A call to arts: David Allen

Uni of Hertfordshire’s BEd progamme leader is the third in our series of experts exploring how to emphasise the connection between STEM and the arts

In your opinion, is the connection between STEM and the arts still important?

Yes very much so. We need to make sure that students are given opportunities to develop transferable skills across the subjects, as there is a shortage of people entering STEAM careers in this country. Many parents, when helping their children choose options for GCSES and A-levels, are not choosing art subjects as there is a misconception that there are not many career opportunities available, but this is not the case. There are great courses in the arts and sciences at universities in this country – we need students to realise the potential of working within STEAM subjects and engage with these exciting opportunities. 

Do you think the connection between STEM and the arts is more important in a school or university setting, or is it the same across the board?

I think connections are important at all stages from early years settings through to university. In the later stages of a student’s education it will very much depend on the interests of the child, but these preferences are likely to have been cemented when they are younger. This is why it is so important that all children experience a rich, broad and balanced curriculum which incorporates STEAM to generate interest as early as possible. Unfortunately, many schools are still focusing on English and maths and are not maximising the use of science, technology, engineering and art within their curriculum. There is fantastic practice in a great many schools, but this needs to become more widespread. To see their future in STEAM roles children need to be given positive role models and we must share potential STEAM careers with them. Sharing case studies and inviting artists, engineers and scientists into school and visiting their workplaces is a great start.  

Have you seen any particular developments in the STEAM arena over the last 12 months?

Yes. Every October at the University of Hertfordshire we take part in an initiative called ‘The Big Draw’, which is run by The Campaign for Drawing. It’s an event to encourage everyone to engage in art activities, and last year the theme was STEAM. As part of this, The School of Education at our university invited six local primary schools to engage with a performing arts organisation called Up Swing. In total 360 children spent the afternoon capturing the gymnasts’ movements in observational drawings – it was phenomenal! There are definitely organisations and companies out there marching forward with the STEAM initiative and raising its profile, which is great. 

“Link-learning can alleviate time pressures; for example, if you teach a science topic using an art outcome, your time allocation for both subjects is pooled, meaning children can work in greater depth.”

Is technology playing an important role in STEAM, and if so how?

There are certainly parallels between technology and science, and our trainee teachers experience technology as part of their undergraduate programmes through an approach which balances theoretical pedagogies with hands-on practical sessions. Technology is definitely still on the agenda and plays an important role in training to become a teacher.

How can education providers continue to ensure that the connection between STEM and the arts is emphasised for today’s students?

It’s about making sure that science and the arts subjects stay within teacher training, and that when students have an opportunity on school-based placements to observe experienced teachers working on STEAM projects with their classes, that they are empowered to teach these subjects and are observed by their mentors as part of their professional development. This input and training needs to continue throughout their career to ensure they are up to date. Making strong links across subjects is also important. This approach can heighten the interest level allowing students to really engage in their learning. Link-learning can alleviate time pressures; for example, if you teach a science topic using an art outcome, your time allocation for both subjects is pooled, meaning children can work in greater depth. These sessions often place teaching activities within a real-world context, moving away from an abstract way of learning, allowing the child to see the ‘point’ of the lesson, linking it to their everyday life.

University of Hertfordshire’s BEd progamme: herts.ac.uk