Category Archives: Opinions & Reactions

Staff and research students react to recent education events/research/publications

My Reflections on Creativity

Written by Becky Snape, Graduate Teaching and Research Assistant, PhD student, @BeckyS1993 

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‘The role of government is to enable great culture and creativity to flourish – and to ensure that everyone can have access to it.’

(Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 2016: 13).

We are at the advent of a new period in education. The English educational landscape is undergoing significant transformation, and over the next few years we’ll see these changes play out. The release of the Department for Education’s White Paper last week frames how it is proposes to achieve these objectives. The paper, entitled ‘Education Excellence Everywhere’, outlines the government’s plans for the education system, including a five year plan for their education 8strategy. I’ve been following debates about the White Paper on social media. Invariably, these focus on the shift towards full academisation of schools and the changes in teacher recruitment, particularly regarding the scrapping of QTS.

However, I was most interested to consider how creativity tallied with this. A lot of people were talking about school structures and teacher training but I didn’t notice anybody discussing creativity in the context of the White Paper. Perhaps this is unsurprising, as when I looked at the document it appeared that:

the word creativity appeared in the 125 page paper just two times: one in the context of school leadership, and the other when describing a ‘pioneering’ free school in London.

I also looked for other words which are often seen as being synonymous with creativity, such as innovation, originality and imagination. Originality doesn’t appear at all. Imaginative is used once, where they describe the work of many schools across the country. Here, the DfE outline their aims to build on the work of these schools. They also refer to innovation numerous times, although this is largely in the context of restructuring and shaping schools, and leadership development, rather than in learners’ education. To me, it appears as though innovation is used to strengthen the argument for academisation.

rb4816_EducationOverall, my concern is that the new White Paper does not sufficiently address creativity in its 125 pages. While I haven’t read the entire paper yet, from what I have seen I get the distinct impression that its purpose is to address raising standards in order to place our country on the global stage. For instance, writing is only addressed in terms of how standards have been raised so far and what needs to be improved. This isn’t entirely surprising as writing is largely the medium for learning and assessment in schools, and is therefore often seen as one of the central pillars of not just literacy attainment but education success more generally. The core skill of writing is one which is seen to be integral to a learner’s development and success, not just in school but also beyond in the ‘real world’. In the White Paper itself, the government highlights:

‘preparation for adult life’

as one of the central pillars of their five year plan for education (2016: 124). Good grammar and spelling are seen as valuable in our society, so a confident grasp of Standard English in writing is vital whether you’re writing a CV to get a job or carry out basic tasks like sending an email once you’re in a job. Thus, it makes sense to consider raising standards and to strive for excellence, and very few people would argue that this doesn’t matter at all.

But what about creativity? Isn’t that important for the workplace too? Of course, the act of pulling bits of information together to create something new is often original, so writing in many forms may be seen as creative. However, my concern is that creativity seems to be presented as something that is a convenient by-product of raising standards rather than something which drives how curricular and specification documents are shaped. This certainly seems to be true in creative writing (as part of English), but also seems to relate to other domains of creativity too. If taken at face value, the marginalisation of creativity in the new White Paper would seem to highlight how sometimes raising standards takes precedence over nurturing learners’ creative development. My questions are:

  •  If the central focus of the paper is ‘Educational Excellence Everywhere’, why is this reform not anchored to creativity?
  • Why is educational excellence not explicitly underpinned by creativity?

My initial response to this is that this may be in part due to the perception that creativity is not as easy to measure as other areas of a child’s education. Moreover, in my opinion, it seems that globalisation is a worldcentral issue to the government, and feeding into that is raising standards in education to match some of the world leaders. However, something to note here is that many of these world leaders still very much value creativity in their school systems!

My contention is that creativity should be something that is central to educational reform rather than a politicised term that is used to pay lip service to those who see it as integral in teaching and learning. For me, this is why it is so important that many of us in CSPACE are challenging this status quo and providing evidence to support the fight to preserve the value of creativity in schools. The quote I began this blog with is taken from the government’s new Culture White Paper, which was released today (as I write this). This notion of access of creativity is one which resonates with the seminal NACCCE report (1999), where democratic creativity is highlighted as a key component of educational reform. It’s important to remember this and ensure that creativity is not simply used as a political sound-bite, but rather something that the government ensures is embedded in teaching and learning. Many teachers appreciate – and, crucially, apply (within their means) – the true value of this, but I’m not entirely convinced that this government does. I can only hope I’m wrong.

Sources

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/509942/DCMS_The_Culture_White_Paper__1_.pdf

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/508447/Educational_Excellence_Everywhere.pdf

http://sirkenrobinson.com/pdf/allourfutures.pdf

Culture in action

Written by Christopher Bolton, Senior Lecturer in Drama Education, Birmingham City University@MrCJBolton

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One of the potential outcomes of drama in education is its ability to develop participants’ metaxis. The meaning of this term has been defined by Boal (1995:43-44) as a lens that someone can use to view their simultaneous position in different ‘worlds’ and that this process enables a person to comment upon the two. Similarly, for Bolton (1992:11) metaxis is “the power of the experiences” that “stem from fully recognising that one is in two social contexts at the same time”, and it is with my ‘metaxical’ lenses firmly on that I have been considering the worlds of arts education and cultural education.

