The Power of the Arts – in testing times, the current climate and the future world.
The period of COVID lockdown (Version 1.0 March – Summer 2020 or version 2.0 in this current period!) has seen the highs and lows of the arts and creativities industries of the UK. To the millions of boxsets, dramas and films viewed via Netflix, Amazon and Sky to name a few; to the closure of Arts venues across the world (some for good); and from the live streaming of opera, ballet, theatre and concerts bringing accessibility of performance to so many at the hardest of times; to the condescending and much criticised Government campaign suggesting that a ballerina needed to retrain for a new career. There is much poignancy in that last controversial aspect; should we be suggesting that arts needs further removal from the curriculum and education, or could it in fact be the kind of learning approach that comes from these subjects that helps us to create a future generation of children to run a new, sustainable world?
Personally, I feel I am a product of an education and professional development journey through arts and creativity that has led me to where I am today. From studying theatre and education as the prestigious Dartington College of Arts, after fantastic inspiration from an A Level Drama teacher who helped set out a new found path for me; to working as part of the Creative Partnerships programme inspired by the incredible work of Sir Ken Robinson and his white paper All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education (1999) which set out so much about the imbalance of education. His work still inspires me on a daily basis in my current role, and his presence and contribution to the education sector will be so greatly missed. The point of this paper was incredibly pertinent at the time and now. There has never been a more urgent need than “to develop ‘human resources’, and in particular to promote creativity, adaptability and better powers of communication.” Except over 21 years on from the writing of this paper it seems policy makers are not implementing this key message fully.
In return to schools in September 2020, schools have been given permission by Ofsted to use these exceptional circumstances to suspend some subjects for pupils, as a means to identify gaps in essentials and re-establish good progress (DFE, 2020) Although there is no doubting that there are significant gaps in children’s knowledge in core subjects and that in a lot of settings, children are a long way behind where we might expect them to be in their reading, writing or maths, should we not be still encouraging children to connect with creativity, experiments, design, music and expressive arts – especially so when often these are outlets for emotions, expression and a way of connecting our feelings on events?
Arts and Creativity offer so much more than just this to the curriculum (and therefore children). To quote the work of Rittel and Webber in their piece ‘Dilemmas in the Theory of Planning’ “How teachers prepare people for a lifetime of uncertainty and change and enable them to work with the ever-increasing complexity of the modern world is the ‘wicked problem’ shared by…institutions and educators all over the world (Rittel and Webber, 1973). The creativity, collaboration, flexibility, innovation, critical thinking, perseverance, interpretation, confidence, identity, self-belief, empathy, agency and responsibility (to name just a few of the skills) that engagement in arts based subjects teaches children and young people could be one of the solutions to tackling this ‘wicked problem’ that Rittel and Webber talk about. The TALE project (Tracking Arts Engagement and Learning – a three year research project investigating arts education in high schools in England, 2015-2018) cited its key findings to include creativity and innovative thinking as the highest skills looked for by employers, and the same 2 skills ranked most highly developed from participating in the arts (Time to Listen TALE publication, 2018).
Whilst we know the need for education to be reimagine to make it fit for a future world, and for this redesign to consider multiple facets, there is no doubt that the skills and opportunities that arts and creative subjects bring to the curriculum are in direct synergy with those needed in the young people who will soon run this world, and should therefore be given the time and space these subjects deserve. And even in the very short term, the arts needs to remain firmly in place in the curriculum; the power of it shows in the work of Key stage 2 children from some of our Trust schools - allowing them to express and make sense of some of what 2020 has meant for them.
Department for Education, Guidance for full opening: schools - Updated 22 October 2020
National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education: All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education Report to the Secretary of State for Education and Employment and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. May 1999
TATE, University of Nottingham and RSC (2018) ‘Time to Listen – Evidence from the Tracking Arts Learning and Engagement (TALE project)’, located at URL: https://researchtale.files.wordpress.com/2019/07/time-to-listen-tale-project-final-report.pdf
Webber, M and Rittel, J (1973) ‘Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning’, pp. 155-169, Springer publishing, located at URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4531523 .