Nicky Morgan is the latest politician to misunderstand the value of creativity. Photo: Getty
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Creativity is the key to education, so why aren't we pursuing it?

With an innovation problem in the UK’s economy, many children being disengaged with education and a desire for user-led services, now is the time to aggressively support creativity in schools. 

Last week, the Education Secretary made a speech at the launch of an education campaign that wants to promote the subjects of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). In her speech, Nicky Morgan said that the choice by pupils to study traditionally creative subjects, the humanities and arts, would in fact restrict their career choices. Morgan’s comments come as the latest in a long line of political misunderstanding about the value and significance of creativity.

Creativity in schools isn’t just restricted to the teaching of "creative" subjects; art, English etc. In fact even that definition of what subjects are creative is a misstatement of what creativity can mean. Sir Ken Robinson, the go to man on issues of creativity in schools, has previously written about an interview he did with Hans Zimmer, the Oscar winning composer. Apparently Zimmer was a disruptive child at school; he was thrown out of eight of them. When he got to the ninth, the head teacher took him to one side and spoke to him, trying to figure out how to get Zimmer involved in education. Zimmer said he liked music and so the head teacher organised for him to study music, which went onto improve his performance and engagement across all subjects and led to his successful career.

The creativity we see in this example isn’t only the music that the music that Hans Zimmer played, but also the teaching method. The head teacher was creative in their teaching methods, something which is sadly becoming more and more difficult in a heavily regulated teaching environment. It’s the strange paradox of the coalition’s education that they pursue a top-down approach whilst also crying ‘autonomy’ while they let groups set up free schools.

One current political trend is for localism; bottom-up politics. We can see it in the push for greater devolution (particularly amongst proponents of a constitutional convention) and in the movement for patient-led services. Creativity can provide this trend with a home in education; teachers who are able to determine their own teaching methods in response to what children want and need. School is a notoriously divisive experience for people, with many disengaging entirely with it. Surely if the way in which they were taught was responsive  and creative, students will respond better to education.

This idea touches upon one of the core tenets of creativity; self-determination. Creativity gives a voice to a person’s thoughts, whether it be in writing a song or developing some new software for internal company use. It also, despite prejudices suggesting otherwise, contributes to the economy. A recent experiment saw that science students outperformed arts students on a creative writing task. You might think this backs up Nicky Morgan’s point, when in fact it does the complete opposite because the experiment showed the value of creative thought of scientists in their workplace. The creativity and innovation of these scientists push forward the organisations they work for, instilling the atmosphere of a startup company, the small businesses of which the coalition government is so proud.

The perspective that Nicky Morgan has on the humanities and arts (and by the way shouldn’t she be doing something about employment prospects?) is representative of a wider problem that government has with creativity. Nicky Morgan’s predecessor Michael Gove was fond of saying that creativity could only come off the back of formal education in topics like grammar and David Cameron has expressed his preference for a UK film industry that produces more blockbusters like Harry Potter and less independent films. These men have shown that the coalition doesn’t get creativity, it isn’t just about producing Hollywood blockbuster’s or forcing children to write grammatically correct haikus; it’s about expression, innovation and self-determination. If the government can’t see the economic, political and societal benefits to a creative education, then perhaps they need to think a bit more creatively.  

Dan Holden leads on political research at ComRes. He tweets @DanSHolden.

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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.