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

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.