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Work / Opinion

The importance of creative education: why making is as important as maths, reading and science

As artist Bob and Roberta Smith and countless others have mooted, arts education is at a critical point at the moment, often seen to be becoming shelved in favour of more traditional curricula. Here, Plymouth College of Art professor Andrew Brewerton discusses the importance of creative education following the recent opening of the Plymouth School of Creative Arts by Sir Nicholas Serota.

“In Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s Weiwei-isms, his ‘little black book’ of aphorisms published in 2010, he makes an acute observation surely of profound interest to all educators: ‘Creativity is part of human nature, it can only be untaught.’

Last October saw the formal opening of The Red House, which contains mainstream city centre Free School Plymouth School of Creative Arts (PSCA), sponsored by Plymouth College of Art. It is sited in the Stonehouse–Millbay area of inner-city Plymouth, home to amongst the 10% most disadvantaged neighbourhoods in the country.

PSCA’s proposition is based around the idea that making is as important as reading and writing or maths and science. Now, it seems that’s viewed as a very dangerous idea.

It’s a programme for makers, rather than consumers of learning, and this never came cheap. It isn’t screen-based, and requires specialist making environments and spaces for learning: studios and workshops, diversity of materials and technologies, pedagogical and technical expertise.

We have re-invested in materials-based analogue technologies – traditional printmaking, a glass factory – endangered environments for making and thinking that have always existed in art schools and, once lost, tend to be gone forever.

We work throughout the learning continuum with each individual’s intrinsic motivation to purposeful learning, to what you can make of yourself, which brings me to a second proposition: that the business of learning is inseparable from that of living your life, and that their mutual purpose is nothing less than individual, social and professional transformation.

Short-termism, league tables and the target culture of ‘teaching–to–the–test’ risks subordinating purposeful learning to the institutional priority of exam grades that doesn’t connect with the intrinsic motivation of all but the most able, savvy or compliant learners.

As the DfE’s 29 January deadline for consultation on the implementing the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) draws closer, it is impossible to argue the fundamental premise that ‘All young people, regardless of their background, are entitled to an education which prepares them for adult life and success in our modern economy.’ But the blanket nature of these proposals and their scope for serious unintended consequence for individual learners suggests that Nicky Morgan has yet to play catch-up with George Osborne’s ringing endorsement, at the first anniversary of the Creative Industries Federation, of the role of education in driving success in the UK’s world-leading creative industries.

Design-wise, that’s the key point about school uniforms: they don’t just come in one size.”

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Graduate Sue Lewry

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Plymouth College of Art summer show