What kind of education do we need?

29 November 2012

This month has seen a number of reports and inquiries into the purpose of education and to its relationship to creativity and the growth of the creative economy. Here are the headlines and relevant quotes from the on-going DCMS Select Committee Creative Economy Inquiry, Pearson’s new international school league table report, and First Steps, the CBI report on the future of education.

Creative Economy Inquiry

This month the DCMS Select Committee began an inquiry into the conditions needed to grow the creative economy. They asked for written submissions from across the sector. These have all now been published online and you can read them here. There are some interesting statements highlighting the importance of cultural learning in schools and the current relationship between education, universities and business; for example, the submission from the Arts University College at Bournemouth’s states:

‘In summary there is a decline in both the volume and quantity of candidates to support the creative industries and insufficient recognition of the need to support and stimulate specialist studies in design. In a global setting where our competitors in Asia and the Indian sub-continent and making huge investments in design education we must not be complacent over the advantage we currently hold.’

And the submission from Sir Nicholas Serota at the Tate includes the following:

‘Experience and confidence in the arts give skills vital to the Creative Economy. They build the approaches required to understand and interpret the creativity of others, they provide the means through which people can find expression and they inspire creativity anew.

It will be interesting to see what the findings of the Committee are - we await them with interest.

International League Tables: a recognition of the importance of creativity?

This week Pearson launched a new report: The Learning Curve. As the BBC reports here, this new system measures the strength and effectiveness of education systems in different countries, taking in a range of factors such as graduation rates and the numbers of young people gaining a place at university. This measure places the UK’s present system at number six in the world (and second in Europe) – significantly higher than indicated in the influential PISA tables.

There are some very interesting comments in the report about what education should look like in the future. A leading academic from Singapore (which comes in at a rung higher than the UK in the Pearson table) is quoted:

‘Since 1997, says Professor Lee, Singapore has shifted away from teaching rote knowledge to a firm foundation in the basics of maths, science, and literacy combined with an inculcation of how to understand and apply information. “We feel it contributes toward the students acquiring knowledge and skills of cognition and creativity attributes which are very important in the 21st century landscape.”’

The report goes on to state that: ‘Singapore is not alone. Shanghai students finished first in the latest PISA tests, but China is also shifting toward a much greater emphasis on creativity. Professor Zhao explains that the country’s leadership believes “the economy is moving quickly from a labour-intensive one to a knowledge economy. It needs creative talent.” Indeed, he finds it ironic that China is moving more in the direction of Western models even while politicians in those countries sometimes praise that of traditional Asian education. South Korean schools, meanwhile, are now being encouraged to develop “creativity, character and collaboration”.’

There is even some indication in the report that the PISA tables themselves could be set to change and start measuring and valuing collaboration and creative skills in young people from 2015 onwards.

First Steps: CBI report on the future of education

The Confederation of British Industry has published a new report: First Steps. It sets out businesses’ views on school reform; based on a review conducted this summer of what works in the UK and globally. It was commissioned to identify the key issues facing the UK’s schools and the approaches that will help to address them.

The headline recommendations of the report are the development of:

  • new kinds of accountability for schools that reach beyond league tables and A-C grades and focus on outcomes, behaviour, ethos and values (one of which is creativity);
  • better parenting support and childcare for children under two in areas where educational performance is low;
  • decentralisation of schools and stronger performance management of teachers;
  • abolishment of the national curriculum at primary (but with new goals for literacy, numeracy, science and computer science)
  • a focus on assessment at age 18 rather than 16.

The arts as subjects are not mentioned a great deal within the report, and when they are they are termed ‘enabling subjects’ rather than ‘core’: However it is heartening that the report recognises that ‘These are the subjects that equip a young person to move on – either to university, or to an apprenticeship or vocational qualification. Every student will do a different mix of these, but all routes should be rigorous and stretching.’

In general the CBI report supports the current government reform – particularly the Free School and Academy agenda, but the report does pose significant concerns about an overly prescriptive curriculum: ‘Likewise, we share the government’s concern to improve the quality of teaching and educational performance between seven and 11, but specifying the academic curriculum in great detail without reference to wider development risks killing off the very creativity in schools that the decentralisation programme is meant to harness.