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Nurture imagination and create inspiration

THE Anglican Cathedral, Liverpool, January 3, 2001, where a huge crowd has gathered for the funeral of Adrian Henri. In his eulogy, Willy Russell quotes from his play Shirley Valentine where she bemoans the fact that she has led such a little life - that her life had been a crime against God because she hadn't lived it fully. With so much potential she could have lived a bigger life.

The educational system failed her as it failed all those who remained small and inward-looking when they should have been big. Adrian Henri was big, both emotionally and artistically, because even to the end he remained excited by the choices that life had to offer.

From Little Richard to Stravinsky, Rauschenberg to Grunewald, and liverwurst to Liverpool FC, his range of enthusiasms was immense.

His talent for art was recognised early on and encouraged at school in north Wales and at King's College, Newcastle, where he studied fine art. And as I travelled back to London by train I had plenty of time to speculate on how a young Adrian Henri, or a young Shirley Valentine (or even a young Rita) would fare in the system today.

Perhaps Adrian, with his exotic genetic mix of French-Mauritian (his father had been a musician and skilful dancer), might have followed the same path. But what of Shirley and Rita? Would they have been offered the music, drama, art and creative writing for which their souls craved?

By pure Scouse coincidence, the last speaker to move and inspire me was also a Liverpudlian, Professor Ken Robinson, who addressed the Action for Children's Arts conference at Nottingham University recently. His report for the National Advisory Committee on creative and cultural education should be implemented, if not tomorrow, at least by next Friday.

And as my Virgin train tiptoed south, ever so carefully, as if the rails were eggshells, my reverie turned into a dream. It was David Blunkett on the mobile... "Sorry to disturb you in the middle of a reverie, Roger, but could you draw up a new curriculum for secondary schools?

"Need it by this evening I'm afraid... What did you say?.. Sorry, you're breaking up, must be a tunnel. Bye."

And so not unlike a former secretary of edcation who, it is rumoured, drew up the curriculum on the back of an envelope, in a taxi on the way to the House, I drew up mine in the back of the book I was reading, In Siberia by Colin Thubron (outstanding). So here it is, The McGough Manifesto: Years 7 and 8: drama, art, music, dance, creative writing. These would be the core subjects. English to include the roots of language, linguistics, grammar, wordplay and word games. (OK, maths if you insist, and conversational FrenchSpanishGerman.) Years 9 and 10: immersion learning. Each term a different subject. Autumn term, a foreign language; spring term, maths and science; summer term, geography; autumn term, history etc. Three hours every day. Five days a week. Rest of the time a mix of above.

Years 11 and above: core subjects plus philosophy, computer skills, health studies, home economics, basic carpentry, practical electricityplumbingcar maintenance. Politics. End of manifesto.

And so, in my reverie, I thought back to my own days at Star of the Sea junior school in Seaforth, (the school still flourishes though moved to another site) and what I remember most clearly is colour.

The daily excitement of painting, writing, singing and my first experience of choral verse - "times-tables" chanted out in unison. The teachers, without exception, were kind, knowledgeable, proud and inspirational and when I grew up I wanted to be one of them (the fact that they were all female, single and middle-aged of course, might have raised problems had I not left at the age of nine to knuckle down - or rather, be knuckled down - under the Irish Christian Brothers).

Memory, I concede, is selective, but there is no doubt that I learned to love the act of writing and drawing very early on, and I wonder if the emphasis today on a literacy that is constantly measured might have stifled the creative part of me that was unmeasurable. It's all a matter of balance, but the difficulty is that the arts are still regarded as a diversion, the pretty icing on the cake.

But creativity is about imagination, and without imagination how do we visualise the future?

Author Roger McGough was one of the original 1960s' "Merseybeat" poets

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