“Our biggest contribution to the quality of education may be in shaping pupils’ minds”

Sketch by Lewis Barton, UAL Staff, 2016

Sketch by Lewis Barton, UAL Staff, 2016

Pixar, famed for Toy Story, Ratatouille and Monsters Inc to name just a few, is one of the most successful creative animation studios in the last twenty years. It generates billions of pounds, providing jobs to millions, playing a vital role in the economy.  But it’s not simply the creative talent of animation artists and CGI specialists that has got it to that point. In his wonderful 2014 book, Creativity Inc, co-founder of Pixar Ed Catmull, tells us that Pixar insists that all employees do a drawing course when they join. They recognise the value of a creative education in all parts of the organisation – whether they are in film-making or finance, Pixar is the sum of its parts and creativity in process as well as art and design is what makes it the innovative, imaginative, pioneering organisation it is today.

With such huge public success, and a fantastic example of the benefit of creative education to the economy, it is, as Catmull says, “why it is so frustrating that funding for arts programmes in schools has been decimated. And those cuts stem from a fundamental misconception that art classes are about learning to draw. In fact, they are about learning to see.”

The value and importance of a creative education is plain to see with the creative industry making up nearly a quarter of the workforce and £71.4 billion to the economy (according to official figures released by DCMS) but education policy has not caught up. Somehow we are still battling cuts and for art and design to be included in the Ebacc system which is now at its last ditch in the Parliamentary debate on 4 July 2016. Recent findings from the NSEAD survey 2015-16, shows that there is a decrease in the amount of time allotted for art and design at primary and secondary level, falls in levels of attainment when going into Secondary level, and a reduction in skills required for exams.

It is true that the dice appear to be loaded against us. Art and design teaching is increasingly isolated in the timetable and under-resourced. While Progress 8 will undeniably generate some fascinating Big Data on progression routes, it will also push arts and design down the pecking order behind Maths, English and the EBacc subjects.

SETTING THE SCENE – LEARNING TO SEE

Given these barriers, can we survive and continue to meet the demand for trained creative people? I believe we can, if we display the self-belief so characteristic of our sector. And there are opportunities to take in the next years.

The argument that art and design matters on its own account hasn’t worked. The time has therefore come to talk about the contribution it makes to the quality of education – to insist that no school, no academy and no pupil can be called excellent unless they have undertaken some arts subjects.

That sounds ambitious, but consider this. In 2015, Michigan State University published research showing that – compared to scientists in general – elite scientists are more likely to have an avocation (or hobby) in arts and crafts. Nobel Prize Winners are almost three times more likely than average scientists to be this sort of polymath.

An analysis of scholarship applicants to the Institute of Civil Engineers showed the most gifted engineering students are overwhelmingly likely to have studied creative subjects alongside STEM at GCSE, as reported in The Creative Industries’ Creative Education Agenda.

With a government solely focussed on improving STEM results, is it time they learnt how to see things differently?

It is important to make politicians see creative education differently but we also need to see differently as educators. Our biggest contribution to the quality of education may not be our direct contribution to the creative industries, but in shaping pupils’ minds.

FAIR PLAY AND THE TWO-WAY STREET

Education is a two-way street, particularly at higher levels: it is responsive. It changes with new evidence, new interests and new priorities. It has an active engagement with the whole of society, the whole of knowledge. This is fair play.

Fair play isn’t explicitly mentioned in the Ofsted school inspection handbook 2015. Instead, Ofsted follows the government’s list of fundamental British values, and I quote:

democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs

It is a good list. But behind all this is the government’s agenda to fight terrorism. And I know there will be some in this room who are very uncomfortable with how that agenda is being achieved. In higher education, the Prevent agenda is causing great discomfort, including student protest.

While I recognize our duties as educators under the law, I share the concern that education should be open to all points of view, including those we find uncomfortable.

But as I said, education is a two-way street. If British values contain — as they should — the whole of society, if we show how people of different beliefs and different ethnicity have made a contribution to our British values, these stop being something we impose on others, and start being something we can all get behind.

And art and design have a crucial role to play in this. Not because of the knowledge we teach, or the skills we encourage, but because — as Ed Catmull says — we help people see differently.

This blog post is a shortened version of a speech delivered by Nigel Carrington at the NSEAD Annual Conference

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