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Article written by Ivan Tennant for the Regeneration & Renewal/Planning magazine

Shortly after coming to power in May last year, the coalition Government announced the withdrawal of funding from the Creative Partnerships (CP) learning programme for schools. The programme sought to integrate creative teaching practices into schools and build linkages with the creative industries, targeting in particular pupils from deprived backgrounds. An independent evaluation of the programme, produced in July 2010, found that for every £1 of government money invested, £15.30 of benefit accrued, if allowance was made for the long term social and economic costs. Link the success of CP - supported by two Ofsted evaluations - with the widespread belief that the creative industries are one of the most successful parts of our economy and it becomes all the more difficult to understand the Government’s decision.

As has been well documented, cultural activity such as sports, the arts and creative industries are particularly important as a means for people from poorer backgrounds to achieve wealth and success. A report by Ofsted found exposure to the creative industries offered by CP was particularly useful. For a "small proportion of pupils…regular visits to creative industries profoundly changed the nature and process of learning", the report found. Given the Government’s well publicised goal of increasing social mobility, barring wide swathes of young Britons to this route is not only callous but irrational.

The purpose of CP was also to encourage a "better" form of teaching, characterised by creativity becoming an integral part of the overall curriculum, and not seen as an add-on. A 2010 Ofsted report found that, while it is difficult to ascribe direct cause and effect, those schools involved in CP reported "a more investigative approach in developing the teaching of science and mathematics, with more extensive opportunities for pupils to speculate and test their theories". It is akin with the "no single right answer" approach which allows "pupils to ask questions and offer answers confidently because no one assumes the role of expert", a 2006 Ofsted report said. This awakens in young people a critical and reflective capacity and they start to acquire a more sophisticated and mature relationship with their own work.
 
The agenda of CP was, however, not just about outcomes for the individual; Creativity, Culture and Education, the body which managed CP, was also interested in the wider social impact of its work. The programme was seen as a means of instilling socially desirable values, such as cultural tolerance. This issue has achieved heightened relevant today with both Islamic fundamentalism and far right extremism causing immense stress in Western societies. Indeed, CP encouraged the use of cultural artefacts and practices from minority groups within the local community in teaching, thus implicitly transmitting a sense of respect for these groups among students at the school.

Evaluations are conclusive that the creative approach to teaching at the heart of the CP programme led to better skills for young people and that these skills were "likely to contribute to pupil’s future economic well-being". Skills are, of course, a key determining factor in the quality of the labour market and a fundamental factor in building strong local economies. Economic commentators, however, have a tendency to conflate "skills" with "qualifications". This conflicts with the notion of skills put forward by organisations such as the Learning Trust. The skills required within the knowledge economy are not only those captured in paper qualifications; emotional intelligence and team working are critical too. "Retained knowledge", according to the trust, as is tested in conventional examinations, is relatively unimportant of the free access of knowledge via the internet, it is our capacity for creativity that counts.

The link with the work of CCE is clear. Economists have correctly noted the nature of jobs is changing; reports have found that 88 per cent of the new council and business-led local enterprise partnerships see ‘improving skills’ as one of their top priorities. Engagement with creative practice that will help supply the skills within this new economy should therefore be considered vital, not only within schools, but also among those working with disadvantaged communities such as providers within the Work Programme involved with finding sustainable employment for the clients.  

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