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Mr Creativity - a candle in the wind?

Updated: Jul 12, 2021

A leading light of creativity in education has gone out. Sir Ken Robinson PhD died on the 21st August leaving a legacy of generations of teachers and learners inspired by his impassioned thoughts and words on creativity and its vital role within the education of our children. But, in an age of algorithms, isolation rooms, standardised testing and super heads can this legacy last?

Robinson’s first TED Talk in 2006, ‘Do Schools Kill Creativity?’ has been downloaded more than any other (currently 66 million times). It has been shared, in lecture halls, schools and conferences, with a further 350 million, inviting students and teachers to consider his arguments and reflect upon their own practice and purpose. I have used Robinson’s videos in teacher development programmes in Africa, Malaysia and India and can confirm that his ideas on finding and promoting creativity are not just widely appreciated but active in schools across the world.

In probably his last public video in May 2020, Ken Robinson spoke about the reassessments lockdown and the pandemic had provoked in him. He highlighted two challenges confronting today’s world - the generally accepted environmental emergency and a crisis in education prompted by the fundamental question, ‘Who/what is it [education] for?’. Both crises he suggests are best addressed by greater attention to culture and less on product. In relation to the environment this means paying caring attention to soil and ecosystems, in relation to education it involves rethinking at every level the culture of standardisation that dominates curriculum and classroom, teaching and learning. He asks that we question our current professional behaviours and cultures of prioritising certain ‘academic ‘subjects, ‘pointless systems’, uniformity and endless tests throughout education. He wishes us to consider replacing them with ‘mixed cultures’ that maximise on students’ individuality, diversity, talents, passions and boundless creative and collaborative possibilities.

Such educational themes characterised Robinson’s life in education. From his degrees, research, teaching and writing on drama and dance in the 1970s, to his leadership of the Arts in Schools Project in the 80s, professorship of Drama at Warwick in the 90s and chairing of the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education (NACCCE) under the first Blair government, his message was to value the arts, build inclusive cultures and use education to affirm and build upon the talents in every student. The illuminating and still influential materials from the Arts in Schools Project were (and are) hugely appreciated by teachers but not the authorities of the time who ordered copies of its curriculum development materials for all schools to be pulped!

What should have been his greatest educational contribution was the government commissioned report of the NACCCE, All Our Futures’ (1999) a comprehensive and well supported argument for a change of direction in education. Its first section concluded:

‘If young people are to make their way in the 21st century they will need all their wits about them, literally. The problem in education is not only that standards of achievement have been low, they have also been too narrow. An education system which focuses only on one mode of intelligence or on a limited range of cultural experiences is underestimating the larger part of children’s capacities and resources. If education is to develop human resources, we must first recognise how rich and various these resources really are.