“Creative people are curious, flexible, persistent and independent with a tremendous spirit of adventure and a love of play.” – Henri Matisse

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Henri Matisse’s Cut-Outs were among the big attractions at Tate Modern in 2014 – BBC News

There has been a recent ‘epidemic’ of concern being expressed across our country that the nation as a whole is falling out of love with Art.  Visitor numbers are falling at the National Gallery and the Tate, and  and more importantly, where we have seen some modest growth nationally, the increase has been as a result of the success of tourism from abroad rather than attracting the interest from our domestic economy. Read more about that here – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-31533110.

Last month, the Warwick Commission published their findings from a year of detailed research into all aspects of the creative arts sector – the report is entitled Enriching Britain: Culture, Creativity and Growth.

The Warwick University research examines from film, theatre and dance to video games, pop music and fashion. It estimates the sector represents 5% of the British economy valued at £76.9bn. As with the previous report from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, we are reminded that the creative Arts are integral part of the UK economy, and of course in the Eastern Thames Valley and towards London, probably upwards of 30% of all permanent high quality jobs are in this sector. Politicians of a variety of hues have of course added the research outcomes to their growing list of manifesto commitments – here’s Labour suggesting that using Ofsted Inspections will improve the provision in our schools!

Here’s Vikki Heywood, the chair of the commission as reported in the Guardian “Two of the most eye-opening aspects of the inquiry are to do with cultural education and the lack of diversity in arts audiences. The cultural and creative economies are one ecosystem and policymakers need to realise that if you fiddle around with the education system at one end then something at the other end goes wonky”.

The Guardian article continues “Some of the most striking statistics are around education. Between 2003 and 2013 there was a 50% drop in the GCSE numbers for design and technology, 23% for drama and 25% for other craft-related subjects. In 2012-13, only 8.4% of students combined arts and science at AS level. The number of arts teachers in schools has fallen by 11% since 2010 and in schools where a subject has been withdrawn, drama and performance has dropped by 23%, art by 17% and design technology by 14%.”

To be honest, all those who lead Education in schools have witnessed a dramatic change in Arts Education over the past 30 years. Primary schools often now speak of not having sufficient time or skill to teach painting and drawing skills – which is rather at odds with the stated objectives of the newest National Curriculum for Art and Design from DfE which says that:

“Key stage 2 Pupils should be taught to develop their techniques, including their control and their use of materials, with creativity, experimentation and an increasing awareness of different kinds of art, craft and design. Pupils should be taught:  to create sketch books to record their observations and use them to review and revisit ideas  to improve their mastery of art and design techniques, including drawing, painting and sculpture with a range of materials [for example, pencil, charcoal, paint, clay]  about great artists, architects and designers in history.”

Of course what happens in state schools is audited by…Ofsted, and measurable curriculum outcomes exist for Literacy and Maths, but not for the other foundation and supporting subjects. Therein lies the major problems for Art and Design, as it does for other key subjects, such as the Humanities, Sciences, Languages and other physical and creative subjects. A decade ago, Roger Cole, celebrated researcher, advisor and author for both government and national teaching community found that in their efforts to raise standards of Literacy and Numeracy in the Gloucester Action zone, primary schools had reduced their curriculum to little more than these core subjects. Despite the very clear focus, achievement against government benchmarks remained resolutely fixed at below 50% achieving level 4 in either discipline.

After Roger’s engagement with 4 schools in question, the writing of new cross-curricular and creative schemes of work, not only had standards risen in the core, but across the breadth of school provision. You can read the TES 2008 article on this here – and a sample comment from an impressed Ofsted “This approach enables all pupils to achieve well in all subjects, involving pupils more holistically in learning”. Roger Cole has visited Claires Court, worked with our teaching and support staff, and no doubt will enjoy making a return to assess quite how our Essentials curriculum has taken the embedding of creativity and innovation into a higher level, supported as it is with universally available software that works on all devices.

Successive governments have panicked endlessly about our nation’s performance in Maths and English, citing the steady fall down the PISA league table that compares country performance across the globe. In recent years, computer ‘coding’ and  the ‘STEM’ agenda have both assisted in wiping good old Art and Design off the central mission schools should have. Whatever the merits of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths for the nation’s economy (and there are of course many), if  Art and Design skills are ignored, we’ll be able to pass Part 1 of the challenge (do we know stuff?) but we will fail abysmally Part 2 (what we can do with this stuff in the context of what people need?). Look at any of the leading scientific and engineering brands in the world, and great creativity and design sit at the heart of their success. Most notable are companies such as Apple, BMW, Disney, Google, HP, Intel… all renowned for great innovation, design and engineering – inseparable in terms of identifying why they work so well.

At the time of writing, I have just returned from a day at the Discovery BBC School Report 2015channel with our Google gang, boys (Y8-11) who meet to programme and mentor others in the dark arts of cloud computing. We have been working with Discovery Education to understand more about their new Secondary service for schools, to train our own pupils to mentor teachers as well as their peers, and to prepare specifically for BBC School Report 2015, one of the great creative media events of the year. We have been engaged with SR since 2009, and you can review our archive here. As the map shows, we are the only secondary school in Maidenhead to be involved this year, and that is illustrative of the national concern we have – schools will always focus on the Part 1 problem, but find it much more difficult to exercise that extra ‘holistic’ muscle to ensure their students can blend diverse input to tell a coherent and compelling story. And of course that is what a great Art education gives – and what great Art pieces show in their exhibition.

So dear Reader, for me it is quite simple.  If as Matisse suggests, “Creative people are curious, flexible, persistent & independent with a tremendous spirit of adventure and a love of play” then the obvious way forward is to design and implement (with an iron will it must be said) a curriculum that commands of its students to be curious, flexible, persistent & independent, to provide opportunities for children to sense what a spirit of adventure means, and conjoin that with diverse opportunities to explore play. As is demonstrably the case within our walls, we have these elements in place in full measure, and it therefore will not surprise you that we seem to have developed an almost endless production line of deeply talented young artists, actors, designers and performers. And what is better still is that their talents on display are not uniform – there might be great organisation, but the sheer breadth of innovation and individuality helps highlight that the principle of ‘look after the performance and the results look after themselves’ is working really well within Claires Court, true testament to both Henri and Roger!

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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