Creativity and the arts are critical to our country. There’s no doubt about that. And yet, in schools, they are facing mass pressure, with a decline not only in GCSE students who want to study them but also in teachers who want to teach them.
Corners of Twitter are ablaze with images of new term timetables that feature little to no arts subjects as the heavy impact of the introduction of the Ebacc and Progress 8 begins to show. The pressure to focus available resources on English and maths in primaries to ensure that Sats targets are met also takes priority over the arts. Maybe we should turn some of our attention to educating parents and carers about creative career pathways and transferrable creative skills, but that’s a blog for another day.
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, and yet don’t seem empowered or able to do much more than talk. Or write books. Real systematic change is tough, even if the will is there (though Mr Gove did a great job of doing what he wanted to do in a short time…).
But there is one man who, this week, stuck his head above the parapet to defend the arts and urge educationalists, politicians and arts leaders, artists and people who "care about the arts" to come together and make a change.
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 two week lead time for security clearance. You see, this event had been pulled together by HRH The Duke of Cornwall, Prince Charles himself.
So, never one to miss a party, I popped down to the event 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 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 2017 and deputy CEO of the Creative Industries Federation, and now CEO of HRH’s charity Children and The Arts. She and her team pulled together a breathtaking line-up of speakers and guests from the worlds of arts, education, politics and philanthropy.
The event and guest list was well documented with a great spot on Channel 5 News with Millard 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 suntan and the Daily Mail’s coverage didn’t extend beyond the car that HRH arrived in). It was great to see the Arts Minister, Michael Ellis, there who had enthusiastically endorsed an event I ran in parliament recently.
The most important guest was the one and only: Mr Nick Gibb. He’s the man that everyone points the finger at when asked the value of the Ebacc. Sadly, he wasn’t able to stay long, telling me he had to get back to the house.
I do hope he picked up enough inspiration at the Royal Albert Hall to not only rethink current policy and funding but also to inform his keynote speech at ResearchEd tomorrow – another gathering of committed, passionate and highly experienced professionals in their field.
This event features over 100 talks and workshops on evidence-based education, but not one appears to feature arts or creativity.
One session – a panel chaired by Christine Counsell, and featuring a range of teachers – asks: what should a 21st-century curriculum look like? Let’s hope that in this, they do cover the importance of arts education and creativity.
A chap from the Department for 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 and ASCL’s Geoff Barton, champion of the arts in our schools, who slipped me a copy of his latest mix CD.
And the message from everyone was the same: the need for collaboration, collaboration, collaboration.
Nick Corston is a co-founder of STEAM Co.
STEAM co. is hosting "Collaborate For Creativity", an evening for teachers, parents and creatives during the London Design Festival on 17 September. You can find all the information here.