Chris

The recent release of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s white paper highlighted the important role of “culture in action” in “rejuvenating our society”. This “evolution” (interesting to note the use of the word ‘evolution’ as opposed to ‘revolution’; the word ‘revolution’ is reserved to describe the government’s devolution of power) discusses the importance of increasing opportunities for children and young people to participate, appreciate, create and contribute to the culture of society. The clearly stated aims include;

  • Everyone should enjoy the opportunities culture offers, no matter where they start in life
  • The riches of culture should benefit communities across the country
  • The power of culture can increase our international standing
  • Cultural investment, resilience and reform

Worthwhile aims, I think, and these are appealing on both a professional and personal level. The idea that “Everyone should have thchris 2e chance to experience culture, participate in it, create it, and see their lives transformed by it” is also worthwhile but interestingly one could substitute the word ‘culture’ for ‘education’ and the two worlds suddenly crash into one another, shattering my rose-tinted ‘metaxical’ lenses; darn it!

Contrast this view with the DfE’s white paper Educational Excellence Everywhere and I am left to glue together my shattered lenses and see things anew. The drive toward full academisation of all schools by 2020; the incessant energy forced into ‘core academic subjects’ through EChris 3Bacc; and the arguably continued further de-professionalisation of teaching through the QTS debacle, means that I should have perhaps left my lenses where they were (or would I then become another contributor to the ever growing number of those leaving the profession, interestingly ignored and denied by ‘those in the know’?). By forcing schools to concentrate on EBacc subjects and enabling them to do so through academisation, the future of arts and culture in education is perilously close to benefitting those who have had a better start in life; in fact it’s just unethical! How will culture benefit the young people of deprived areas if they are consistently forced to concentrate on an ever narrowing curriculum? Where will their opportunities come from? How will pupils from diverse backgrounds have access to cultural and arts education and meet the intention of ‘publicly-funded culture’ reflecting the ‘diversity of our country’?

The DfE have the answer; schools can now extend their day! Is this not the Government’s way of justifying the EBacc? Using my x-ray metaxical lenses I can see that when people start complaining about the lack of arts in education the Government will simply say that the arts can be taught during the extension of the school day. Unfortunately, as many colleagues will know, this happens already! The arts are being trivialised never mind marginalised!

I’ve heard, anecdotally, of many arts organisations facing challenging financial situations; of many drama departments closing; drama, music, dance and art losing time to more ‘academic’ subjects; Ofsted only inspecting EBacc subjects; arts teachers being ‘asked’ to teach other subjects or lose their job, it’s just plain wrong. See here for an interesting take on the state of drama in schools. Worryingly, “the most commonly withdrawn subjects” from UK schools in light of the EBacc “are drama and performing arts, which had been dropped in nearly a quarter of schools” see here (page 36).

Nicky Morgan claims that she “want(s) every single young person to have the opportunity to discover how the arts can enrich their lives. Access to cultural education is a matter of social justice.” How is enforcing the above fair? Young people are being disenfranchised by those in power. Potentially their access to arts and culture is being denied by those who have had a better start in life. Bruner (1996) wrote about education being a system that should help those growing in a culture find their identity and that the aim of education should not only be a transmission of culture but also provide people with alternative views whilst strengthening their will to explore them. How will this happen Nicky?

Chris 4

Professor Jonathon Neelands (2002:122) predicted a “cultural choice” that we now face in British education, 14 years ago, positing that schooling should be “designed to feed, nurture, guide and fulfil the humanising and compassionate potential of the imagination”. I think that the alienation of arts teachers also feeds into the students that they teach potentially leading to an “impoverished and limited sense of ‘self’ and ‘other’” despite the aims of the cultural white paper. This means that learners are often struggling to understand the world they are in and are potentially told what they should be doing, learning and thinking. I support Neelands’ calls for a ‘humanising curriculum’. Perhaps one that places the arts and culture at its core; why not? Interestingly, Neelands (:119) makes the point that “Policy makers have tried to persuade parents, commerce and the powerful constituencies that the greatest challenge we face is not the need to address new cultural work and career identities” or “new economies based on communication rather than manufacturing” or “endemic poverty and the creation of disaffected underclasses” rather we are told that “the real challenge is falling literacy test scores” or could that be PISA rankings, school league-tables, Progress 8 or Ofsted grading?

So what is the culture of our education system? We are told that culture and arts matter but they are increasingly devalued in our education system; schools are increasingly forced to value what is assessed rather than assess what is valued; teachers are leaving the profession and recruiting is increasingly difficult. Maybe we need to look at the world of Canada? Their government are investing $1.9 billion over five years in the arts.

Maybe I need some new glasses?

References:

Boal, A., (1995) Rainbow of Desire, London: Routledge.

Bolton, G., (1992) New Perspectives on Classroom Drama, Hemel Hempsted: Simon & Shuster.

Bruner, J., (1996) The Culture of Education, Harvard: Harvard University Press.

Neelands, J., (2002) 11/09 The space in our hearts. Drama Vol 9 No 2 4-10 in O’Connor, P. (2010) Creating Democratic Citizenship Through Drama Education. London: Trentham Books.