The Arts in Schools: Principles, practice and provision was published by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in 1982; it was followed some 17 years later by All Our Futures Creativity, Culture and Education, published by NACCCE, the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education. Both documents can trace their heritage to Half Our Future, a report of the Central Advisory Council for Education (England) published in 1963 and chaired by John Newsom, which, in its turn pays homage to the work of Herbert Read and his 1957 conference report for the Joint Council for Education through Art, Humanity, Technology and Education.
In setting out their argument to reposition arts education (in 1982) and creativity and cultural education (in 1999) in the curriculum, the documents argue from the position that as we live in unprecedented times, with unprecedented challenges, it is essential that educational policy makers and practitioners look to a future which commits to the centrality of arts or creative education in the development of school cultures and curricula.
In the Gulbenkian report, these ‘unprecedented challenges’ revolve around patterns of employment, the relationship between education and society and the nature of cultural change in Britain. These changes are heightened by various ‘threats’ of ‘falling school rolls, cuts in public expenditure and some of the demands of educational accountability’ and are characterised in a language of despair: ‘actual provision for the arts in schools, so far from getting better, is facing serious deterioration’ ; ‘nationally, the situation is bleak and becoming bleaker’.
All Our Futures, published by NACCCE in 1999 and chaired by Ken Robinson, starts in a similar tone. ‘Education faces challenges that are without precedent which it repeats, (‘Education throughout the world faces unprecedented challenges: technological, social, and personal.’) and then elaborates upon: ‘the benefits of success are enormous and the costs of inaction profound’. From its first pages, the report argues that the need for creative education is predominantly economically driven:
In 1997, the Government published its White Paper Excellence in Schools. It described education as a vital investment in ‘human capital’ for the twenty-first century. It argued that one of the problems in education is the low expectations of young people’s abilities and that it is essential to raise morale, motivation and self esteem in schools. The main focus of the White Paper was on raising standards in literacy and numeracy. But this will not be enough to meet the challenges that face education, and the White Paper recognised this…. It emphasised the urgent need to unlock the potential of every young person and argued that Britain’s economic prosperity and social cohesion depend on this. This report argues that a national strategy for creative and cultural education is essential to that process.
Robinson has continued to communicate this message of unprecedented change in education and the link to economic well being. At a key note address to an international conference in Holland, for example, he expressed his view that the debates on creativity and the relationship of arts within the curriculum had a global significance: ’the truth is that every educational system represented at this conference, every education system everywhere, is facing a revolution.’
The quasi-apocalyptic views that Robinson has expressed over the last 25 years are not new and his is not the voice of the lone prophet in the wilderness. Robinson himself is an echo of earlier voices in the English education system broadcasting much the same message of the need to redress the place of arts education within the curriculum. For example, at the conference held by the Joint Council for Education through Art in 1957, Blackham concluded:
We believe that neither the contribution of the arts to general education, nor the place of general education in the national life has yet been properly recognised, and we want to form a body of enlightened opinion drawn from all walks of life which will bring general public opinion to share our conviction and see our vision of the role of the arts in general and the role of general education in the life of our industrial mass society.
The Gulbenkian report refered back to this conference, insisting that ‘It is all the more poignant… that this is a struggle in which we are now, even more pressingly, engaged 20 years on’. Now, a further 54 years on from that report, it is telling that variations on the same theme are being heard from arts educators not just within the UK but around the world.
As James Callaghan once (didn’t) say: Crisis, what crisis?
When Herbert Met Ken: Understanding the 100 Languages of Creativity English in Education / National Association for the Teaching of English, Vol. 41 No. 2., 2007.
Original references removed for the sake of brevity.