Written by Becky Snape, Graduate Teaching and Research Assistant, PhD student, @
‘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 strategy. 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.
Overall, 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 central 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.