Late last year, the US-based Roosevelt Institute asked the RSA to write a policy memo to support its Next American Economy project. This project ‘identifies the trends and challenges that will shape our economy in the next 25 years to better inform the policy decisions we must make today.’
We were asked to explore how school systems can best be designed to develop all students’ creative capacities during their school years, so that young people are better equipped to succeed in the 21st century economy. Although The RSA’s ‘Power to Create’ philosophy is predicated on a belief that creativity has intrinsic and non-economic value for individuals and communities, this memo was driven by the project’s particular rationale – the economic imperative for a more creative workforce. .
Whilst based purely on desk research, the work, helped by the Roosevelt Institute’s recommended structure of ‘situation-complication-questions-answers’ and short word limit, has helped marshall our own thinking. Although our emerging aim – to close the creativity gap in learning - widens the RSA’s lens beyond schools and young people, it’s been useful to concentrate again on the eternally important and contested role of schools.
My favourite education book of 2014 (and 1870)? Habits of Thrift and Industry: Improving Bethnal Green.
As the RSA’s small education team scrambles around trying to make a difference in the crowded world of education, our history can feel both inspiring and daunting. Our Vaults’ brick walls are marinaded in two centuries of Fellows’ coffee and wine-fuelled conversations; plotting and planning, activity and activism From the 19th Century campaign for girls’ education, to the introduction of RSA national examinations for all, and the more recent education for capability movement, we’ve frequently succeeded (albeit temporarily on occasions) in turning the education dial – something we hope to achieve again through our new mission to close the creativity gap.
Back in November, the RSA’s Linked In Group helped me stumble upon the latest Occasional Paper from the William Shipley Group for RSA History. Habits of Thrift and Industry: Improving Bethnal Green by Pat Francis offers a fascinating biography of educationalist and energetic RSA activist George Bartley (Fellows didn’t yet exist). It also reprints in full his seminal inquiry One Square Mile in the East End of London, commissioned by the (as then named) Society of Arts in 1870. After the habitually draining pre-Christmas work rush, I finally read the paper on Boxing Day. It’s a brilliant read. Whilst there are clear resonances with current education debates (note in particular the description of ‘free schools’, as well as an account of how the now painfully trendy Cat and Mutton pub used to house 27 families) the purpose of this blog is simply to encourage others to buy or borrow a copy from the RSA library.
In the last six years, the World Innovation Summit in Education, held annually in Doha, has grown into a giant amongst education events, bringing teachers, innovators and other edu-geeks together to discuss, share and provoke practice. Whilst concerned with all aspects of the global education agenda, WISE’s focus remains on the power of innovation in education, and the need to develop broader outcomes in young people.
When a journalist interviewing me at the summit asked the inevitable ‘why Qatar?’ question, my response was that this kind of gathering was needed, partly as a counter to more traditional corporate and governmental convening power of the so-called ‘Global Education Reform Movement’ (or GERM). I didn’t mind who met this need, as long as they met it well. WISE, established by the Qatar Foundation, has become an important, risk-taking player in the global education landscape. As Ralph Tabberer, former Director General of Schools for the DfE, and now boss of Better, Broader, Deeper Education, summed up: ‘A very diverse set of people. Not overwhelmed by the West. Lots of networking, Fewer government people so it was all more applied.’ The Learners’ Voice programme is a key cog in the WISE machine, ensuring that the views of young people are embedded throughout the summit.
This guest blog is from Dr Elizabeth McClelland, who became a Fellow in January 2014. Elizabeth has been working with RSA Education on plans to expand her programme Move4Words to many more schools in England. You can contact her at www.move4words.org.uk where you also find out more about the research evidence.
