Across Britain today, most schools finish for the year. Children will say farewell and scatter to the winds with family, whether abroad or on staycations. Teachers will breathe a sigh, tidy up their admin, gather their things and take a well-deserved break. Summer officially begins.
But with the end of this particular school year comes the end of one of the most ambitious education reform programmes ever attempted in Britain, or anywhere for that matter. Creative Partnerships began in 2002 as an attempt to loosen up attitudes and approaches to teaching and learning. It has since made its mark on more than a million children, along with thousands of teachers and as many artists, many of whom have reinvented their entire careers as a result of the work. There is evidence that ‘CP’ has improved standards broadly. It has also, in very many cases, helped to reconnect teachers with their own inner artist: is there a career that requires greater flexibility, creativity and improvisation than teaching?
The end of Creative Partnerships was in the wind last year and the new Coalition government defunded the programme entirely as of this year. All government programmes end, of course, often with good cause; indeed, in recent years, many have grumbled about the growing bureaucratisation of the CP programme.
This blog, then, is part tribute and part lament. The tribute is for what CP has achieved, evidence of which can easily be found on the programme website. The lament is for the Coalition’s current dismissal of this kind of work, and indeed of the arts in general as a driver of Britain’s future prosperity. Ironically, just as Britain seems to be shrinking from the kind of flexible thinking and skill-building that CP has championed, other countries across the globe are now embracing it. Only a few weeks ago, I concluded some work in Lithuania in advance of the national roll-out, next autumn, of a CP-style programme. Like many former Soviet bloc countries, Lithuania is keen to develop more innovators and entrepreneurs and they’ve made a direct link between arts-led creative learning and the kind of socioeconomic future they aspire to. There are many other examples.
I don’t want to be a doom-sayer here; if anything, these days I’m slightly more sanguine that the Coalition will see the proverbial light where arts-led creative learning is concerned, if only because it soon will be difficult to ignore the fact that so many other countries are valueing and funding such work. Arts Council England, which has stewarded Creative Partnerships for most of its existence, has attempted to bridge the gap between the programme’s end and whatever comes next by creating an entirely new category of funded organisation. Some work on the CP tip will undoubtedly continue, although in what form remains unclear particularly in light of shrinking school budgets.
That said, I can’t get an unfortunate analogy out of my head, that of the famous early 15th century Chinese ‘treasure fleet’ that touched port in parts of the globe where European fleets would take another century or more to reach. Alas, on the verge of establishing world-spanning trade and influence, the emperor of the day recalled the entire fleet and burned it in toto. China turned inward, and would remain so for centuries.
Creative Partnerships isn’t perfect, but it is if nothing else about the future in terms of ways of thinking and working. If Government is serious about Britain being a world-beating society it needs to embrace such work, not reject it in favour of the cheap neo-Victorianism that so many of its policies seem to reflect. Right now the fleet is being recalled. Whether or not it is burnt remains to be seen.