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Arts Council Chair Sir Nicholas Serota will lead a team of 17 creative industry leaders to research the role that ‘creative thinking’ should play within education policy.

Photo of watercolours

Arts Council England (ACE) has announced next steps for its two-year research project into creativity and education, created in partnership with Durham University.

17 people from the cultural, education, business and policy sectors have been appointed to direct the ‘Durham Commission’ inquiry, including former ACE Deputy Chief Executive Althea Efunshile and dancer and choreographer Akram Khan.

The Commission, which was first announced in March 2017, has also revealed information about its intended research focus. It plans to assess the impact of creative education on economic growth and wellbeing, and on barriers to developing creative learning environments.

“Creative thinking is crucial to the development of young minds, encouraging the growth of confidence, adaptability and self-expression,” said Sir Nicholas Serota, Chair of ACE, who will also be chairing the Commission. “We will set out to examine and define the value of creativity in all subjects, as well as the particular contribution made by cultural education.

“We shall look at the impact that creativity can have on social mobility and wellbeing and in encouraging all young people from across the whole of our diverse society to find fulfilment in their future lives and jobs.”

The Commission

Evidence will be collected from across the UK and beyond through a literature review and submissions from interested groups to identify examples of best practice and to “analyse the benefits of an embedded creative education within the curriculum”.

It will also assess how creative thinking impacts on community identity, wellbeing and economic growth, and how creative thinking and practice can best be taught and encouraged.

Professor Pat Thomson, the lead author of a review of research on ‘Creative Partnerships’, a £380m Government-funded programme into creativity and education, said that although the research focus is “somewhat familiar”, the last two governments had dropped such a focus from their agenda.

“This is a welcome return to the conversation,” she told AP. “I assume that the Commission will pick up learnings from Creative Partnerships England (2003-2011), as well as the creative work that is going on in other locations – in Wales, Australia, Germany and Norway for example.

“I hope that the Commission will not only bring together the work that has continued in England in schools and arts organisations, despite a hostile policy environment, but also create a lively forum for public debate.”

Other newly appointed commissioners include Jacqui O’Hanlon, Director of Education at the Royal Shakespeare Company; Lauren Child, Children’s Laureate, writer and artist; and David Adjaye, architect and lead designer of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Professor Alan Houston, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) at Durham University, will join Serota as co-Chair.


The Commission aims to produce a report with practical recommendations to inform policy and practice by 2019, which will become the basis for conferences and further learning.

A one-year review period will then be undertaken, during which the Commission will investigate how practical changes can be implemented through the creation of resources for schools, colleges and universities.

The results will feed into ACE’s ten-year strategic plan and into a ‘pilot scheme’ being developed with De Montfort University, which is investigating the potential for a 25-Year Creative Talent Plan. This would offer in-school and extra-curricular creative opportunities at “critical life stages” for children and young adults.

Interested organisations and members of the public are encouraged to register interest via the Commission’s website.

The full list of commissioners is:

  • Sir David Adjaye, architect and lead designer of the National Museum of African American History and Culture
  • Lauren Child, Children’s Laureate, writer and artist
  • Jon Coles, Chief Executive of United Learning
  • Althea Efunshile, non-executive director of organisations spanning education, culture, media and health
  • Dame Reena Keeble, retired primary head teacher and former National Leader of Education
  • Lord Kerslake, former Head of the Home Civil Service
  • Akram Khan, award-winning dance artist
  • Imran Khan, Head of Public Engagement at the Wellcome Trust
  • Baroness Beeban Kidron, award-winning filmmaker, and co-founder of the educational charity Into Film
  • Professor Roger Kneebone, Professor of Surgical Education and Engagement Science, Imperial College and a London Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellow
  • Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England
  • Professor Linda Merrick, Principal of Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music and Chair of Conservatoires UK.
  • Jacqui O’Hanlon, Director of Education at the Royal Shakespeare Company
  • Kat Pugh, Headteacher at the St Marylebone Church of England School
  • Paul Roberts, Chair of The Innovation Unit
  • Phil Stokes, Assurance Leader for Entertainment and Media Practice, PwC
  • Alice Webb, Director of BBC Children’s and BBC North.