The importance of the creative arts


by Liz Laybourn, Head of Burgess Hill Girls School

A boarding environment gives children and young people an unrivalled opportunity to develop their creative talents to the full. Whether it’s fine art, design and technology, textiles or graphics, music and drama or photography, the arts should be at the heart of the school curriculum. But in too many schools, the creative arts are being squeezed out by a mistaken belief that they’re somehow less ‘important’ than academic subjects.


Art in all its forms engages, inspires and challenges pupils, equipping them with the knowledge and skills to experiment, invent and create. Art should be enjoyed as a visually and intellectually stimulating activity that encourages the observation and appreciation of human life through its range of historical and cultural references.

‘When children are cut off from the arts, education is devalued.’

I believe there should be true ‘parity of esteem’ for pupils who display talent in creative subjects. At Burgess Hill we take great pride in the prizes our pupils are awarded each year in national competitions for the creative arts. For example, one of our talented textile artists has already embarked on a career in fashion design after doing work experience with Zandra Rhodes and gaining a three-month internship with Vivienne Westwood.

Extra ‘space’ for the arts

A varied programme of arts-related after-school clubs and enrichment activities in the evenings and at weekends provides a fantastic opportunity for boarders. These sessions can give extra ‘space’ for pupils who want to develop their skills in drama, music and arts. Where day pupils may face the pressures of travel to and from school and the distractions of television, social lives, family commitments – and of course social media – boarders have the luxury of ‘after-hours’ access to arts facilities and to staff who are on hand to support and nurture. It is a huge advantage for those who have the talent and determination for high-level achievement in these subjects. At Burgess Hill, the television is rarely switched on in the evenings. Instead, pupils rush to work on their portfolios, photography projects or instrument practice. Uninterrupted access to the art studio and an opportunity for input on work from specialist staff in hand is a huge boon.

With pupils and staff on site in evenings and at weekends, drama productions really can reach the next level. Each year at Burgess Hill, our boarders are split into three teams, each of which write, direct and stage a show over a two-week period. Teachers are not allowed to get involved – this really is all the girls’ own work. And with the dedication and time investment at boarders’ disposal, the results are really spectacular.

Even for pupils who may initially show less enthusiasm for the arts, a visit to a particular art show or play is an enticing prospect and very often produces that ‘lightbulb’ moment which really engages a pupil in particular art form for the first time. 

And, of course, keeping girls busy is the best defense against homesickness. Pupils’ feet don’t touch the ground – especially in those crucial early weeks of the academic year. 

In a world where we are constantly bombarded by images and increasingly reliant on all forms of visual communication, children and young people are challenged by the many facets of the contemporary visual world. Nurturing creativity and opening their minds to a fascinating array of visual influences should be a vital part of any education. Art is an opportunity to give pupils the widest range of experiences and push the boundaries of their understanding. We should encourage the development of each pupil’s visual experience in a holistic manner, building on the development of strong technical and conceptual skills.

Arts subjects are far too important to allow them to become a rarity in the school day. Nurturing and developing creative talent is thrilling. It’s at the heart of what we do. 

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