I had the honour of meeting and shaking hands with the man who shook the hands of the Beatles, Sean Connery, Jane Fonda and many other famous icons over the post war decades, as he photographed them in their heyday promoting their art. World-renowned photographer and local Wye Valley Tintern resident, David Hurn, is self-taught and because of his dyslexia at school he joined the school camera club. David has astonishingly agreed to work with my colleagues and students in the Creative Learning Area on a number of projects and our Creativity Coordinator, Jane Collins, has led the project to bring David’s talent into school. David has also agreed with Jane to support our annual Creativity Festival which is being held on Friday 6th July. Jane is one of those extraordinary colleagues who epitomises the love of their subject and conveys that to every student. Jane’s role as Creativity Coordinator in the school also means creativity is at the heart of the curriculum and not on the periphery, marginalised or relegated to an after school club in pursuit of a narrow skills focus, based on the job market alone. A principle of education that so many school curriculum models seem to have been designed on now. The government’s own press release from November 2017 celebrates the fact that the creative industries alone are worth £92 billion to the UK economy and are growing at twice the rate of the economy making a record contribution: Creative industries record contribution to UK economy.
The question for many in education and in business is “Why is creativity being killed in schools?”, as Sir Ken Robinson debated in 2006 in the most viewed TED Talk ever. In a near identical experience to David Hurn, Sir Ken battled hurdles in his Liverpool school as he overcame childhood polio and used the transformative power of education, learning and knowledge to progress through school and to university. He is now one of the most powerful advocates for creativity being central in the curriculum. What we call nowadays “social mobility”, Sir Ken famously described as being his enlightened teachers seeing “something in me I didn’t see in myself”. I would recommend his interview on BBC Radio 4’s “The Educators” as well as his TED Talk; always good to listen to, particularly when the Gradgrind (the late Ted Wragg’s infamous fictional academy) gets you really down:
Artists like David Hurn wanting to support the next generation of young people to access the arts, and realise the potential of creativity, educators like my colleague Jane Collins who sees potential in students, when they don’t and powerful and articulate advocates like Ken Robinson make the forceful case for the curriculum to be broad, rich and definitely full of creativity, so that students have a choice in their futures in a globalised economy and world. “Social Mobility” again. We had the privilege on Monday of working with a long time old colleague from the IB, Dr Peter Fidczuk who spent the morning at Wyedean looking at the possible subject models for our IB Careers Programme when we launch it. I caught the eye of my Director of Sixth Form, Johnathan Lane, at one point as we marvelled at the subjects on offer that we could have in our IBCP. The routes, pathways, career plans, study programme; whatever we choose to call them, could potentially engage and open up experiences and potential that our students from the Forest of Dean and the Welsh borders often don’t see in themselves. They have had such a heavy, narrow diet of necessary information, which is not always a worldly education in itself. I remember, in the policy dialogue I was asked to contribute to in London back in November, upsetting the CEO of a MAT somewhere in the north. I pointed out the damage that the relentless pursuit of Ebacc in England by some schools and the DfE has done to wipe out the curriculum of so many creative subjects leaving only a narrow core. I want to say it again here: the Ebacc is not a “Baccalaureate” in any sense of the educational concept. Read the IB’s mission statements and look at their “joined-up” curriculum models and programmes, starting with an aspirational learner profile, to see how narrow and short-sighted the Ebacc actually is. The problem in England for the last 10-15 years is exactly what Geoff Barton, the general secretary of ASCL, emphasised in his blog and on the Today Programme this week: School leaders and educators have given up “leadership” of their profession and need to grab it back. Doctors and Lawyers haven’t allowed civil servants and politicians take over their professional judgements and teachers should be no different. An interesting development to support Barton’s rallying cry is the way school leaders are increasingly challenging the long held shibboleths of English education like the OfSTED inspection judgements, league tables, validity and fairness of attainment and progress measurements, school structure models, school improvement models and teaching and learning effectiveness practices. It is refreshing to see this tackled, finally and a real dialogue taking hold in the profession about the purpose and meaning of education as we approach the 2020s in less than two years. My fear is the number of brilliant art, language, music and DT teachers we have lost. As a result of this we are now in a permanent recruitment crisis because working in education is no longer seen as an attractive vocation, precisely because of the misguided approach to raising standards by all shades of the political spectrum over the last 20 years. I will leave cruel and punitive quality assurance systems destroying great teachers for another blog.
Last week I was invited to take part in a BBC Radio Gloucestershire debate on the new two year linear A Levels. Essentially, a ‘false binary’ dichotomy was set up by the BBC producer with another Head arguing against my viewpoint. We both came to the same conclusion that some coursework was still good and we will need to wait to see how these A Levels work out. I also made the point that we need to prepare our young people for a global jobs market and we do need to expose them to testing, but that bit is about how much we put pressure on our young people with factors like the sheer number and hours of exams.
