In January, David Blunkett announced a temporary relaxation of the national curriculum for the arts and humanities in primary schools. In February, he launched the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education.
Some saw this as a reaction to complaints about the apparent downgrading of the arts and humanities. But this was not a reflex. I've been involved in discussions about a Government initiative in this area since the publication last summer of the White Paper, Excellence in Schools. So what is the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education? The main focus of Excellence in Schools was on raising standards in literacy and numeracy.
Clearly promoting high national standards is vital. It is equally clear, that this will not be enough to meet the extraordinary challenges that face education. "If we are to prepare successfully for the 21st century," said the White Paper, "We shall have to do more than just improve literacy and numeracy skills. We need a broad, flexible and motivating education that recognises the different talents of all children and delivers excellence for everyone." The task of the National Advisory Committee is to help clarify what this means and how it might be brought about.
Our brief is "to make recommendations to the secretary of state on the creative and cultural development of young people through formal and informal education, to take stock of current provision and to make proposals for principles, policy and practice." The White Paper saw education as a "crucial investment in human capital for the 21st century". It emphasised "the vital need to unlock the potential of every young person" and argued that Britain's economic prosperity and social cohesion both depend on this.
One of the problems, it said, has been low expectations of young people's ability. In my own view, the problem is not only that expectations have been too low, they have also been too narrow. If we are to unlock young people's potential, we have to recognise how profound and diverse their potential really is. The argument for this is very broadly based and it is reflected in the membership of the committee. It includes the conductor Sir Simon Rattle; Jude Kelly, director of the West Yorkshire Playhouse; the poet Benjamin Zephaniah; Dawn Holgate of Phoenix Dance and comedians Dawn French and Lenny Henry.
Professor Sir Harry Kroto is a Nobel Prize winning biologist: Professor Susan Greenfield is an international authority in studies of the brain and human consciousness. Business is represented by Lord Stone of Marks and Spencer and Clive Jones, chief executive of Carlton Television. From education, the committee includes Sir Claus Moser, chairman of the Basic Skills Agency; Dame Tamsyn Imison, head of Hampstead school; Carol Traynor, head of St Boniface Primary School in Salford, Valerie Hannon, chief education officer in Derbyshire; the political historian Professor Louis Minkin and Eric Bolton - formerly senior chief inspector.
The committee provides a unique vantage point to look across the boundaries between the arts and sciences, education and business and at the importance of promoting creative abilities in all of these areas.
Creativity is a difficult word. Creative thinking is possible in all areas of human activity. Science is too often thought of as dry and impersonal: the arts as free forms of personal expression. But scientists can be highly creative just as work in the arts can involve rigorous discipline. I'd like us to begin to break down some of these stereotypes.
Although the arts are not unique in promoting creative development, they do have vital roles in this respect. My own work over a number of years has aimed to show this: from the Gulbenkian report The Arts in Schools, and national development project it generated, to the initiative I'm currently directing for the Council of Europe, Culture, Creativity and the Young.
The case for the arts does need to be pressed. Reports from the Arts Council, the National Association of Head Teachers, and the Royal Society of Arts have all suggested that provision for the arts in schools has declined in recent years. Ironically, this is sometimes because of the perceived need to make education more relevant to employment. Yet the arts are at the heart of some of the most vibrant areas of economic growth.
Our committee will link with the Culture Department's Creative Industries Task Force. The development of the cultural industries is an important theme for us. Film producer Lord Puttnam, a member of the CITF, has argued that employment in the cultural industries in Britain has grown by 34 per cent in a decade, against a background of almost no employment growth within the economy as a whole. Our film and television industries employ more people than car manufacturing; our rock musicians earn more in foreign exchange than the steel industry and account for 20 per cent of world sales of recorded music. Whereas the dominant global companies used to be in manufacturing, today they are in communications, information and entertainment.
Our concern is not only with the cultural industries but with the quality and balance of education for all young people whatever their future careers. Education is not only about economic development. We have to enable all young people to live in a world of unprecedented cultural change. Information technologies are creating a cultural environment of tremendous complexity.
Now more than ever, it is vital to encourage all areas of young people's intellectual and personal capabilities and to recognise that doing this is not at odds with their academic development. The greatest disincentives to achievement are low self-esteem and lack of motivation. Creative and cultural programmes are powerful ways of revitalising the sense of community in a school and engaging the whole school with the wider community. We will want to look at the ways in which these programmes can contribute to school improvement and to raising standards overall.
We have been asked to produce a first report by the end of September focusing on schools. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is currently undertaking the planned review of the national curriculum. We will want to contribute to this review within a broader policy framework for creative and cultural development inside and outside the formal curriculum.
These issues are not unique to schools; they are important for the whole of education including lifelong learning. We hope to look at provision in further and higher education. We will welcome evidence and argument from any individuals and organisations who are interested in these issues and want to contribute to our work.
Ken Robinson is professor of Arts and Education at the University of Warwick and Chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education