Creative Exchange at the Sage: Lecture with The Rt.Hon.Baroness Estelle Morris and Marc Lewis

What is Creative Exchange

Creative Exchange was a free event on 13 September 2011 that explored the relationships between art, culture and learning. The event is organised through the following partnerships: Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, Centre for Creativity and Learning (The University of Sunderland), Customs House, Dance City, The Sage Gateshead, Renaissance North East: Museums for Changing Lives and Creative Partnerships and was held at the Sage in Gateshead.

Creative Exchange has it’s own website at  and you can follow tweets about the event searching for  #creativeexchange.

Why Did I Attend Creative Exchange

I am a freelance artist and art educator. I’ve been keenly following the current political standpoint and consequent impact on ‘arts’ education. My understanding of the current climate has been helped greatly by the North East Art Teacher and Educator group (for their group on Facebook click here and ask to join), the National Society for Education in Art and Design (click here) and by word of mouth through my network of friends (which includes artists, teachers and lecturers) not least through Susan Coles great blog.

I hoped attending would help build my understanding of the current political climate, help me learn some new skills to apply in my own workshops and finally to develop my understanding of what is already happening in schools, museums and galleries across the North East region.

I was not dissapointed and saw some wonderful examples of ‘Next’ rather than ‘Best’ practice as well as being introduced to some very powerful ideas and philosophical standpoints.

Getting Started With The Suggestibles

The Suggestibles and the Theatre in Education Group from The Customs House opened the day in Hall 2 of the Sage. They demonstrated great dexterity of thought as they improvised scenes aided or perhaps challenged by the audience. In later seminars it was highlighted whist the opeing was fun it also demonstrated skills employers sought such as teamworking, communication skills, listening skills, flexibility, lateral thinking, presentation skills and creativity.

It’s sometimes too easy to write of fun things as just that. It was concluded roller derby javelin was more important on the curriculum rather than underwater basket weaving.

I was very impressed by the young men who took part who had never performed improvised material before very professional and a testament to The Suggestibles skill at guiding them through what must have been a daunting experience.

Ideas to take forward: Using improvisation and story telling to help young people talk about art in different ways… particularly good as you can set them up as an expert to talk about a subject in pair alternating words! If you have the budget I’d highly recommend schools and youth groups working with The Suggestibles.

Lecture with The Rt. Hon. Baroness Estelle Morris and Marc Lewis

Part One Focus on The Rt.Hon. BAroness Estelle Morris

If creativity and innovation is the life blood of the UK economy, can we afford not to invest in the creative capacity (potential and leadership) of our young people?
The question was somewhat rhetorical. I think what the Rt. Hon. Baroness Estelle Morris and Marc Lewis did so brilliantly was highlight potential problems and challenges and highlight potential strategies to tackle them. Of course both had slightly different positions on some issues and I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly with certain aspects of both talks.
Estelle Morris began by giving us a little of her context. She worked as a teacher for 18 years in Coventry before getting involved in politics, becoming a Minister for Education and eventually entering the House of Lords. Whilst in her teaching career she never considered herself to be one of ‘the creatives’ she felt that she understood creativity and its positive effect on children. Whilst some learners were hard to engage in school they were successful and fulfilled in certain subjects with certain teachers who had a different skill set and knowledge base to her own.
Estelle said she felt she was perhaps the only minister in the Department for Education who understood the importance of creativity and that worried her. However on moving to the DCMS (Department for Culture Media and Sport) she felt she discovered she had not fully understand creativity. This was not a criticism but a realisation and it worried her that a. she thought that she had understood ‘creativity’ and b. that it meant nobody in the Education Department understood it.
Estelle went on to explain that this has made her a stronger advocate and she is now clear she is still learning about ‘creativity’. What became clear to Estelle was that she could recognize almost two sides in education and between departments that see each other as limiting forces… she urged everyone to help break down barriers and meaningless divisions as children and young people do not see them they are artificial constructs.
She briefly responded to the question explaining creativity created many new jobs; that it contributes to our world class reputation and that creativity helps every person become a broad well rounded person.
The Rt. Hon. Baroness Estelle Morris said,
“Even Michael Gove doesn’t not believe in creativity”
She said she’d bet that he’ll pay for his children to play a musical instrument, to be in a drama or dance group or even do art… Estelle went on to ask the pertinent question,
“Why do we not get it right in Education? Why is it when we have less money we think we can get rid of creativity?  Now is the time to rely on our creativity more than ever.”
 She highlighted the fact that the government does this every time the economy goes bad and questioned why we never say. Estelle suggested the following reasons for creativity and particularly ‘arts’ subjects being marginalized:
  • “We can do ‘creativity’ for our own children.” we know creativity is important but don’t prioritize it over other areas because parents, guardians, politicians and some teachers cannot always see the arts as a pathway to employment. It won’t lead to a proper job (music, art etc) therefore it isn’t sustainable. As we can’t always see definite careers are more willing to sacrifice the arts subjects. We are too willing to forget or cannot see all the transferable skills arts develop and forget the rapidly expanding cultural economy.
  • From a historical perspective when schools first formed we got our ‘cultural’ education from unions, co-ops, sunday schools and parents etc. By providing clubs etc you provide an excuse for it not to be in the timetable… well you can’t do art GCSE we can’t fit it in your options but you can do the lunchtime club instead which is just as good really?!
  • We don’t always see the connections between subjects in Primary school the emphasis has been on Phonics not Drama (even though ‘drama’ could encompass all the knowledge and understanding of phonics that are required).
Estelle stated evidence supports the argument
A child is more likely to pass the E-Bacc ig they have creative experiences too.
But Estelle said that the E-Bacc was already having a negative impact on the number of teachers employed to deliver the ‘arts’ subjects e.g. music and she predicted in the next two to three years it would get even worse. These are the very people who could help embed creativity in the curriculum.
Estelle went on to say that there are some other limiting factors in delivering creative experiences in schools including:
  • The lack of understanding that creativity is a skill not a subject
  • The pitching of the academic type against the practical type against the artistic type- we need a common language.
  • Assessment of quality is harder as is measuring progress, worth and value for money
  • Structural barriers such as timetabling some subjects only see students once a week e.g. music and departments within schools never have time to meet other departments and really collaborate.
Estelle concluded by saying at this point in time the arts and culture in the UK is very strong and that within schools there are higher standards  for art, drama and music than ever before. That many schools have great links with cultural venues. But that we must position ourselves to defend and take this forward. She argued that the power the teachers and particularly the senior management with timetabling and CPD continuing professional development. With the museum and gallery directors to prioritize their education departments.
We need a shared language to advocate art. Great people from the past bridged different worlds.
Engineer – Creative     Gardener- Artist

