Durham Commission report is published

15 October 2019

The Durham Commission on Creativity and Education has today launched a report and recommendations for the promotion of creativity in education in England.

This article gives you the headlines of the report and our analysis on what we love, what’s missing and what might be coming next.

What is the Durham Commission?

The Durham Commission, chaired by Sir Nicholas Serota Chair of Arts Council England with Professor Alan Houston, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) at Durham University, was set up in February 2018 to gather evidence and research into the impact of creativity and creative thinking in our lives.

At its launch, it aimed specifically to seek to influence national (English) policy, and to inform and contribute to Arts Council England’s next ten-year Strategy for the period 2020-30.

The Commissioners include a number of high-profile individuals from across the arts, education, business and beyond; from children’s author Lauren Child MBE, to Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield OBE. You can read the list in full here.

What are the main recommendations?

They include:

  • The development of a pilot national network of Creativity Collaboratives established through joint working between DfE, the Arts Council and education trusts
  • Better recognition, research and evaluation of teaching for creativity in schools and a recognition of this teaching in the Ofsted inspection process
  • A clearer focus on digital technology and its role in a creative education
  • Inclusion of the arts as standard in the curriculum to key stage 3, and a National Plan for Cultural Education
  • A focus on early years learning, including training for the workforce
  • Creative opportunities out of school hours and in the world of work

At the time of the launch, no ringfenced funding had been announced.

What’s great?

The National Plan

We are really pleased to see the Commission calling for a National Plan for Cultural Education, as this is something that the CLA has long been campaigning for. At the CLA we strongly believe we need to work together to analyse our projects and programmes, and decide together what is of quality, what should be scaled, and what new risks should be taken. A National Plan will help us to do this.

A focus on professional development, learning and training

The Commission calls for Arts Council England and the DfE to work together to review the provision ‘of professional development opportunities for teachers in arts subjects and for the cultural workforce and freelancers who work with schools’. We absolutely agree that this is needed. The CLA wants to support every school to revive, sustain and develop its arts subject specialism expertise, so that they can deliver a broad and balanced curriculum. The arts and cultural sector should also be supported to professionalise its offer to schools, and truly become a trusted part of the children’s workforce.

Arts at Key Stage 3

We are really pleased that the Commission has identified the reduction of arts provision at Key Stage 3 as a significant problem in schools. We’ve long heard from our teaching colleagues that this has had an enormous impact on their ability to deliver a broad and balanced curriculum, and we hope that this focus from Durham will spur schools, Ofsted and the DFE to work jointly to address this damaging practice.

What are the key themes?

This is a report about creativity, not about the arts

The report sets out it stall clearly: the Commission is concerned with creativity, which it defines as: ‘The capacity to imagine, conceive, express, or make something that was not there before’. It makes it clear that ‘creativity exists in all disciplines. It is valued by mathematicians, scientists and entrepreneurs, as well as by artists, writers and composers.

It acknowledges that ‘the arts make an invaluable contribution to the development of creativity in young people’, and does make the case that the reduction in arts teaching and provision in schools has significantly eroded that contribution.

Much of the Commission’s content chimes well with government’s Industrial Strategy: Creative Industry Sector Deal, especially the recommendations for Creativity Collaboratives, for T-level and apprenticeship development, and the report’s focus on careers.

Access to the arts is a social justice issue

We are delighted to see that the report echoes our recent Briefing The Arts for Every Child: why arts education is a social justice issue. It states that:

‘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. It reduces the likelihood of students from disadvantaged backgrounds building the kinds of creative skills they need now and in the future.’

What’s missing or of concern?

Structure for creativity within the current school system

We absolutely agree with the Commission when it states that:

While no one school in England is the same as another, there are five key forces that influence what happens in all schools. These are: the ways the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) measures success; the National Curriculum and what it requires schools to teach; external tests or examinations and what they specify in their syllabuses; the morale, calibre, confidence and professional development of heads and teachers; and the amount of funding available.’

However, we do have concerns that there is currently very little appetite within schools, government or its corresponding agencies for root-and-branch restructure of the education system – something that is pre-requisite for this vision to be truly realised, and something that is in fact echoed in the findings of the BritainThinks headteacher survey that informed the Commission:

‘Most importantly, there is a hesitation amongst some headteachers and their colleagues about how creativity can be best used within the school environment. Without a confident understanding of its nature in different disciplines and the ingredients required for creative activity, it is difficult to exercise confident leadership, and to work beyond the confines of the existing system to which they are accountable.’

Cross-sector take up?

Although the Commission squarely places creativity across all subjects in schools, and highlights its value to the economy, to place-making and to health and well-being, it is worth pointing out that the report’s recommendations are not that wide in scope: for example, it makes no calls on the science sector to adopt or support the vision, or to develop any corresponding policy or provision. In order for this agenda to flourish we hope to see significant take-up and endorsement from beyond the cultural learning universe.

What’s next?

At the launch, Sir Nick Serota described this report a starting point for conversation, with work to develop and cement the recommendations taking place over the next year, and the Commission due to report on progress in 2020.

  • Arts Council’s ten-year strategy

We’ve already seen that the new Arts Council ten-year strategy has been significantly influenced by the Commission, so in that respect, it has been successful, though we do have some concerns about the connections between the two.

The CLA believes passionately in the relationship between culture and creativity, and in the power of young people’s agency and imagination, but we do become concerned when the arts fall out of the discourse, as we believe they may have in the draft strategy. We think this could lead to unintended consequences in schools and for young people.

  • National Policy

It will be interesting to see how far the Durham Commission is successful in meeting its aim to influence national policy in England. The current political landscape is so rapidly shifting that it difficult to see what levers the Commissioners will be able use. The role of the Dfe will be absolutely key. However, in this time of uncertainty, it is really important for leaders in our field to fly the flag for children and young people, for cultural learning and for rigorous thinking and reflection, and we salute our colleagues for enabling and amplifying this conversation.

Is there more detail about the Creativity Collaboratives?

Yes there is! The report states: 

‘A national network of Creativity Collaboratives should be established, in which schools collaborate in establishing and sustaining the conditions required for nurturing creativity in the classroom, across the curriculum. This will involve:

  • A three-year pilot of nine Creativity Collaboratives, one in each of the DfE regions
  • Evaluation of the pilots should inform the creation of a national Creativity Collaboratives network from 2023
  • Funding for the pilot Creativity Collaboratives from a consortium including DfE, Arts Council and educational trusts. The period of the pilots should be used to explore the possibility of attracting funding from partnerships between DfE, industry and commerce.’

Further reading

A number of interesting resources and materials were created through the process of the commission, including a central speech by Sir Nick Serota: The Creative Opportunity.

At the CLA we’ve been thinking deeply about some of the Commission’s key questions – looking over the last 20 years of cultural education policy and intervention, and about some of the lessons we’ve learned from them. Read our blog here, and an article by Pauline Tambling here.


Image credit: Leeds Museums

One Reply to "Durham Commission report is published"

  1. Although I support the call for more creative teachers, particularly when they have to teach such a ‘tedious’ curriculum, I am wary of the way in which ‘creativity’ is being defined. Creativity should be a process and a way of thinking, not a set of skills, although skills are important. In the arts, creativity without ‘imagination’ will not necessarily produce original thinkers or motivated learners. It is the ability to imagine ‘new worlds’ that we seek and this is what makes arts so challenging. Creativity can remain at the level of endorsing the status quo, if it is not part of a more determined policy that is seeking alternatives.

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