Scotland has the potential to be a world leader

13th November 2009 at 00:00
Make the arts a fourth area in the reform and bring ACfE to life, says US education consultant

The arts can make Curriculum for Excellence the envy of the world, a renowned American education consultant believes.

"Creativity across the curriculum" would unlock the reform's potential in all parts of a school, Eric Booth said in Glasgow last week.

The former Broadway actor proposed that arts provide a fourth broad area, in addition to three already marked out in the reform: health and well- being, literacy and numeracy. This, he said, would bring to life ACfE's four capacities "unlike anywhere on Earth".

Mr Booth, who spoke at an expressive arts conference organised by HMIE and Learning and Teaching Scotland, flagged up the dangers of indiscriminately grafting arts onto subjects, such as science, to create artificial and less-than-useful hybrid classes. Instead, he advocated the use of fundamental learning processes that take place in arts.

The arts involved reacting to situations, not working towards rigidly prescribed goals, taking an active part in expanding one's knowledge, and looking afresh at the ordinary and everyday. "The art does not lie in the how," said Mr Booth. "The art lies in that amazing human capacity to expand your sense of the possible."

This could benefit science: working towards strictly-defined hypotheses had its merits, but was an artificial process and humans learned most of their skills in a less tightly-defined, explorative way.

Analysis of Nobel Prize-winners had found that the best scientists were not better than others at problem-solving, Mr Booth stressed, but did show more imagination in identifying problems; the arts could get people into the habit of constantly asking searching questions.

Mr Booth, who specialises in arts education, believes Scotland is one the world's top three countries in this area. He attended a Unesco conference on arts education in 2006, and recalls that Finland, England and Scotland were the nations whose good practice was cited time and again. He has been struck, however, by Scotland's tendency to be "self-abnegating" and thinks it should be far more forthcoming about its achievements.

Scottish Arts Council head of education Joan Parr, speaking at the conference, said arts education was "in a better position than ever". She agreed that "we can even be a world-leader", but warned against complacency: "Creativity is a much-used word, but there is a long way to go to reach a common understanding in the learning community."

Scottish schools were far better placed than their English counterparts to embrace the arts, thanks to ACfE, but "there's still this fear among the teaching community that they might get it wrong". She called for more continuing professional development aimed at teachers and artists, and more sharing of good practice around the country.

Playwright and poet Liz Lochhead also addressed the conference, and spoke to The TESS beforehand about a creative-writing project using Glow (the Scottish schools intranet) in which she worked simultaneously with 400 pupils from nine schools across the country.

It was an open-ended project which broke free from age-and-stage conventions by involving pupils from P7 to S6. Younger pupils often wrote more creative pieces, perhaps because they had not been trammelled into passing exams.

ACfE should be good for creativity, she said, but there was always a risk of its becoming just another box-ticking exercise, a process of "ever- more-esoteric form-filling".

Aims could change as a topic was explored, and schools should be "responding to what's happening in the world", rather than working toward a prescriptive list of goals. Teachers, like artists, needed freedom to make mistakes and deliver bad lessons: "That's part of the creative process."

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