 PART Two FOCUS ON Marc Lewis

School in the 80s 90s for Marc Lewis wasn’t a productive or useful part of his life. He was expelled twice from school and says his exam results spelt ‘UFU’. Entering the world of work Marc found himself ill prepared and unhappy selling Royal Dalton figurines in a department store. On one of his unofficially long lunch breaks he spotted a competition in The Guardian to devise and market a political party… the prize was a scholarship for John Gillard ‘s advertising school.
Marc Lewis’s mother susspecting her son was on drugs searched through his bedroom draws and found Marc’s competition entry and posted it off.  Marc lewis won the scholarship and said of John Gillard ‘s advertising school that it was the antithesis of University as it focused on the WHY not the HOW. It was the start of his education.
Marc explained that he defined creativty as
The expression of original ideas that bring value
He suggested that creativity as a process has four parts:
  • knowledge- which must be a mixture of experience + received
  • a problem- preferably a new problem not one we know about
  • divergent thinking
  • collaboration
He suggested that the whole education system is not fit for purpose. That it is engineered to produced people for the industrial age… a bell rings you start work… a teacher is an Overseer/boss/manager… to get good exam results you need to become a human photocopier but we don’t reach memory skills or speed reading which seems perverse!
Marc Lewis shared the notion that
the illiterate will be those that cannot learn, unlearn and relearn

PART THree FOCUS ON Assessment

There was only time for one question which focused on assessment and its limitations.

Marc Lewis suggested we needed to introduce the notion of gamafication into the education system. Feeback loops that keep us emersed. Education should be about collecting evidence of the skills knowledge and understanding we can demonstrate as learners and understand that we behave in different ways to 19th century learners.

Estelle Morris acknowledged the difficulties of measurement but said that we must measure. Measurement is short hand currency if you take away all measures (e.g. formal qualifications) then the next step either into education or into the world of work becomes about who you know. The problem as Estelle see it is that some measurements are worth more.
I think Marc Lewis’s statement
The problem with measuring is that there are right answers
is very powerful and I particularly liked his learning profile idea whereby you have a profile that lists all your achievements was very strong however we would need the political strength of character to say hey what we have is no longer appropriate we must start again and that is unlikely to happen with so many vested interests e.g. schools, teaching unions, universities etc. Estelle mentioned something similar had been attempted in the past but it had been unsuccessful as it was seen as secondary to formal qualifications… I think Marc made the point strongly that of course it wouldn’t work if there was already something seen as superior to it.
Ideas to take forward: I like Marc’s curriculum wiki very much whereby it is a constantly evolving and open process to create a curriculum that is only frozen once a year to make sure the language meets the requirements of a level 4 qualification.

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