I have been trying to work out, in this context, what I think of Lucy Crehan’s book “Cleverlands” as she looks at the five perceived global educational success stories of Finland, Japan, Singapore, Shanghai and Canada. Having worked with these countries a lot in global education I have found myself at odds with some of her conclusions, in particular from what I know of my collaboration with colleagues in Finland, for example. The Finns believe their greatest challenge is to avoid the temptation to rest on their laurels of PISA and their structural reforms in education of decades ago. As a consequence, they are going to take a risk and design a more fluid curriculum, less based on traditional subjects, but rather based on the skills associated with creative, digital and global learning and critical thinking. I worked extensively with schools in Singapore about 10 years ago. The drive for these schools and educators was finding ways to bring more arts into their curriculum, and I remember standing in Tintern Abbey one Saturday with a whole group of Singaporean teachers reading Wordsworth’s famous poem and discussing methods to include more creative poetry and drama in their curriculum, rather than just literacy skills.
It is funny how life can come around in full circle, as I sat in Tintern Abbey in the glorious sunshine a couple of weeks ago thinking of those Singaporean colleagues from St Nicholas school. I was transfixed by the astonishing surrealism of the “Museum of the Moon” a piece of glorious public art by Luke Jerram and the music composed by Dan Jones. A Bristolian and a Welshman: always a good combination! A replica, detailed model of the Moon hung down in the middle of the ruined nave of the abbey and it was so beautiful, bold, challenging and thought provoking. Art should challenge and move us. Art should be integral in our lives always and to paraphrase Ken Robinson, Creativity should be just as important as Maths. The Wye “Festival of the River” brought so many people together and made them think about where they live, where they are in their lives, as well as the beauty and appreciation of what they have right now in that moment of time. I thought about the collaborative power of music this week as I watched and listened to the people of Manchester sing Oasis’ “Don’t look back in anger” as they reflected, one year on, from the senseless terror attack on young people in the Manchester Arena. I thought of the images from Sante Fe, as another senseless US school shooting took place, killing 10 people so soon after Parkland was supposed to be the turning point where this murder of teachers and students stopped. I thought of this as I sat in the Sixth Form café today where Year 13 were in full fancy dress, despite the rain, celebrating their milestone of leaving school singing collectively Jason’s Mraz’s “I’m Yours”. It was just wonderful. Young, joyous faces ready to move onto university, careers, jobs and lives, but right at that moment they were singing and expressing their inner selves. Young people should have the world at their feet and the ability to dream the impossible without fear of the future. I did like the fact the smart phones provided the “lighter” effect of the concert though. It is 2018 after all.
I met, by chance, in London at the O2 Conference Centre one of my education school leader heroes this month, Brian Christian, principal of the British School Tokyo. Brian was in the audience when I spoke at the COBIS conference about global learning and leadership for the British Council. Brian’s approach and philosophy for his school is one we should all aspire to as school leaders. It is inclusive, it is global, it is about sustainability, it is digital, it is about character and wellbeing, it is about achievement and preparation for life. It is about loving learning and wanting to be curious about the world. I greatly appreciated the long conversation I had with him in London, demonstrating again the power of collaboration, sharing and partnership across education systems and countries. That part of Lucy Crehan’s book, I agree with entirely, she was the keynote speaker at the end of the day. Brian tweeted this week a picture of the beautiful English cottage garden on his school campus in Tokyo. One of the most enjoyable enrichment activities we have at Wyedean is the Sixth Form gardening club run by Johnathan Lane. Students who are studying maths and physics also enjoy Wednesday afternoon enrichment, growing peonies and squashes, as well. I do think two-year linear Post 16 courses allow Year 12 to actually do something different in the summer of Year 12 instead of countless exams. We have made that a key part of Wyedean’s ethos and culture.
I was going to avoid mentioning the wedding of Harry and Meghan in this blog, but in the context of creativity in schools and the wider curriculum it is almost impossible to leave out. Meghan’s dresses were astonishing creations by the very best of British talent in Clare Waight Keller and Stella McCartney. Kanneh Mason’s beautiful cello solo in St George’s chapel must have made the whole of Nottingham, and not just his old school of Trinity, burst with pride as this confident, supremely talented young black musician played to the great and good invited from British royalty to Hollywood A Listers. Bishop Michael Curry reminded the whole world of the power of beautiful oratory as he quoted MLK, talked about child poverty around the World, the legacy of slavery and all with the running theme of the redemptive power of love. When a black gospel choir serenaded with Ben E King’s “Stand by Me” the sheer beauty of the voices was awe inspiring to anyone hearing it.
It is up to all of us what we want to see in our schools and in the curriculum for young people to learn. What do we value? What values do we want for the future generations? What are we preparing them for in schools? COBIS schools don’t offer their students a diet of a few narrow skills. Like the IB, they offer a broad, challenging, coherent, compelling learning and life preparing education. The same goes for schools where the values that underpin the culture and ethos are not shaped by short-term politics, or sacrificed on the tight budgets we all face. Why did a school I once worked with in West Java offer the most comprehensive enrichment programme that I had ever seen, when it was operating on a total budget equivalent to one subject dept in a UK school, let alone an entire school? The answer lies in what the school, school leaders and community wanted for those young Indonesians in their curriculum and their education. We have to lead in education again as educators and be brave enough to lead education knowing that creativity allows us to find the things in our young people they didn’t know existed. Far from killing creativity, we should be looking to grow it, encourage it and develop it as the teachers of Kanneh Mason did, Bishop Curry’s did, Ken Robinson’s did and my colleague Jane Collins’ once did. What schools should kill is ignorance and apathy in our young people. You don’t achieve this by killing creativity and the opportunities that go with such a curriculum and approach to education.
“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge” Albert Einstein.