Performances with the Birmingham Royal Ballet, garden designs in Slough, and building exhibits for a science museum in Norfolk are just some of the projects that have enriched school life in many areas of England, says David Armstrong.
The UK is a creative hotspot, producing some of the best designers, artists, musicians and creative thinkers in the world. The idea behind Creative Partnerships is a simple one: to animate the national curriculum (the sciences as well as the arts) and to enrich school life by making the best use of the country’s creative wealth. The first phase of the scheme, co-ordinated by Arts Council England, began in April 2002 and is now drawing to a close.
In that time, more than 100,000 children and young people from almost 400 schools, together with 1,300 creative organisations, businesses and individuals, have taken part in over 1,400 projects. The programme has been explicitly focused on learning outcomes and on the aspirations of the individual schools involved and their staff. At the heart of the scheme is the belief that everyone is inherently creative and has the right to participate in the varied and exciting culture of this country. The government has now extended the programme to 2006; a further nine Creative Partnerships areas will be added to the existing 16 from April of this year, and another 11 new areas will be added from April 2005.
Across the world creative learning is being given priority as never before. Countries are reforming their systems of education as they struggle to prepare young people for the increasingly complex and challenging demands of the twenty-first century. Creativity in learning equips young people with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in today’s world, nurturing ways of thinking and working that encourage imagination and flexibility, independence, acceptance of difference and tolerance of ambiguity, openness, the raising of aspirations and self-esteem. Creative learning does not just improve the quality of everyday life. In the workplace, employees who can think and act creatively are more agile and flexible, and creative employees adapt proactively to challenge, ensuring business is ready for anything. Nor is it just the school children who benefit – Creative Partnerships makes a huge difference to the teachers who take part, with opportunities for professional development and learning practical skills. Creative Partnerships also helps develop the skills and practice of the creative and cultural sector. Creative learning is a partnership activity that benefits and grows all that take part.
A diverse range of creative and cultural organisations has worked with Creative Partnerships in its first two years, contributing skills, sponsorship, resources and expertise. The Works Dance and Theatre Company helped Cornwall’s schoolchildren perform at the Polperro Street Festival. Punch Records developed workshops, music production and performances at schools in Birmingham. Magna, the Science Adventure Centre in Rotherham, premiered films made by local schoolchildren and the production company Sea Media. The London College of Fashion, Lambeth Archives and the Museum of Black Culture all took part in an exhibition of Black British Hairstyles.
What Creative Partnerships offers creative and cultural organisations is the chance to build significant and lasting relationships with schools. Organisations often find that teachers lack the time and resources to try creative learning projects; Creative Partnerships offers the support and resources to develop a mutually beneficial programme. Organisations have the chance to develop and enhance existing programmes and projects, and bring them to new audiences. Participating schools are already signed up to the idea of working with cultural and creative organisations and are open to new kinds of learning. There’s also the opportunity to build links with other participating cultural organisations and creative practitioners. Creative Partnerships can also provide funding for some of the costs associated with working with the participating schools.
However, it’s important to note that Creative Partnerships is not a funding body. It does not impose projects on schools or parachute in experts. Nor does it come in the form of an add-on to the national curriculum, an extra-curricular activity or even a one-off project that benefits only a few people. It has a unique approach to working with schools: it first helps schools to identify their individual needs and then enables them to develop long-term, sustainable partnerships with creative organisations and individuals. The projects they develop engage the entire school, animating all aspects of the national curriculum. Beyond this, the schools themselves broker and share the practice of partnership working, without ultimately needing the direct involvement of Creative Partnerships.
Creative Partnerships recognises the importance of responsiveness to local need. The ways the partnerships are set up and administered vary considerably from region to region. Different areas also place emphasis on different aspects – for example, some are keen to encourage links between different schools, or with the higher education sector, or with business and industry. Schools are free to work with cultural and creative organisations outside their immediate area – so organisations not located in a Creative Partnerships area can still get involved.
The development of children and young people is at the heart of the programme. It has a strong emphasis on sustainable relationships rather than one-off projects, and on developing programmes that really fit schools’ individual needs. What’s more, Creative Partnerships aims to develop creativity in all areas of learning. It’s not just about arts-based projects: science, geography and history projects are all within its scope.
One of the greatest problems in the past has been the short-lived nature of similar initiatives, meaning that benefits have not been passed on to future generations. In its projects and programmes, Creative Partnerships hopes to transform expectations, provoking all those involved – the children, the teachers, the partners – to continue learning and working creatively. Moreover, it has the potential to invoke shifts in thinking in the wider education system for the longer term.