At long last a break in the clouds

12th March 2004 at 00:00
Government policies are brightening the prospects for more creativity in the curriculum, says Ken Robinson

Almost five years ago the Government published All Our Futures, the report of the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education, which I chaired.

Three years ago, after an intensive two years promoting the report, I moved to California, where the weather is better. Whenever I come back to the UK I check to see if the climate for creativity is improving. There are some signs of a break in the clouds.

The origins of the All Our Futures report were simple. In the summer of 1997, the new Prime Minister emphasised the need to promote creativity in education so that Britain would flourish in the new economies of the 21st century.

My worry was that the new government's approach to education was having the opposite effect. Far from promoting creativity, it seemed designed to stamp it out.

There were strategies for literacy and numeracy, but creativity in education was evidently being left to chance.

Thanks to a draconian Office for Standards in Education regime, cuts in teacher education, high stakes assessment, league tables and an increasingly prescriptive approach to everything that stirred in education, those chances were not good.

All Our Futures set out careful arguments for the need to promote creativity through education and specific proposals for how to do it.

Teachers, business leaders, parents, and professional associations of all sorts welcomed the report. The Government's response was overcast to say the least.

Five years on the climate seems to be brightening. All Our Futures developed several themes, which are reflected in the current crop of policy initiatives. Let me pick out four of them.

The first was the need for schools to have greater freedom in curriculum planning and teaching so that they really can promote creativity, innovation and diversity. These are key themes of Excellence and Enjoyment, which encapsulates the Government's new approach to primary education. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has also published helpful guidance on creativity in schools, which support this approach.

Second was the need for a more flexible, less terrifying approach to school inspections. Fear of failure stifles creativity and so too, for a dark period, did Ofsted. The new, lighter approach promises better results for everyone. Ofsted's recent review of creativity in the curricula of successful schools is another good signal.

Third was the need to move beyond simplistic divisions of students and subjects into two groups: the academic and non-academic.

Elevating academic ability over all other forms of intelligence has compromised the talents of generations of students. The Tomlinson review of 14-19 education moves in the right direction by proposing a more co-ordinated system of qualifications and opportunities.

Fourth was the need to let teachers teach and to train them properly to do it. The increased funding for support staff is a welcome development. The Teacher Training Agency is also making some imaginative moves to improve the supply and creative training of teachers.

All of this is good, but it is still only a beginning. Education worldwide really is facing a revolution.

In the medium and long term, the changes that are needed are deeper and more far-reaching than even the present policies imply.

We urgently need a radically new balance in the school curriculum to give genuine parity to the sciences, the arts, the humanities and physical education and even deeper investment in the training of teachers and other creative professionals in these fields.

We need to move beyond the very language of "academic" and "vocational" qualifications, and beyond the idea of an academic university education as the ultimate mark of educational success.

Hitherto, the whole apparatus of public education has largely been shaped by the needs and ideologies of industrialism. These are reflected in the subject divisions and hierarchies of the school curriculum; the batching of students by age, the basic design of schools and the very conception of academic and vocational qualifications.

Our system of education is predicated on old assumptions about the supply and demand for labour. The keywords of this system are linearity, conformity and standardisation.

New models of education for the post-industrial economies are struggling to emerge in many parts of the world. These models are being shaped by new patterns of work, by the accelerating impact of technologies and by new ways of living.

The new keywords are diversity, individuality, partnership and creativity.

The emergent policies for education in the UK indicate that the sky may be brightening for creative education, even if the sun isn't out yet.

primary forum 26 Sir Ken Robinson is senior adviser for education to the president of the J Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles. This article is based on the 6th annual City of York lecture given by the writer yesterday. It was sponsored by The TES

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