The Durham Commission on Creativity and Education report, a collaborative research project between Durham University and Arts Council England, is a 96 page deep dive into why and how creativity should be placed at the heart of the British education system. Jess Fear, First Story’s programme lead for East Yorkshire and a former teacher, shares her thoughts…
When it was published last month, the Durham report seemed to be received in the education world as one might have predicted: with a mixture of knowing eye-rolls from teachers – especially teachers of creative subjects – and exasperated sighs from cash-strapped senior leaders, forced to prune ‘third bucket’ subjects due to ever-tighter budgetary constraints.
Schools have fair reasons to feel frustrated. Schools didn’t initiate the agenda that drove the cuts in creative education, after all. Many educators will (rightly) feel this latest report simply adds to the weight of voices already denouncing over-emphasis on EBacc subjects and lamenting the days when pupils did anything other than practise for exams.
Unlikely as a governmental volte-face may seem, perhaps the Durham report could be the catalyst for the change we all wish to see? It needs to be.
The DfE would be foolish to ignore myriad voices, from across business, education and the public sectors, increasingly warning that young people are ‘emerging into a world in which the skills and knowledge of the current education system will no longer be sufficient’.
Young people cannot afford to be returned to a traditional approach to schooling. If we continue to prioritise academic subjects and a purely knowledge-based curriculum, we not only exclude huge numbers of young people from a fulfilling and happy education, we also create a skills deficit in the modern workplace. This is not a speculative outcome; it’s already happening.
Young people, in all their wonderful diversity of personalities and skill sets, will be far better served by an education system which promotes a broad range of intelligences and skills, from birth to leaving school and beyond.
Thankfully, the Durham Commission tackles this head-on, offering an all-encompassing approach to making students’ educational experience a creative one. The report makes ten key recommendations:
- Establishing a national ‘Creativity Collaboratives’ network, which would see schools work together to review creativity across the curriculum.
- Collaborating to review exams and how creativity can be acknowledged and assessed.
- Celebrating schools which have successfully embedded creativity.
- Supporting schools to participate in the PISA 2021 evaluation of creative thinking.
- Universities’ involvement in developing research informed ways to evaluate creativity across disciplines and measure its impact.
- Prioritising creative and critical digital literacy, as an essential skill for young people.
- Making arts and culture education an integral part of every child’s education.
- Promoting creative education in the early years, from birth to school.
- Providing extra-curricular creative activities, for enjoyment and pleasure.
- Offering opportunities for creative education through apprenticeships.
I’m proud to work at an organisation already contributing so much toward achieving the Durham report’s vision. First Story was founded on the principle that every young person, regardless of their background or socio-economic status, deserves a creative education.
We know that when they are not enshrined in the curriculum, creative opportunities become intertwined with privilege. When the practise of writing for pleasure is seen as unessential, it joins a portfolio of activities only accessible to those who can pay to participate. Students from low-income families are penalised, and social divisions remain entrenched.
First Story practically addresses this opportunity gap by ensuring young people from low-income communities have access to and can benefit from high-quality creative learning. The young people who participate in our extra-curricular programmes develop the skills and confidence to thrive in education and in life.
I really appreciate the hard work and enthusiasm that went into Durham University’s report, and I’d encourage all the named partners to embrace the Commission’s suggestions for strengthening existing creative education provision and developing new possibilities. I look forward to seeing how their recommendations are received across the education landscape, not least by the DfE.
Change is coming, we hope.