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 is deputy editor of Shifting Grounds

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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.