Bacc for the Future - Why Science Needs the Arts

June 23, 2016



“The new English Baccalaureate (EBacc) will force pupils to be entered into a minimum of seven, narrowly and restrictively defined subjects at the expense of the rigorous, challenging GCSEs in creative, artistic and technical subjects. The new EBacc includes no creative, artistic and technical subjects”.


As an actress and scientist, the makeup bag in my dressing room is balanced on top of a couple of journal articles about the latest palaeohistological research on the biology of dinosaur bones (my particular area of interest), and my microscope at home is surrounded by reams of highlighted scripts. Neither complains. These objects, in fact, sit as conformably next to each other on the desk as they do in my brain.


Even during my very modest introduction into academia when studying for my research Master’s, I was struck by how ‘creative’ the process was, and in fact, needed to be.  When you are trying to formulate a testable hypothesis about how extinct animals might have behaved and interacted with their environment from the preserved microbiology of their bones, you need to be clever and cunning in your thinking.  Some might even say, ‘creative’.  You need to think outside the proverbial box.  Your thoughts need to fly amongst the “What ifs?” of possibilities.


It’s all about asking the ‘right’ questions and problem solving. Surprisingly similar to the challenges we rotate in our minds when considering “How shall I approach this role?”, “Why do I adore/despise/follow this person?” or simply, ‘What would make me say these words?’  As actors, we generate a hypothesis and then test it out in rehearsal, rejecting and refining as we go until we discover the answer.


I presented a series called ‘Algebra Workout’ for the Open University (the only audition where I have been asked to talk through differentiation of a quadratic equation) and I had on call a real mathematician to advise on the finer points of the subject.  This was a lovely, very shy, academic who just did maths. All day.  Just maths type stuff, and nothing else. During shooting he sat in a corner of the studio and took out the serviette from the coffee shop we’d been to during the break, and began to write some equations.  It struck me that I was witnessing a man exploring the unknown, as surely as an astronaut going to the furthest reaches of a dark, undiscovered universe. He was creating new maths, testing ideas, pushing boundaries, searching for and possibly seeing something in the symbols that no human being had ever considered or witnessed.  A true artist considering “What if…?”  All on the back of a Costa paper napkin.


There is a lot of leg work to do to understand science.  You need to learn, comprehend and remember a lot of stuff. But there comes a point beyond that (and it’s particularly obvious when you need to research and write about something original that adds to, in some small way, the plenary of knowledge on a particular subject), a point where you need to imagine, get creative, explore and think differently. In fact, employ the sort of thinking that you might have used in art lessons at school, or drama, music or dance.  


Please make a noise to complain about the lack of inclusion of arts subjects in the proposed EBacc qualification, for the benefit not just of the arts, but for science and the development of human understanding. You can find about more about the proposed changes and also sign a petition here


For some really good examples of the arts improving health and wellbeing in a clinical environment, check out

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