Leading figures from across the arts and education sectors have condemned a growing inequality in schools’ cultural provision that is resulting in the “neglect and exclusion” of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Their warnings, including that such disparity is “socially and morally unconscionable”, are included within the Durham Commission on Creativity and Education, which has unveiled a long-term vision of how to prioritise creative teaching in English schools.
The commission was established in 2017 to investigate how creative thinking can play a role in the first 19 years of a young person’s life. It is chaired by Arts Council England chair Nicholas Serota, with Durham University’s pro-vice-chancellor for education, Alan Houston.
The 17 other commissioners included choreographer Akram Khan; Althea Efunshile, chair of the National College of Creative Learning; Jacqui O’Hanlon, director of education at the Royal Shakespeare Company; and Roger Kneebone, professor of surgical education at Imperial College.
All children, whatever their background, should experience a creative education that can equip them with the skills they will need later in life, while schools must be better enabled to support teaching for creativity, the commission claims.
The report calls for the inclusion of the arts as standard up to Key Stage 3 (year nine), Ofsted recognition for strong creative teaching and research into how creativity can be embedded across all education disciplines.
As the commission’s report and recommendations are published, Serota called for an urgent re-evaluation of creativity in education, warning that in England it has not been given “the priority that is required to meet our future needs, or indeed given our children the opportunities they deserve”.
The document, launched at an event in Westminster, points particularly to a “huge disparity” in creative teaching between schools and across society. It says the 18-month research process revealed geographical, socio-economic and ethnic factors at play, arguing that it is “short-sighted and morally wrong” to ignore the diversity of perspectives and cultures across England.
“When students’ experience of subjects such as art and design, dance, drama and music is limited or indeed non-existent, they become the province of the privileged, whose families can afford to give them access to the experiences of arts and culture,” it says.
“Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and students attending state schools deserve rich and varied experiences of excellent arts and cultural education. To deny them this is not only educationally limiting but socially and morally unconscionable.”
Research by the commission found that teachers routinely reported having to spend their own money to provide resources and materials for the classroom, with many admitting that “creative expertise and activity”, such as school trips, were the first things to go when budgets were stretched.
This tallies with concerns across the cultural sector that school theatre trips are declining as a result of funding pressures.
The arts in education debate has often revolved around the English Baccalaureate. Serota said the commission’s guidance reflected the fact that they were “deeply concerned” about the downturn in arts subjects’ status following the introduction of the EBacc.
Recommendations also include the development of a national network between the Department for Education, the Arts Council and education trusts, which would be dedicated to creative teaching, and a renewed focus on teacher training, particularly for early years learning.
With its resulting report, the commission aims to lay the foundations for a long-term vision for promoting creativity in education and a shift in policy.
“We assert that the integration of teaching for creativity in our education system will result in young people who have an ability to express their creativity and have the personal creative confidence that will support them in all aspects of their lives,” it concludes.