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Creating room for creativity;Opinion

Dynamism and inspiration are needed in education, says Ken Robinson, who has found an award-winning model in the Chicken Shed theatre's director

WHO is the most creative person in Britain? I'll tell you the official answer in a minute. But why is it such an interesting question? Why do we admire people for their creativity? Why do we all like to think we are creative in some way?

I think it's because creativity is at the heart of being human: a defining feature of our intelligence and sensibility. Creativity drives human culture on every front. Developing creative abilities is a basic function of education: and the need is becoming more urgent.

This is the central message of All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education, the new report of the national advisory committee for creative and cultural education which I chair.

NACCCE was set up a year ago by Education Secretary David Blunkett and his culture counterpart Chris Smith. It's been a fascinating year.

The committee includes leading scientists, artists, educators and business people. It is probably the most broadly based advisory group on education ever assembled and certainly one of the most distinguished. It is not a lobby group for particular subjects: its remit is for the balance and style of education as a whole. Our concerns are common to everyone: how to help young people fulfil their real potential, and to meet the many challenges - personal, cultural and economic - that they face.

Two things struck me early in our discussions. First, how many of the group were nervous about being on the committee - because they weren't very good at school themselves. Many highly successful people harbour a sense of failure from their own education.

Second, the rapid agreement on key themes and issues: the necessity of promoting creative and cultural education throughout the curriculum; and that current conditions militate against this. These concerns were confirmed in a national consultation with more than 300 organisations and through meetings on issues from science to music, drama to design.

In our report we say what creative and cultural education is, and why it matters. We say what the implications are for the curriculum, for teaching methods and for assessment and inspection. We make nearly 60 practical recommendations. They are all focused on three core objectives.

First, to improve provision for creative and cultural education in the curriculum. This includes having a clear rationale which makes explicit reference to creative and cultural education; changing the balance between core and foundation subjects; and reducing prescription to allow teachers to be creative in promoting creativity.

The second is to give teachers and others access to the materials and training they need to do this. We see problems in the new arrangements for teacher training and suggest what might be done.

Third, to encourage creative partnerships between schools and other agencies, including businesses, arts, science and community organisations. These partnerships are essential to the kinds of education young people now need.

In our view, creative and cultural development is a basic function of education, not a separate subject. They are completely compatible with high standards of literacy and numeracy and they are equally, not less, important.

The Secretary of State has now published his proposals for the revised national curriculum from September 2000. We welcome many of them and have had some influence on them. But we think there is further to go to achieve a system of education which is balanced and as dynamic and creative as the world we are helping young people to live in. We urge everyone to respond to the current consultation and to say so if they agree.

And the most creative person in Britain? For the past six months I have been one of the judges of Creative Britons, a national award scheme organised by Arts and Business and the Prudential. We had to choose six winners from more than 40 nominations, and one overall winner. We were looking for people who had proved their own creative abilities and helped others to do the same.

The nominations were remarkable and the task almost impossible. The overall winner this year was Mary Ward, founder and director of Chicken Shed Theatre. For more than 25 years she has used drama to realise the immense creative abilities of young people, many of whom have special needs.

Chicken Shed and the other nominations prove that creative expression and cultural exchange are the pulse of our humanity: that we can all show remarkable abilities given support and a chance.

Mary Ward won this year. But she would be first to say that there are millions of creative Britons, in the arts, sciences, technology, sport and wherever people think, feel and breathe. Our education system must recognise this and do something about it. In All Our Futures we have tried to say what and why.

Ken Robinson, is professor of arts education at Warwick University and chaired the national advisory committee on creative and cultural education. The report is available on the Department for Education and Employment's website www.dfee. Printed copies will be available from June 14

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