Barbican boss applauds rich, cultural education at St Bede’s

02 Aug

One of the main joys of running Rich Media is spending time in schools. 

I was lucky enough to be in the audience when Sir Nicholas Kenyon spoke during speech day at St Bede’s College in Manchester. 

Sir Nicholas has an impressive CV - he’s been Managing Director of the Barbican Centre since 2007. Before that he was Controller of BBC Radio 3, Director of the BBC Proms and music critic for The New Yorker, The Times and Observer. 

As a former pupil at St Bede’s, Sir Nicholas took the opportunity to praise the college for embracing the arts and providing a breadth of education often shunned by politicians. 

He told current pupils about school life almost fifty years ago and applauded school leaders for creating a rich cultural life at St Bede’s. 

After presenting prizes and certificates to students, he told them what a joy it was to be back in the school for the first time since 1967. 

“St Bede’s gave me an enormous grounding in life for which I will always be grateful and I’m sure you, too, will have the same experience and it will set you in amazingly good stead for the future,” he said. 

After watching performances of Nella Fantasia by head girl Charlotte Killingley, a violin solo of Reverie by Martha Wall and a scene form ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ Sir Nicholas, who is originally from Altrincham, reminisced about his time at St Bede’s and talked about the political battle to embed culture in the curriculum. 

“I think it was the peak of my performing career to be the leading lady in a Gilbert and Sullivan opera at St Bede’s College. It was a very, very different school to what it is now. It is so impressive now to see the range of music, drama and performing arts that goes on here. 

“The cultural life now of the College is clearly fantastic and I think it needs to grow and develop because I think we all believe this is an absolutely fundamental thing we are struggling with every single day of the week in the arts. Embedding the arts in a humane education is absolutely essential. It is wonderfully rewarding and it is not recognised by politicians. 

“I had the chance to talk to the Prime Minister about that quite recently and he just kept batting it away because the idea is that the arts is a nice-to- have add-on for those who probably aren’t going to be very good at engineering.”  

Sir Nicholas concluded by saying there needs to be a change in educational policy to recognise the value of the arts: 

“The idea that what the arts actually give you is a way of thinking about the world and unleashing creativity is, I think, still a political battle to be won. This is going to affect the future of the country for a long time to come whatever the outcome of the present uncertainty, I would say. It’s going to be something that absolutely needs to be embedded into our thinking about what a great education is. The idea that the arts and music are the first thing to go if there are cuts because they are a luxury,  is really profoundly misguided because we know they are absolutely necessary for a healthy, balanced society.”