I was a research scientist in a former life – Royal Society Research fellow for 10 years at Department of Earth Sciences, Oxford University, then University Lecturer and Director of the Palaeomagnetism research laboratory at Oxford between 1997 and 2003. In 1998, I suddenly became very ill with an unknown virus which temporarily robbed me of the ability to speak coherently, to understand speech or written language or to control my muscles properly. All my facilties came back over the following couple of months, except my ability to read fluently. I could read single words, but couldn’t make sense of a paragraph. I was still lecturing at Oxford, I could do my numerical research, gave talks at conferences and even touch-typed a couple of papers (although was unable to proof-read them). It was incredibly frustrating. Eventually, I found a private physio who used a physical activity programme to help children with dyslexia, and she showed me that I’d lost the ability to control my eye movements, and had lost some cross-body muscular control. She showed me some simple physical and visual exercises, which I practised several times a day, and, remarkably, my reading started to improve after a couple of weeks, and within 2 months it was back to my original rapid reading. It was so dramatic, I vowed to find out more and to do what I could to help others in the same way.
Guest Blog Column: Vikki Heywood, chair of the RSA, argues that a strong cultural education is vital for the UK’s social and economic future. This article was originally published on the Royal Opera House website.
It should, in the UK and in this day and age, be the case that education in arts and culture is something to which every child should be entitled, and enabled to access. Who would disagree that this is a basic human right – it is enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that children have a right ‘to participate fully in cultural and artistic life’. However, the fact remains that cultural education remains the privilege of some, but not all our children.
So why aren’t all children accessing great arts and culture? Research provides irrefutable evidence that the benefits of cultural education extend far beyond opening students’ eyes to the vast array of the UK’s cultural riches. Music lessons, drama groups and art classes enhance academic achievement across the curriculum. Add to that improved self-esteem and self-confidence, and you have a pretty potent and proven combination. Read more
It’s a rainy May Wednesday in Birmingham and two 16-year-old pupils, Kobir and Tabassum, are giving me a tour of our new RSA Academy, Holyhead School in Handsworth. With a mixture of pride and humour, they show me round buildings that are far from pristine, but ooze learning and purpose. Inventive with their questions and responses, these young people appear to have the C-factor: the power to create the lives they want for themselves and the courtesy to consider others along this journey.
Despite its enduring presence in staffrooms and classrooms, articles and RSA talks, creativity in education is in danger of becoming a toxic brand. In England, fifteen years since the publication of the seminal All Our Futures report, emerging curriculum and accountability regimes give no incentive to focus on the creative development of young people. The rhetoric driving changes in school behaviour reinforces the message that creativity is a ‘nice to have’ to be developed only after the culmination of – and never at the expense of – knowledge acquisition. As Michael Gove claimed recently, “creativity depends on mastering certain skills and acquiring a body of knowledge before being able to give expression to what’s in you…[for instance in music] you need first of all to learn your scales”.
On Saturday I spoke at an After the Coalition conference, organised by Mike Finn FRSA from Liverpool Hope University. It was a terrific first attempt at what will hopefully be an annual event. I’m hoping that our Fellows in the North West can support next year’s conference.
After making my old joke about premature evaluation, and how the educational impact of this government is especially difficult to judge, given the assessment changes at GCSE, I also argued that our understanding of the impact of the coalition on education is dependent on our views of where we stood in 2010. If you think that in 2010 our schools were in the grip of a progressive ideology (caused by a lethal mix of wooly teacher training colleges and excessive central prescription) which had devalued knowledge and teacher authority, leading to decades of falling standards and behaviour, epitomised by our plummet down the PISA league tables, then you’ll probably be thinking that the coalition has worked wonders in four years. If you have a more nuanced, evidence-based view of contemporary education history, then you’ll be more balanced about a coalition government that has actually chosen continuity over disruption on most education issues. Alison Wolf’s presentation was very compelling on the continuity point. Overall, Gove’s bark has been more radical, libertarian and antagonistic than his bite.
The lead singer of Iron Maiden Bruce Dickinson last week claimed that the Glastonbury Festival was “the most bourgeois thing on the planet. Anywhere Gwyneth Paltrow goes and you can live in an air-conditioned yurt is not for me.” My unsubstantiated guess is that this weekend’s Festival of Education, held at Wellington College, might smash Glastonbury in any game of bourgeois Top Trumps. However, the Festival yesterday hosted the launch of a new campaign that RSA Education is delighted to have helped initiate and excited to be playing a continued role in.
