Last month’s decision by a group of the UK’s top universities to scrap their list of so-called ‘facilitating subjects’ has been welcomed by many in the field of education, not least by students like me.
The Russell Group, which comprises 24 of the UK’s top universities, published the list as a guide to help students decide which A-Level or Advanced Higher subjects would give them the best chance of securing entry to the country’s most coveted universities.
The list – also referred to as the “preferred list” – contained predominantly STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) subjects, along with other traditional academic subjects such as English and History. Notable by their absence were artistic or creative subjects such as Music and Drama.
This apparent disregard for creative subjects is something that Russell Group institutions have been under pressure to reconsider for some time, especially from those who point out that the modern world of work demands a more diverse set of attributes and skills from its employees than ever before.
Employers increasingly look for more from individuals than proof they can perform in what are typically considered to be academically “rigorous” subjects, instead preferring their employees to be able to demonstrate an ability to use their own imagination, abstract vision, and creative approaches to problem solving.
As someone who has just studied both Maths and Drama, at Higher level, I am glad they will be considered more equally, even if one of them came much more naturally to me than the other.
Maths lessons certainly required my undivided attention. If I missed one class, I would fall behind on the extensive course and would have to spend lunch or my free time after school to catch up.
It was less drama if I was absent one week from Drama, but I certainly don’t value what the subject has taught me any less simply because I found it slightly less taxing on my brain.
Maths and Drama have very little in common. Maths taught me logic and geometric theory, while in Drama I had fun pretending to be a range of characters and learned that red lighting on a theatre stage often signifies to an audience that danger lies ahead for the protagonists of a play.
You might think one of those courses was more worthwhile than the other, but I would argue that I learned a great deal from both and, in spite of the fact that some subjects are more mentally demanding than others, the process of challenging students to think in different ways can only be a positive thing.
I believe that having the freedom to choose from a range of subjects that could include both Drama and Maths does indeed set up teenagers to have broader perspectives and a more enlightened outlook on the world - which might serve my future employers better than my geometry skills. The Russell Group now offers recommended subjects for specific courses and I feel that the increased spread of subjects being studied will have a beneficial impact both for those looking for work and those looking for new recruits.
There are some qualities that a Maths student will struggle to attain through their repetitive and monotonous lessons that Drama students will have a far easier time mastering. Higher Drama has taught me public speaking, teamwork, communication skills, critical reading and writing skills, creativity, ingenuity, problem solving and leadership, and much much more.
In contrast, I might just have been able to spend a whole year in Maths with my head in a book, not asking questions, not speaking to anybody, and learning only by rote. Consequentially, I’d have missed out on developing the kind of interpersonal skills that I hope might boost my chances of success at university and subsequently in my chosen career, whatever that might be.
That is why I see the eradication of the ‘facilitating subjects’ list as an unmistakable breakthrough for the education systems of the UK’s nations. The breadth of courses that school students can now study, without fear of jeopardising a place in tertiary education, is a clear step forward. In the long term, I believe it will help the UK develop a diverse work force and a more adaptable, resilient labour pool. By my calculations, that can only be a good thing.
Will Ringham, a pupil at George Heriot’s School, has been on work experience with Charlotte Street Partners this week. He has recently finished his Highers and aims to study Philosophy and Theology at university.