It could be said that one of the most contentious and certainly most pressured subjects in our schools, yet one of the most critical to our country, is that of creativity and the arts with much reported in the press of late around the decline in GCSE students and now a fall off in applications to teach art and DT.
WHERE’S THE ART GONE?
Corners of twitter are ablaze with images of new term timetables with no arts subjects in them at all or just a carousel of DT, art, drama and music to tick Ofsted’s boxes even though contrary to popular opinion, they do value creativity.
This may be down to lack of choice through education policy such as the EBacc and Progress 8 in secondary. Or the pressure to focus any available resource on literacy and numeracy in primary schools to hit SATs targets may be taking priority over arts. Maybe there’s a need for parents and other carers to be educated in creative career pathways and transferrable creative skills, but these aren’t the subject of this blog.
ON THE REBOUND
As the departing CEO of the Creative Skills Council, Pauline Tambling said at the Big Arts Education Debate at the Birmingham Rep back in April, the pendulum is showing signs of being about to swing back from the almost ruthless academic extreme so popular on the Department of Education’s Govian blueprint for our schools.
But it’s hopefully not completely swinging off with the fairies and progressive tree huggers and will settle somewhere in the middle where common sense, optimism and a sense of balance can reign. A place between the extremes of the seemingly divisive camps of traditionalist .v. progressive, knowledge .v. skills, left .v. right, right .v. wrong and whatever other #BinaryEdThinking labels take your fancy.
YOU TALKING OR WALKING?
I’ve lost count of the number of teacher unions, trade bodies, community movements and political parties that mourn the decline of the arts and creativity yet don’t seem empowered or able to do much more than talk. Or write books. Real systematic change in such a gargantuan monolith is hard, even if the will is there, though Mr Gove did a great job of doing what he wanted to do in a short time.
Until one chap with a track record of talking and doing came along to gently bang a few heads together.
INVITING THE UNINVITED
My nose was well and truly out of joint to come back off holiday to read about a conference I had not only not heard about but not been invited to. And nor was I likely to, given the 2 week lead time for security clearance, given that this event had been pulled together by HRH The Duke of Cornwall and Prince of Wales.
So we popped down to say hello to a few old friends and hopefully make a few new ones loitering outside the Royal Albert Hall, the venue for this star studded and glittering gathering.
I have to take my hat off to the powerhouse behind this event, Rosie Millard OBE, former Arts Editor at the BBC and most recently Chair of the awe-inspiring Hull 2018 and Deputy CEO of the Creative Industries Federation (who’d be a member of a club that would have me as a member?).
She and her team pulled together a breath-taking line up of speakers and guests from the worlds of arts, education, politics and philanthropy – for it was likely a fund raiser for HRH’s key charity in this area, Children and The Arts that Millard is now CEO of and through who the event was organised.
ARE YOU SITTING COMFORTABLY
The event and guest list is well documented with a great spot on Channel 5 News with Millard and the recently crowned Patron Saint of Arts In Schools and Global Teacher Award winner, Andria Zafirakou from Alperton Community School.
There was extensive coverage in the newspapers, though The Sun seem more obsessed with Amanda Holden’s sun tan and the Daily Mail’s coverage didn’t extend beyond the car that HRH arrived in, albeit the off the scale impressive and not yet released electric Jaguar SUV which I’d seen Jaguar Land Rover’s head of design talk about recently.
Rosie Millard, said the gathering was the next step in a campaign “to stop the general slide of arts and creativity in schools. The prince is very concerned about it and he wanted to have this day to bring together educationalists, politicians, arts leaders, artists and people to whom this matters”.
But HRH cannot get involved in the politics yet many in the arts and education sectors see the problem as political, pointing to the lack of a compulsory arts subject in the EBacc and funding cuts to local authorities.
After the event Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader and shadow culture secretary, said every child, no matter what their background, should be able to access the arts.
“The government’s ruthless pursuit of the core EBacc is sidelining vital creative subjects year by year. It will cause us to miss out on potential artists, musicians and actors of the future and it will make the UK’s arts and culture the preserve of the few and even posher than it already is,” he said.
“There is no sense in the course the government has taken. As soon as Labour is in government we will put it right by putting creativity and arts back at the heart of children’s education.”
He said Labour would introduce an arts pupil premium to every primary school; review the Ebacc performance measures to make sure arts were not sidelined; and launch a creative careers advice campaign in schools.
CULTURE AND EDUCATION MINISTERS TOGETHER
Having only even seen DCMS and BEIS Ministers together at events it was good it was great to see the Arts Minister, Michael Ellis there who had enthusiastically endorsed our Summer of Love Art launch event in Parliament recently but the most important guest IMHO was one man who could do something to help the arts and creative subjects, Mr Nick Gibb.
It sometimes seems that everyone across education and industry points the finger at our schools minister as the lone defender of the EBacc in its current form.
Sadly he wasn’t able to stay long, telling me he had to get back to the house.I sincerely hoped he’d picked up enough inspiration at the Royal Albert Hall to not only rethink current policy and funding but also to inform his keynote speech to another gathering of committed, passionate and highly experienced professionals in their field, the Research Ed conference in the Harris St Johns Wood Academy.
This event was billed to feature over one hundred talks and workshops on evidence based education listed on the provisional time table but not one was scheduled to feature arts or creativity.
One session did however allude to the 21st Century and what the curriculum might look like and may indeed cover the subject that HRH made the theme of his day. And hopefully All Our Futures.
A chap from the Department of Education told me that HRH had called for collaboration between all the parties and people represented.
I happened to have my iPhone with me and caught a few clips of departing delegates including Shadow Education Minister Angela Rayner in a lovely pair of (fake) leopard skin brothel creepers and ASCL’s Geoff Barton, champion of the arts in our schools and star of the TES Creative Schools Debate at our #ARTCONNECTS Festival in February and who slipped me a copy of his latest mix CD.
And the message was the same: Collaboration, Collaboration. Collaboration.
Having spent the last few years working with and fostering collaboration in school communities across the UK we are keen to connect more creative people and companies with schools and had planned an event during The London Design Festival to kick this off.
We’re most grateful to HRH for his art and his event which as you can see in the film below inspired a name for our event and ensuing campaign to encourage creative companies and people to work with schools – a free evening of inspiring short talks, discussion followed by a community screening of the award-winning creative education film ‘Most Likely to Succeed’.
An event, supported by TES and The Drum, the world leading magazine that also believes that ‘Marketing can Change the World’ and which was guest edited last year by someone whose passion is education, HRH’s brother.
FALLING ON DEAF EARS
And what of Mr Gibb's art enriched key note to ResearchEd on the Saturday?
Well,sadly it wasn’t to be. You can read Mr Gibb’s ResearchEd speech here but in essence he didn’t reference the arts once, celebrated 'evidence' behind the government’s Grammar school plan and appeared to deride the world of creative advocates and educators, specifically calling out Sir Ken Robinson, not going as far as Tom Bennett, Department of Education Behaviour ‘Tsar’ and leader of the ResearchEd group, who has previous called Sir Ken a butcher, “given a ticker tape parade by the national union of pigs”.
Heaven knows what HRH would make of such language and disrespect for someone who his mother had knighted for his work in education and who is respected and celebrated across the world.