In October the Durham Commission, a joint research collaboration between Durham University and Arts Council England, which examined the role creativity should play in the education of children and young people, released its findings. The Commission concluded that all schools, from early years to 16-plus education, should be better enabled to ‘support the promotion of creativity for all young people, whatever their background’.
This resonated strongly with us as, in this last year, we launched the BACE Twinning Project, a pilot scheme that sought to address the challenges around participation and engagement in culture currently experienced by the education system. The Twinning Project matched local cultural providers (including The Higgins Bedford, Full House Theatre and the Philharmonia Orchestra) with Bedford Borough schools. Each cultural provider was ‘twinned’ with one particular school, who were then supported and encouraged to build a relationship through a series of peer-to-peer professional development sessions as well as being given funding for creative projects.
The research of the Durham Commission looked at the economic, community and personal benefits of a creative education on children and young people. Caroline Bray, arts education consultant and evaluator of the BACE Twinning Programme says “Reading the report so soon after completing my evaluation of BCA’s Twinning Project, I found the project has pre-empted several of the recommendations”.
The common themes that Bray’s evaluation uncovered include the Commission’s first recommendation; to create a network of ‘Creative Collaboratives’, schools that will collaborate ‘in establishing and sustaining the conditions required for nurturing creativity in the classroom across the curriculum.’ The Twinning Project, by bringing all the partners together regularly for CPD and to share their experiences of working together, created a network that could represent the beginning of a Creative Collaboration in Bedford. Moreover, the inclusion of arts partners added an important element, giving the necessary support for the teachers to develop their confidence in using creative approaches.
One of the challenges identified by Bray’s evaluation was the differing levels of ‘buy-in and commitment’ at senior levels. This is also identified in The Durham reports, which states: “teachers need their practice to be guided and supported by their school’s leadership and governance. It is not enough for a few individual teachers in a school to practice great teaching for creativity with their own classroom. If it is to flourish across the whole school, a voice for creativity is needed.”
This was an issue addressed during the Twinning Project and since, with a report by governor and consultant Sue Reed, that includes key elements of a person specification to recruit ‘creativity link governors’ and a set of questions for headteachers to guide them through assessing the role of culture and creativity in their school.
The Commission’s third recommendation that ‘Schools that have successfully established and sustained conditions in which creativity is nurtured should be recognised and encouraged.’ Putnoe Primary, one of the schools that took part in the Twinning Project is a Platinum Artsmark School and developed ideas with their cultural twin – Full House Theatre – which resulted in an application to Arts Council England. Artsmark continues to be key in embedding a strategic approach to the arts within schools and as such, a commitment to moving along the Artsmark Journey was incorporated into the Twinning programme. As a result of this requirement, two schools – Wootton Lower School and St John Rigby – both began their Artsmark journey, with a further school – Mark Rutherford Upper – achieving Gold soon afterward. The request that Ofsted should recognise and share this success, we can, therefore assume, would be welcomed more widely.
In addition, recommendation five is about the need for a better understanding of cross-disciplinary use of creativity. The introduction to the Durham report explains that ‘there remains a misconception that creativity is solely in the province of the arts’ and yet ‘creativity exists in all disciplines’, being valued by ‘mathematicians, scientists and entrepreneurs.’
Several of the creative projects at the heart of the Twinning Project showed how the arts can be used for non-arts purposes. This can be linked to issue of individual wellbeing, as shown by Sharnbook Academy’s work around self-esteem and behaviour, or to teach core subjects like literacy through storytelling at Wootton. Scott Primary’s projects used dance and drama to break down and examine scientific processes (for example, forces and gravity), showing pupils as well as staff the potential in new approaches.
But it is the recommendation that ‘the arts and culture should be an essential part of the education of every child’ that the Twinning Project has the most immediate link with. Bray’s evaluation concludes that the Twinning Project succeeded in its aim ‘to increase the cultural engagement of young people in schools’, with more than 1200 children in Bedford participating in cultural projects. Some projects that were focused on working in-depth with small groups of pupils, were identified as most likely to benefit. For example, St John Rigby primary school’s project with the Philharmonia Orchestra, which introduced orchestral performance to a group of Pupil Premium students (those identified as being from a disadvantaged background). Others, like The Grange Academy’s new community garden, involved pupils, all with special educational needs, from across the school.
What will happen now that the report is published rests with the likes of the Department for Education and Ofsted, but as the Cultural Learning Alliance points out in their response to the findings: “there is currently very little appetite within schools, government or its corresponding agencies for root-and-branch restructure of the education system” which would be a necessity for this vision to be ‘truly realised’.
As damning as this sounds, what we have discovered with the Twinning Project is that this does not prevent good practice developing and new approaches being tested to embed creativity and creative thinking in education. The Twinning programme explicitly focused on the forming of relationships and the finding of ‘common ground’ between the education and arts sectors, to ensure that even with limited resources on both sides, a difference can be made for the good of children and young people. Our project has made a good start towards the Durham Commission’s recommendations and offers a solid base to build on for Bedford schools and their students. What the Twinning Project has shown is that, fundamentally, with support and willing a lot can be achieved to improve creative practice in schools, and in the absence of a nationwide overhaul of the education system, it’s far better than nothing at all.
Kayte Judge, Cultural Education Producer at BCA