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Why creativity is the future

A couple of months ago, I watched a New Statesman video with Andrew Marr talking about Labour's new education plan. Before he got into the details, he laid out some pretty bleak but unsurprising stats: three out of five people think that everything in the UK is broken; and 20% of people believe that politics is not going to solve anything. The point being, you better come up with something pretty inspirational if you're going to instil any kind of confidence in the electorate. So, where to begin?

Let's start with Labour’s new education plan, the highlights being:

  • Early years education, and councils being responsible for that

  • A dynamic and creative curriculum that prioritises the arts and sports

  • Investment in teaching young people how to be confident when speaking in public aka oracy

  • Investment in teachers and prioritising teaching as a profession

For the purposes of this post I’m going to focus on a dynamic and creative curriculum because if we got that right then I think a lot of the other things would follow.

I've been working in the arts professionally in London since 2007 and have been involved in the arts since I was a child.The arts has always been a big part of my life and therefore this subject is very close to my heart. It helped me to become the person I am today and it got me through some really tricky times during adolescence and young adulthood.

I believe that every child and young person should have the opportunity to express themselves through creative subjects and activities. This is in part due to the enormous social and emotional benefits we gain but also because of the skills and knowledge we acquire through engaging in arts subjects eg. speaking confidently in public, idea generation, resilience, intuition, problem solving, team work etc.

Recently Jimmy Carr was interviewed by Joe Rogan and said his vision was that comedy becomes a national curriculum subject. While I think it would be great to add standup to the curriculum, we’re barely teaching any of the more traditional creative subjects as it is. This is because for almost 15 years, the UK Government has systematically decimated arts education and arts funding to the point where it barely exists.

So how did this all begin?

Prior to the Conservative Party being voted back into power in 2010, the Labour Party introduced something called the ‘specialist schools programme’ (remember this is before academies and free schools, when state schools were run by councils). This was a relaunched idea of John Major’s Conservative government, and the idea was that schools had the option to specialise in certain areas of the curriculum and in doing so would receive extra funding. By the time the Labour Party was voted out almost every state-funded secondary school in England had specialised.

A few years ago I worked with a school which is now part of an academy trust. At the time it was a state school which had chosen to specialise in the arts. This meant that they got an extra £150,000 per year to put towards their arts and culture budget. They used this extra funding to pay a full-time salary to someone whose sole job was to organise extracurricular arts activities that fed into and built on the arts activities already being delivered in school as part of the national curriculum. This was a fantastic system and it worked really well because it helped to feed the UK cultural ecosystem by providing schools with a budget to pay arts organisations to deliver arts education projects. This meant that arts organisations could focus on this as an earned income stream helping them to grow sustainably.

But then the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition came into power and that’s when the cuts slowly began. For a while the funding for specialist schools continued but once the coalition government ended and we had a Conservative government it was game over. The specialist schools funding ended and we also started seeing the amount per pupil being decreased which meant less money for schools. Moreover, the government ran with the previous Labour government’s academy initiative which resulted in taking away even more money from state schools as parents flocked to their brand new local shiny academy. As the traditional state school numbers dropped so did their budgets because schools receive an amount per pupil, so if you have a drop in intake then you receive less money.

Why is this important?

Because if we genuinely want children and young people to have access to a dynamic and creative curriculum, and to become world renowned for our creative output (as we once were in the 1960s and 1970s) then WE as taxpayers need to invest in that shit. We know the specialist schools programme was successful but it cost money and that's why the Conservative government got rid of it. We also know that most families don’t have the income to pay for arts activities outside of school nor the time or energy to get their kids there. And why would you when there’s no obvious direct correlation between engaging in creative subjects and earning money?

But here’s the thing: entrepreneurship is blowing up and I don’t think that’s going away anytime soon. I want you to take a moment and think about some of the world’s biggest tech companies: Apple; Google; Amazon; Meta. These all started out as a crazy creative ideas to solve a problem that was bugging their founders. But as Brian Chesky, CEO and founder of AirBnB pointed out in an interview with Steven Bartlett for The Diary Of A CEO podcast, out of all the companies in the Fortune 500 (and the above big tech companies are included in this list) he is probably the only CEO that went to design school.

He went on to observe that out of the approximately 5,000 board members sitting on boards of Fortune 500 companies very few will have trained in creative subjects. He then asked, “How many CEOs have creative people reporting to them? Not many.” And then he went on to say, “We don’t have a lot of people in positions of power that can take creative leaps of the imagination and really understand how to design something better than (what) we’re in right now, and I think creativity is being systematically squashed.”

Back to the UK and how we’ve been systematically squashing creativity over here.

Ofsted inspections and the prioritisation of attainment in schools means we have become obsessed with quantitative data, which has meant that subjects which are hard to quantify, like English Literature, Drama and Art have became less of a priority. Additionally, subjects like Music where the curriculum is heavily based in the Western classical tradition means that you’re unlikely to get a good grade at GCSE level unless you’ve been reading music from a young age, and don’t even get me started on Music A-Level. This means that schools have also been cutting Music from their curriculum in an attempt to keep their attainment results and Ofsted ratings high.

Fast forward to 2023 and we now have the current prime minister telling us that our kids should be taking Maths A-Level because that’s the skill we all need to succeed. This is such a backwards and ignorant way of thinking it almost beggars belief. So yes, Jimmy Carr it would be great if standup comedy were a national curriculum subject but how about you pay your taxes first? Because unless we commit to paying more taxes then no government, not even a Tory one (who would seemingly prefer to waste our money on private jets and lining the pockets of their friends for their own individual benefit) is going to be able to make any real change and we will instead have to rely on big corporate to do that for us and then…oh wait, we already know how that’s going to go down.

So while we continue to insist on keeping taxes low and while our taxes continue to be invested in things that are not going to serve us long term we will continue to have the same problems: more schools being run like businesses; more people like Rishi Sunak telling us that Maths is the future; more kids not wanting to be in school; and more teachers leaving the profession because it is so woefully underpaid, disrespected and soul destroying.

This approach of spending less to keep taxes low is ultimately why we don't think anything works anymore because government cuts have affected everyone and everything, with each sector putting pressure on one or more of the others eg. the lack of a reliable, decent and affordable transport infrastructure has had an impact on the environment. The cuts to children and family services has had an impact on the education and healthcare sectors and so it goes on.

I don’t know about you but I’m craving some inspirational leaders right now. I desperately want to be able to have something to believe in. I wish nothing more than to be swept up in a fervor of excitement and jubilation for something that we can all get on board with so that we start creating a better, more creative, more loving and caring future for ourselves and our kids. Where it is not growth at all costs. Where we put human lives and climate change before profit, control and power and instead of being divided we collaborate, learn and grow together. Where this one tiny miracle of a planet spinning around in space is allowed to heal and regenerate so that we can continue to come up with more beautiful, creative and crazy ideas.

This is why creativity is the future. Without it we are nothing more than a profit line at the bottom of a spreadsheet.

I'm booking assemblies and workshops for my autobiographical children's book, 'Becoming Brave' covering the themes of courage and fear. If you'd like me to come to your school then please get in touch by emailing me:

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