Paul Williams: ‘Imagine if we could transform the culture of creative education’


‘Imagine if we valued dance as much as maths.’

As the inaugural week-long celebration of the life and work of Sir Ken Robinson reached its finale last Thursday, I started to imagine how creativity changes our world for the better, and why all young people, whatever their background, should have an entitlement to creative and artistic opportunities.

A provocative and lifelong educationist, Ken was instrumental in bringing wider access to arts and cultural education by persuasively making the case for more creativity in schools.

He argued in his acclaimed book, The Element, that the prescriptive approaches to education practised in schools are ‘stifling some of the most important capacities that young people now need to make their way in the increasingly demanding world of the 21st century – the powers of creative thinking.’

His assertion that imagination allows us to create the world in which we live aligns with the foreword to Creativity: Why it Matters, a book by Darren Henley, the chief executive of the Arts Council: ‘Nothing new would happen; there would be no original ideas; no new inventions or advances in science and medicine; no new products or services; no new books, shows, music or art; no solutions to new problems.’

In the same vein, the international Gulbenkian Foundation which is dedicated to the promotion of the arts, social welfare, education and science, highlights how imagination nourishes invention, economic advantage, scientific discovery, technological advancements and a more secure society.

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They also claim that ‘the arts are the principal trainers of imagination.’

Although inextricably linked, it is argued that imagination is not the same as creativity, which is better viewed as ‘applied imagination’.

Given that creativity doesn’t just happen by chance, it’s only by teaching creative subjects such as art, design, drama, music and dance as part of every school’s classroom-based curriculum, rather than shifting them to the margins, that all young people can apply their imagination and be given guaranteed access to the very subjects that will prepare them for the dramatic socio-economic demands of the creative, digital age.



Paul Williams

As our schools welcome more pupils back from next Monday, there has been considerable attention paid to the wellbeing and mental health challenges faced by young people as a direct result of the pandemic and lockdown.

It has also become evident that creativity has an increasingly important role in enabling young people to reconnect with their education as they negotiate a post-Covid world.

An Ofsted report on the impact of the pandemic published in November 2020 revealed that some schools were prioritising the ‘closing of learning gaps in English and maths’, whilst restricting teaching on arts, culture and creative subjects.

This led to the chief inspector of Ofsted cautioning that ‘it’s important these adaptations are short term and do not slide into a more corrosive, longer-term narrowing of the curriculum.’

Whilst schools are under pressure to implement results-driven, learning recovery plans based upon diagnostic pupil assessments, I would reiterate that the quality of education focus in the current Ofsted framework still promotes the importance of ‘cultural capital’ alongside a broad and balanced curriculum underpinned by the three pillars of literacy, numeracy and creativity.

Which is why educationists as well as the local Cultural Education Partnership are hopeful that the pandemic can be the trigger to not just reform, but to radically rethink the way in which the curriculum is taught.

It seems the Government’s newly appointed ‘education recovery commissioner’, Sir Kevan Collins, is in agreement, highlighting how the coronavirus crisis had ‘exposed underlying scars’ in the education system which urgently needs an ambitious, multi-year programme of investment and support for education recovery.

Although a number of the city’s schools might be considered as ‘curriculum conscious’, imagine if we now grasp this opportunity to transform the culture of creative education to spark the imagination and fertile minds of our young people.

Not only would it go a long way towards equipping them with the necessary skills to become the ‘enthusiasts, creators, entrepreneurs, and innovators’ envisaged within the city council’s ‘Room to Grow’ Children, Young People and Families Strategy, it would be a fitting legacy to Sir Ken’s abiding mission.

Imagine if…



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