The Fair Education Alliance aims to work towards ending the persistent achievement gap between young people from our poorest communities and their wealthier peers. Our aim is hardly novel; in some ways, it’s been an implicit ambition since 1870’s Education Act, made more explicit through the birth of the comprehensive movement. This is why Gove and others’ flippant dismissals of those with different views about how to close achievement gaps as ‘enemies of promise’ can be so corrosive. In contrast, the Alliance carefully brings together partners who may have very different routemaps to a fairer education system, but are prepared to collaborate to achieve common goals.
Our five Impact Goals, all measurable statements of progress, are as follows:
- Narrow the gap in literacy and numeracy at primary school
- Narrow the gap in GCSE attainment at secondary school
- Ensure young people develop key strengths, including resilience and wellbeing, to support high aspirations
- Narrow the gap in the proportion of young people in education, employment or training one year after compulsory education
- Narrow the gap in university graduation, including from the 25 per cent most selective universities
The Alliance recognises that the “the underlying causes of educational inequality are complex and interconnected, and they need to be addressed across the education system and society. No single organisation has the knowledge, resources or expertise to bring about the changes we need to make our education system fair for everyone.” Today’s silly Times leader column, which gave an outdated, un-evidenced view of Universities’ role in teacher training, and claimed that the best way to improve the performance of white working class pupils was to “motivate them with more vocational training”, exemplifies the kind of rhetoric we do not need. Michael Wilshaw’s speech yesterday, reclaiming the comprehensive agenda with a more nuanced account of recent progress and current predicaments, was far more balanced and helpful. For once, read the speech, not the headlines.
The Education Endowment Foundation amongst others has recognised that most interventions which successfully improve outcomes also widen gaps in outcomes. This serves as a useful precis for the last few decades of schooling in England. Leaving doubts about grade inflation aside, the performance of white working class pupils at GCSE has risen significantly, and now outperforms the average… of twenty years ago. The problem is that overall average performance has risen faster.
The Education and Employers task force’s latest publication, exemplifies this dilemma. Taken in totality, employer engagement in education reproduces social inequalities. Put simply, if all employer engagement, from informal internships to formal programmes in schools to work experience, stopped tomorrow, this would probably narrow gaps in education and labour market outcomes. This, of course, is undesirable, and does disservice to the many initiatives that are designed to work with those who most need them. Yet it chrystallises the issue: If you don’t target resources with precision, a terrible thing happens. The Pupil premium has become a powerful, helpful nudge on school spending and wider strategic planning, supported by the new accountability rules which will make sure, that, to borrow a much maligned phrase, every child matters.
Teach First has achieved a terrific job in initiating the Fair Education Alliance without hubris, pulling in favours and resources, and carefully constructing some early theories of change around each change goal. yesterday’s Telegraph article by CEO Brett Wigodrtz cogently explains the organisation’s rationale for creating this alliance. It’s now up to us, as twenty-five organisations with our own priorities, deadlines and baggage, to work collaboratively, involving thousands of others to maximise our collective impact.
Too often, alliances such as these become a half-hearted bolt-on to each individual organisation’s ethos creating inertia rather than momentum, smugness rather than anger. Agreed actions can feel a million miles away from the task at hand – (“What do we want? Mapping our activities across localities! When do we want it? Soon!”). To quote Whitley RSA Academy’s mission statement (a school which puts huge efforts into closing achievement gaps, with increasing success), we need ‘deeds, not words’.
Words may matter too, however. Effective alliances dare to speak truth to power in a way that individual alliance members (many of whom will be reliant on ‘Power’ for funding) cannot. We should be brave enough collectively to think radically about school admissions and segregation, funding, teacher choice and allocation, and practices such as setting and streaming. We may want to challenge the current, confused orthodoxy around school autonomy, and the extent to which is a route to or a reward for successfully achieving our impact goals. Nick Clegg’s social mobility strategy seems heavy on indicators and light on everything else. I still haven’t met any of these oft-quoted academics who argue that ‘deprivation is destiny’, but as an alliance we should be prepared to question broader government approaches to poverty and regeneration, whilst remaining passionately optimistic about what schools can achieve, regardless of wider contexts.
