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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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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