'Tsunami of change' is coming

7th December 2012 at 00:00
The latest in Edinburgh's Creative Conversations explored the metaphorical side of innovation in schools. Raymond Ross reports

There is a "tsunami of change" heading towards our schools, triggered by technological advancements and social change, and schools have to be ready to meet it creatively, says educationalist, "forward thinker" and former chief inspector Frank Crawford.

Speaking to an audience of 80 educationalists, teachers, headteachers, artists and art specialists at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh, Mr Crawford recommended that schools make for the "high ground" in the face of this tsunami.

"Your high ground is based on your values and they are seriously underrated in schools," he said.

Resistance to change in schools was a marked theme of Mr Crawford's "Creative Conversation" with his audience and with education consultant David Cameron. It was part of a series of Creative Conversations, which are held regularly by the City of Edinburgh. Talking about meeting the demands of external evaluation, handling inspection, what self-evaluation should really be and how we need to think about change and innovation, he said: "Schools are designed to stay the same. They are completely impermeable to change. You get innovations and initiatives but no change."

What is needed, said Mr Crawford, is a deeper understanding of "the psychology of change" which he depicted as the "four E's".

"Explore, Engage, Execute, Embed - these are the four phases of change and unless you do all four, the change is not going to bite. If you don't embed, you just get innovation with no change, and then there has to be another 'E' - Extrication," he said.

Responding to a comment from the floor that teachers had to have "the courage to be creative", Mr Crawford thought it better not to think in terms of "taking a risk" but rather to "think about being adventurous", adding - to much laughter - "It's OK to be scared or cynical. Hug a cynic in the school. It's what they really want."

In a robust defence of the inspectorate, the former HMI noted: "I always regarded inspection as inspiration" and, countering a small tsunami of laughter here, said: "There's only four letters' difference between the two words", adding that "inspectors should leave a school inspired."

Whether he meant it was the schools or the inspectors who should be left inspired, he did not elaborate, but said the inspection process was now "completely revolutionised" and inspections were an opportunity "to showcase your school".

"I have rarely been in an organisation that is so value-driven as the inspectorate. If you scratch an HMI - if you can get close enough - you'll find an educationalist," he said.

Similarly, he spoke of "self-evaluation" as coming from "an era of 'audit'" and, while raising a guilty hand to confess he had been one of those driving the audit agenda in that era, he made a newer case that "Accountability is not about being held to account but a willingness to be open and to give your account."

One of the virtues of the Edinburgh Creative Conversations, set up to bring together the educational and cultural sectors to explore and reach a common understanding of creative learning and thinking in the new curriculum, is that they are reasonably relaxed and informal, allowing for much humour, a little hyperbole and a degree of irony.

Indeed, upon being introduced as an "ambassador to cool", Mr Crawford said he would "doodle (his) way through the session" and true to his word, he drew tsunamis, whirlpools, "the CfE bus", Bloom's taxonomy as a spiral rather than a triangle and the school as an aeroplane which must be engineered and upgraded as it flies. His iPad doodles were projected all the while on to a screen behind him.

He also did much mixing of metaphors, to get his points over, leading his interlocutor David Cameron to comment, perhaps tongue in cheek, that there had been "a lot of agreement around metaphors" during the session.

But the seriousness of the conversation was never lost upon the contributors and listeners. As Mr Crawford put it in his peroration: "We are all creative beings. Creativity is built in when we are born. We need to recognise we're creative, be adventurous, look for the high ground and engage in creative problem-solving based on our values."


Heather Lucchesi, art teacher, St Crispin's Special School

"The Creative Conversations - and I've been to most of them - give you good ideas and make you think of questions and answers. All the people here are enthusiastic and committed and it's good to be with people like that.

"They can also have a direct influence on practice. I went to one with Angus Farquhar, the conceptual artist and director of NVA, who spoke on how he went out and found his funding. So, fired by his conversation, I gave that a try rather than waiting for something to happen.

"As a result, the school put in a successful bid for #163;5,000 from the Lloyds Banking Group Community Fund, which will allow us to take our pupils to art galleries, to arrange workshops with artists and to display the pupils' art works in galleries, local libraries, businesses, shops and offices.

"Our pupils have severe and complex learning difficulties, meaning that most of them are non-verbal. This project will allow them to communicate through their art, be a real part of the community and show the kind of work the school does.

"It means the pupils will be used to visiting galleries and hopefully that will become part of their adult lives."

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