Towards the end of last year the Department of Education (DfE) wrote a letter to the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. “Ministers,” it said, “do not consider drama to be core knowledge, as it is more a question of pedagogy and therefore outside the remit of the (primary) curriculum review.”
In October this year the DfE went one step further and started looking quite seriously at dropping a number of ‘soft subjects’ like drama from the list of subjects taught at GCSE level and above. Drama, and other creative subjects (PE? Art? Music?), are at risk across the entire curriculum, primary and secondary.
He’s at it again, isn’t he? SuperGove, scourge of lefty educational ideologues everywhere, has struck for fame. It’s the ‘hard subjects’ that he wants to see studied; maths, English, the sciences, good handwriting, immediate recollection, all vital and important and to be learned and regurgitated and available to wow and impress the foreign jobs market. Drama? Bah. Creativity be damned.
Except of course that he’s trying to fix the wrong problem. The DfE’s focus on hard subjects has come about because of studies like the recent one by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which shows how England’s 16 to 24-year-olds are falling behind those of Asia and Europe. We are, apparently, 22nd for literacy and 21st for numeracy out of 24 countries, and the OECD has warned of a “shrinking pool of skilled workers”.
Well, perhaps… But.
Creativity is important. Increasingly we’re becoming a nation that relies on it. The financial contribution by creative industries (art, design, fashion, film, architecture, publishing, gaming, TV, radio, R&D, computing) has grown at a rate not seen since the industrial revolution put a generation of workhorses out to pasture. Sir Ken Robinson, someone I may have spoken about before, has estimated that between 1988 and 1998 (a period, as now, of relatively little growth in the economy as a whole) income from creative industries grew from £6 billion to £60 billion, a tenfold increase, with employment in those industries growing 34% in the same period. That, of course, was before the advent of social media and the complete change in the way we interact with one another and conduct our businesses (not to mention our lives). By 2010 a report by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport was showing that the creative industries represented 5.14% of the UK’s employment total, 10.6% of exports and 2.89% of gross added value (a bit like GDP, but better). Wikipedia, out and centre a creative enterprise, was showing the manufacturing sector in 2010 accounting for 8.2% of the workforce and 12% of our national output. Creativity matters, and is becoming ever more important.
Even the more traditional industries are changing the way they want their employees to operate. Business leaders want a workforce that is creative and innovative (no appraisal form is now complete – or successful – without a section full to the brim of examples of an employee’s marvelously innovative approach to his job), one that can work in teams and communicate well. It’s all very well having a good rote-learned knowledge of Henry VIII’s wives, but if you can’t apply that knowledge creatively to produce some kind of innovation, CEOs are increasingly likely to wonder why they’ve bothered to employ you.
This isn’t of course just about creativity for creativity’s sake (although Heaven knows it’s important enough). It’s about a misconception that one type of intelligence is more important than another. What the DfE seems to be trying to do is to elevate analytical intelligence to primary position. Learning, digesting, regurgitating, they’re important. All else is subordinate. But intelligence doesn’t work like that. Robert Sternberg, an American psychologist and psychometrician who proposed the triarchic theory of intelligence, would say that intelligence is categorised into three parts: analytical, creative, and practical, and that each one has a part to play in producing the overall person. We’ve discussed analytical and creative; practical is simply the ability to understand what needs to be done in a practical setting and then do it. All three are key cognitive skills that are important for intellectual functioning.
In other words, an outpouring of schooleavers with good analytical skills – or at least with the ability to recall facts and figures – might satisfy some of the more traditional employers but it won’t help broaden or strengthen our increasingly important creative industries, and it won’t do the pupils themselves any favours. They might have one of the three key cognitive skills, but they’ll be lacking the other two. Give them a job to do and they’ll be able to do it, to a point. But ask them to be innovative, ask them to think outside the narrow confines of the ‘hard subjects’ they’ve been taught in Gove’s preferred rote manner, and they’ll flounder because their creativity will have been allowed to wither.
Which brings us back rather neatly to drama in schools. ‘It’s pedagogical,’ said the DfE last year, meaning that it was simply another method of imparting information, but not something worth teaching for its own sake. But that, like a great deal that stems from the DfE, is of course both misguided and simplistic. Even as a pedagogical tool, those teaching it need to have studied it. Drama teaches creativity. Drama instills a knowledge of and a love for playwrights and their work (how many pupils only ever ‘get’ Shakespeare after they’ve seen it performed?). Drama is an outlet for thoughts and feelings. Drama can be fun, and please, Mr Gove, what’s wrong with a subject that is fun? Fun means it has the power to captivate a student, and a student who is captivated is a student that will study and achieve and be a valuable asset in an increasingly creative world.