Jun 262012

first published in ArtsProfessional on 21 June 2012

I have just finished training new creative agents for a Creative Partnerships project. We spent an exciting week looking at how we could help teachers explore new ways of delivering their work, and how young people – particularly those who are disengaged from learning – could find innovative ways to take ownership of their educational experience (and thus like it more and do better in school).

This is not a time warp: the year is 2012. But wasn’t Creative Partnerships defunded by the Coalition government in 2011? Didn’t it wrap up about this time a year ago? Yes in both cases. The work I just finished was in Norway, one of several countries now embracing ‘creative learning’ projects driven by, or directly modelled upon, work developed and delivered in the UK. The project is led by Creativity, Culture and Education, the organisation that ran Creative Partnerships in the UK, and which has since found a receptive audience for creative learning work across Europe and beyond.

The countries investing in UK-style creative learning are by no means the world’s low performers. In a 2010 survey by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Norway ranked ninth out of 31 countries for science, maths and reading; the UK ranked 20th. In Lithuania, where the nationwide Creative Partnerships programme has just launched its second year, more than 90% of the population pursues education beyond the minimum requirement, one of the highest rates in Europe. The interest from schools in Lithuania is phenomenal, with twice as many applicants as available places.

What’s happening here? The answer is simple. Independent thinking, collaborative working, risk-taking, creative problem solving: these are what give 21st century workers an edge, as reports here and internationally show time and again. The leaders of other countries know this, or are waking up to it. They want their education programmes to deliver the skills which will be key drivers in future competitiveness on the global stage.

Sadly, just as creative approaches to learning are being embraced elsewhere, the Coalition government’s education agenda is practically anti-creative. One year on, nothing has replaced Creative Partnerships; the government’s best response to the ‘creativity’ issue is a stepped-up campaign for Arts Award and Artsmark. These programmes have some merit, but they are focused very clearly on cultural provision and access, not on creative approaches to teaching and learning. Individual schools are carrying on Creative Partnerships-style work, but starved of resources and bracketed by rigid exam-led targets, it is a hard slog.

Irony seems to have little purchase on our current political leaders. Still, they shouldn’t be surprised if, in a few years’ time, education advisers from abroad start making inroads in the UK with creative learning practices that were, of course, born here in the first place.


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