Alison Melrose, Headmistress of Prince’s Gardens Preparatory School, goes behind the education jargon to answer the question “what is STEAM and why does it matter?”

STEM and STEAM have become buzzwords within education. While STEM – an acronym for science, technology, engineering and maths – has been much discussed and is widely understood,  it is the addition of A for the arts that ensures  a rounded education.

Sparking children’s imagination is a key part of a STEAM curriculum, along with independent learning, hands-on and investigative activities. We often hear the four ‘Cs’ referred to within curriculum design, as they prepare our children for the future by developing the softer skills of collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking.

While the four ‘Cs’ need to be integrated throughout every aspect of school life, they are very easily interwoven within arts programmes. This is because the arts are all about discovery and problem solving, integrating principles and presenting learning. When both the analytical and creative sides of the brain are used together, we are developing the best thinkers and leaders of tomorrow. 

The arts encompass art and design and music, with dance, drama and debating integrated as important elements. Music is often at the heart of a Prep school and music lessons should be for making music. While we know that music has many cross-curricular links with language and mathematics, it is a brilliant means of giving children a creative outlet.


Children love being able to raise the roof and sing their hearts out. Dedicated instrument lessons are equally important, with many schools developing whole-class teaching to enable children to learn a variety of instruments – from violins and recorders to drums – as a group. Not only do these lessons promote excellent listening skills, they are also key for building children’s confidence and their ability to collaborate and work together. 

Dance is a great way to develop friendships, with many forms of dance being inherently social and fun. Learning how to move and, at the same time, being mindful of space and others around us can be both challenging and rewarding. 

Like dance, art and design lessons help to refine motor skills. There is also the achievement of creating pieces of art and sculpture. Children learn how to think and act as artists, makers and designers, working creatively and intelligently to achieve a task. They develop an appreciation of history and culture as well an understanding of how art has shaped our lives.


Within a STEAM curriculum, children begin to see the links between arts, maths and science. The use of digital technology is closely woven within the arts, especially in art and design, so our children grow up with innate skills and an understanding of how to use technology seamlessly within modern life.

As we prepare children for our fast-paced world, where they will be the global citizens and mobile workers of tomorrow, we must also remember drama and debating. Drama not only develops self-confidence but also emotional intelligence and empathy – the ability to see things from a different point of view. Having a strong moral compass is important and being able to explain and stand by your point of view within a debate is an essential skill. 

When children are assessed as part of the application process at key transition points schools are looking for academic achievement, but also for the skills interwoven within an arts curriculum. Studying the arts helps our children prepare for the future. They learn to collaborate, be creative, think critically and communicate, but also to be adaptable, responsible and, flexible – all are key to a successful future.

Further reading: How to encourage girls in STEM subjects