow academic curriculum in their own childhoods, now want a different education for their own children.

Nancy Xu’s childhood revolved around her studies: early-morning bus rides to school, loads of after-school classes and, by high school, spending 12 hours a day on coursework.

Now that she is a parent herself, she is exploring a new approach. Xu says attitudes toward education are changing in China. The phrase ‘Tiger Mothers’ has been used to refer to parents who monitor children closely with high pressure to succeed. But now, there’s a new class of parents in China who describe themselves with a softer label: Panda Moms. Xu says that means encouraging more creativity and self-exploration.

The pandemic has proved the value of the arts in exploring and expressing feelings associated with the negative impact of the virus. Schools have certainly recognised their value in improving pupil mental health.

Ongoing, their value will also be increasingly felt in the jobs market and potentially also in parental expectations of what constitutes a balanced, high quality education.

About the author: Pat Moores is the director and co-founder of UK Education Guide. She has previously written for The PIE blog about private and state school collaboration, remaining competitive in the Covid-19 world and online recruitment in the boarding schools sector.