Lockdown has reaffirmed that the arts are vital for every pupil’s wellbeing and engagement, says Jo Barber

Lockdown highlights the powerful and crucial role the arts play in fulfilling the human need for creativity. The appetite for content created by galleries, arts organisations, broadcasters and schools during this period is a powerful demonstration of the importance of creativity in relieving stress and solitude. More than that, they are a staple for our wellbeing and engagement.

The arts enable us to analyse, understand, evaluate and express ourselves, our place and experiences.

Yet it was two years ago that Geoff Barton highlighted the decline in arts provision for the Cultural Learning Alliance, and it remains of national concern that they continue to be undervalued and sidelined in education. They have been gradually reduced from the mainstream curriculum and are now sadly becoming the preserve of extra-curricular or co-curricular activities.

While this may be a consequence of the performance measures schools are beholden to, it doesn’t have to be this way. We should not constrict opportunities for pupils to participate in the arts; lockdown has reaffirmed this.

Pupils revelled in the joy of sending us pictures of their work

Creativity is central to Aspire’s ethos, yet the arts have not been part of many of our pupils’ lives – at home or at school. All our pupils are timetabled for creative subjects because, as educators, we have an opportunity and responsibility to provide them with the benefits and positive experiences of being culturally and imaginatively engaged. And they thrive on it.

As it has for every teacher, lockdown has required us to adapt quickly and to be creative ourselves in sustaining our broad provision. Connecting with pupils’ creativity remotely and ensuring that they have equitable access to materials and resources have been key.

Funding from the youth organisation artswork enabled us to purchase additional art materials. These were welcomed by thrilled pupils and families when we delivered them with the food we’ve been delivering three times a week since March. Even those who had been reluctant to participate in arts activities got stuck into drawing, painting and crafting, revelling in the joy of sending us pictures of their completed work.

Staff say that pupils have not only engaged regularly with the arts and creativity during lockdown, but their motivation to learn in other subjects has been boosted. They have shared their creative work with us with pride and a sense of achievement. Parents have told us how their children have been settled, concentrated and self-regulated when completing arts and creative tasks. In turn this is building their self-esteem and confidence as independent learners. In sum, art is a valuable teaching tool.

And if more evidence was needed, we also teamed up with Springwell Alternative Provision in Grantham over the summer term to deliver a selection of online “Art Club” activities for Oak National Academy. Oak’s data shows that more than 26,000 pupils have accessed our lessons since the beginning of half-term week, a testament to the needs and demand of pupils of all ages to engage creatively in arts activities and of parents’ support for a broad and balanced curriculum.

Many unknowns remain about what September will bring, with increasing concerns over disadvantaged students’ attainment compared with their more affluent peers. With this in mind, it is vital to remember that the arts are important, not only for art’s sake, but as an educational tool for engaging and empowering pupils to learn across the curriculum. With the pressure to “catch up” over the summer and beyond, it would be a travesty – and simply misguided – to squeeze these subjects once more out of timetables in favour of a restricted diet of English, maths and science.