Key to our success, as one alliance member suggested, may be to “reposition education as a public good”. In other words, am I prepared care a little less about my own children’s performance, and a lot more about the outcomes of their poorer peers? This is challenging terrain. Education has always been couched largely as a private, positional good, and the forces of consumerism and an increasingly unstable economy has reinforced and positively encouraged this attitude. As a society, we generally agree that closing class gaps in health outcomes is desirable (unless you are particularly callous, health is not seen as a positional good). In terms of education outcomes, if we’re honest with ourselves we aren’t so sure how much equality we really want, so continue to hoard advantage whenever possible (and it’s usually possible).
RSA Education has always engaged in issues relating to social justice in education – my predecessor Becky Francis’ review of social justice in education, and report on progression in further education, provide fantastic foundations. Last year’s report on in-year admissions highlighted one cause of injustice, and our Academies work daily to address educational inequality. As a founder member of the alliance, will now make a simple commitment. We won’t engage in education programmes, whether policy research or practical innovations, unless ‘closing the gap’ is built into the design and ambition of these programmes. Our own focus will move increasingly on what we are calling ‘closing the creativity gap’ across all stages of life, always connecting this agenda with attainment and other broad outcomes. That’s for another blog. For the moment, we hope that thousands of RSA Fellows and others participate in the alliance and sign up to our goals. We don’t care how bourgeois you are, and even if you’re an Iron Maiden fan, you’re welcome.
Today’s launch of the ippr’s Condition of Britain report coincided (I’ll assume by accident) with the Centre for Policy Studies launch of The Policy. The fixture clash reminded me of my ex-colleague Temi’s Ogunye’s brilliant article for The Independent, arguing that ‘The left can be too clever for its own good. We need to translate think tank speak into plain English’. Contrast these two reports:
Condition of Britain: “This landmark report argues for a new approach to politics and public action driven by the goals of spreading power, fostering contribution and strengthening shared institutions.”
The Policy: Abolish corporation tax for small companies; abolish capital gains tax for investors in small companies.
Condition of Britain: 28 recommendations
The Policy: 2 recommendations (see above)
This is probably an unfair comparison; the ippr’s report was deliberately wide-ranging and systematic, capturing the concerns of thousands. The CPS idea came from Maurice Saatchi, one of their trustees, underpinned by a small amount of empirical data. So I won’t take this comparison further (especially as I haven’t read either report properly).
Matthew Taylor’s blog gives a deeper analysis of the strengths and flaws in the Condition of Britain approach and Ed Miliband’s response. With a football match to get home to, all I’ll say now is that every party’s commitment to localism (and attitude to local authorities within that commitment) needs severe and forensic stress-testing before anyone should believe any of it. Which precise powers are you prepared to give away, to who, and for how long? What rights of redress or re-centralisation will you retain? Otherwise, as I wrote in my last blog recommending that all Lib Dem ministers resign this summer, ‘whoever is in office, the centralisers are in power’.
Image courtesy of Cherry Red Records
Joe Hallgarten is Director of Education at the RSA. @joehallg
To the credit of his teacher, my six year old son is learning and loving The Odyssey at school (in English, I’m afraid; Apologies, Messrs Gove and Johnson). With all the talk of Trojan horses in Birmingham’s schools, I am wondering whether there’s an education story to go with every Odyssean adventure. I am not sure who the Cyclops could be – there are a few candidates out there. The many tales involving his boat leaking between a rock and a hard place could be any number of education quangos, but Ofsted is currently the front runner. My son’s current favourite story is The Sirens, those alluring sea nymphs whose seductive singing tempt sailors to their deaths. Does this sound like any academy sponsors you know? Odysseus himself is obviously the national curriculum – returning home unrecognisable from when it set out.*