Editorial - Playing it safe is the enemy of true creativity

5th June 2009 at 01:00
Whitehall is not sole culprit for our continued failure to take imaginative minds seriously

There is a natural tendency to scepticism when the powers that be decree that schools really should be more creative. Such directives are usually greeted in the same way as spontaneous North Korean outbursts of affection for the Dear Leader, or Ofsted injunctions urging teachers to be less boring and loosen up a bit as the inspector waits, pen hovering over an unticked box, to decide their fate.

So a report published 10 years ago, when Britannia was nowhere near as cool as she thought she was, setting out 59 recommendations to embed creativity in the classroom, could easily have fallen into a credibility gap (page 20). The fact that All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education did not owes something to its flair - it is hard to ignore a report whose committee includes Dawn French, Lenny Henry and Sir Harry Kroto - its embrace by the profession and, most importantly, its coincidence with a widely held suspicion that the Government's education reforms were throwing the creative baby out with the sub-standard bathwater.

Its central contention was that to prosper in the 21st century, Britain had to learn to live off its wits - the creative capital of its citizens. We had nothing else to sell, having flogged our natural resources and forgotten how to make things. So our schools had to foster the creativity on which our future prosperity depended.

Ten years on, our education system still lacks a genuine regard for creativity. From the infants who learn to bark the same "wow" words, to the students who disappoint university tutors with their lack of independent thought, imagination is all too frequently marked by its absence.

The easiest culprit to punch is the Government. Its determination to inject rigour into the system has induced a fair amount of mortis. An obsession with the measurable at the expense of the valuable, a fondness for prescription and a distrust of deviation, have all been remarked on. But is it fair to lay all of the blame at Whitehall's door?

For a start, there is no contradiction between rigour and imagination. Good grammar is as vital to an author as a grasp of tailoring is to a designer, or mathematical dexterity is to a computer whizz. Too many attacks on the standards agenda do not allow that it is a crucial ingredient of creativity. Moreover, can we blame the Government for an education system that mirrors the national desire to play it safe? If more parents reacted with horror every time a child expressed a desire to become a dentist or a solicitor what a glad, confident nation we would be.

Above all, are we wilfully blind to an overlooked component of creativity - mischief? Can't the roots of our celebrated computer gaming industry be traced back to those obsessive geeks who bunked off double French? Don't our music and fashion businesses owe a lot to those serial truants of the punk era? Thinking outside the box often leads to a cavalier disregard for rules. How much are we prepared to accept that the country's creative future might rest with the child who is constantly on the naughty step?

Gerard Kelly, Editor. E: gerard.kelly@tes.co.uk.

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