This article was written by our Director, Vicky Prior, and is not intended to wholly reflect the view’s of League of Culture
The first Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value was excellent. So I had high hopes for the second, this time focusing on culture and education. Even better, second time round we were invited to the Barbican, and I’m extremely fond of concrete buildings.
Thankfully, the seats were comfortable, as after walking down rather more stairs than I anticipated, I was in need of a sit down. And possibly an oxygen tank. Anyway, on came some delightful schoolchildren with a short introductory performance. Because this was about education, so children are important. Get it?
Yeah, I cringed a bit if I’m honest. It would have been nice to see some older children on the panel, being properly involved in the discussion. I’m pretty sure the illustrious audience were strictly over 18 too.
Never mind, because it soon turned out, as Sir John Sorrell opened with his provocation, that we weren’t actually here to discuss education at all. We were here to talk about the Creative Industries. And Business. And the Value of the Arts to the Economy.
Basically, all schools should be a training ground for the next generation of super rich artist makers. Now I should pause here and apologise for being so cynical. I do believe that Sorrell has children’s best interests at heart. I think he believes in the value of play and imagination, and he’s not wrong about the economic argument. It just struck me as peculiar that he would open with a business focused speech. But then he was told to be provocative.
The other panellists fared better. Sonita Alleyne in particular impressed with The Yes Programme, a project which aims to answer the question ‘but why are we having to learn this?’ Alleyne had paid particular attention to how children naturally behave, with the idea that maybe if we taught them in a way they would naturally respond to, we might have a better learning outcome. Alleyne is one of those phenomenal people the world needs more of, able to point out what everyone is missing but should be obvious. For example: cultural subjects fit seamlessly with non-cultural. I can see it, you can see it, but can our Government?
It’s probably a good time to mention Michael Gove. It was inevitable that he would come in for criticism during the debate and, despite Munira Mirza’s best efforts, fellow panellist Tim Boyes (a Headteacher) wasted no time in telling everyone what he thought of the Education Secretary. This went down well in a room full of people who have devoted much time to fantasising about exactly where Gove can stick his National Curriculum. Sadly, it didn’t really move the debate forward.
Mirza, London’s Deputy Mayor for Education and Culture, made some excellent points about the arts not being considered academically rigorous. There was a cross-panel agreement that instead of STEAM, we should be focusing on CLAN: Culture, Literature and Numeracy. All three subject strands should be equalised, by bringing them all up to scratch, not downgrading quality.
CLAN was the big idea we left with. There were a few theories on how to achieve it. Asking the children what they wanted played a big part (again, state the obvious that no one seems to get). A suggestion of league tables for artistic subjects looked set to pile more stress on teachers, as Deborah Bull was quick to point out. I left with the uncomfortable feeling that we all knew what we wanted, but how to achieve it is going to take far longer to work out.
Still, if anyone can figure out how what the future of cultural value is (or indeed, the future value of culture) it’s the superb Warwick Commission. They might be raising more questions than they answer, but in pulling together the sector’s brightest minds to try and come up with solutions, that future is looking rosy.