Setting the stage for creative thinking

Educational guru Ken Robinson was very clear. "Creativity can be taught," he told participants at the Scottish Arts Council's Art of Learning conference at Glasgow's Tramway Theatre. However, education systems are educating it out of us.

The news that Professor Robinson, the senior adviser to the Getty Trust in Los Angeles, was flying in went up on the SAC website only hours before the conference started, and his reputation is such that many leading arts practitioners made last-minute schedule changes to hear his talk. Their efforts were well rewarded as he sprinkled amusing anecdotes about innovative thinking while spreading his serious message.

He spoke of a persistent hierarchy of subjects in Scotland - and across the UK - with mathematics and the sciences at the top and arts languishing at the bottom. This leads to arts techniques and the language of the arts, which might unlock creativity across the curriculum, being overlooked.

"Nowhere is dance and drama taught on the same footing as other subjects," he said. "But dancers don't dance because they can't construct a sentence; and, like mathematicians, they think visually, spatially and mathematically."

Mr Robinson criticised the "let's do what we did in the past, but let's do more of it" policy that is shaping global education policies now, saying it fits an obsolete economic model. Academic ability has long been mistaken for intelligence, he said, and able children beat a narrow path to university degrees that may not meet their own aims or secure them a job. What businesses need are creative thinkers who can work in teams.

His call for greater training for arts teachers chimes in with the SAC's contribution to the national education debate. Although there is much to be celebrated, the arts' low status is reflected in the few opportunities for arts teachers, the SAC says, and teacher training for graduate specialists is flawed.

The conference sparked a related off-podium discussion with Alex Cruickshank, one half of the musician and composer duo Nahed Cruickshank, who ran a music workshop. He said his early flair for playing the piano by ear had been taught out of him and put him off the instrument. He found his way back to music by learning other instruments and is now a cellist.

Balornock Primary teacher Christine McCandlish agreed that classical traditions can be stifling, saying: "I trained in ballet and I have found it very difficult to learn creative dance for that reason."

The two of them then planned a workshop at the Glasgow school.

The aim of the two-day conference was to unite the arts and education and periodically the focus was on the children who dropped by to inspire and entertain. St Thomas Aquinas's ceilidh and jazz bands played several times.

Delivering the plenary address, Glasgow's director of education, Ken Corsar, said the conference emerged from a meeting between Mr Corsar and the SAC's head of education, Sylvia Dow, as a way of highlighting good teaching in the arts, demonstrating the arts' importance to the education of young people and promoting an exchange of ideas.

He mentioned good practice at Castlemilk High, where the new drama studio was the centre for original plays on bullying and racism by a group of girls. Now their work has been produced on CD-Rom by Marks and Spencer. The dedicated musical theatre and the Scottish School of Dance within Knightswood Secondary were credited as the reason why the pupils' academic achievements were among the highest rising levels in Scotland.

"All subjects are equal and the arts are highly influential," he said.

Denyse Presley of Our Minds Learning to be Creative (Capstone) by Ken Robinson, available from Wiley Publishing, pound;15.99, tel 01243 77977

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