Cultural Exchange at The Sage Professor Mick Waters and Ewan McIntosh

This is my latest blog post about the Cultural Exchange Conference at The Sage.

My previous posts on this topic are:

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

Creative Exchange at The Sage: BALTIC Presents the Turner Prize


Creative Exchange at The Sage: Pecha Kucha

Creative Exchange has it’s own website at  and you can follow tweets about the event searching for  #creativeexchange. 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’m sorry if these posts don’t relate a straightforward narrative but I guess they are more a record of ideas around the subject of creativity.


Experimentation and risk taking in competitive environments is a necessity that drives creativity and innovation. In the highly competitive world of schools, where increasing demands and pressures of OFSTED inspections, SATs exams, changing curriculums, new management and financial relationships dominate the agendas what risks are worth taking? And what is at risk if investment in creativity and innovation in education is lost?
Prof Micj Waters was the fist speaker on this topic. Mick Waters is Professor of Education at the University of Wolverhampton and was the Director of Curriculum at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) from 2005-9.
Prof Waters talked of how every pressure group believes that their issue is the most important and the one that should be included in the National Curriculum.
I’m not sure that I agree with Prof Waters on that point but I do not think I’m a million miles from that viewpoint…. each pressure/advocacy group/campaign of course believe in their ‘issues’ importance otherwise why dedicate their pressurised time and efforts into something that will be time-consuming and sometimes feel like a mammoth task!
Prof Waters described the following factors that influence the design of the curriculum:
  • views of childhood
  • images of the future
  • the intended purpose of schools
  • what counts as success/what makes a successful adult
  • what we can measure
From a historical perspective the ‘curriculum’ has been shaped initially by the Classical agenda; then the age of enlightenment; by the age of emancipation; next by a creative upsurge and now by the ‘era of connectedness’. As ideology has shifted so to has our intentions as regards qualifications. By ‘our’ I mean art educators, politicians, learners, parents/guardians and employers. The notion initially was that some pupils should get qualifications, moving to more, then most and finally all.
Prof Waters talked of this upsurge in  expectations regarding qualifications as problematic though not the attainment of achievement of the individual learner.
Waters described how data is often suspect (but that it is in no-ones interests to look for this or identify this); that league tables skew of understanding of what might actually be happening and our value judgements about certain subjects and/or qualifications and that the E-Bacc would magnify this qualitative judgement of certain areas of the curriculum; that inspection is often suspect and the things that inspectors look for are things that other inspectors have highlighted which leads to these factors becoming artificially important; that the awarding bodies are market driven so have an intrinsic need for learners to do well at their qualifications and that ministerial favour has a disproportionate effect on the value of certain subjects and qualifications.
[Ministerial favour will of course be the outcome of the E-Bacc as Gove eventually moves to include more subjects and then can demonstrate a rise in attainment of the E-Bacc over the course of his time in power! This was something that was also highlighted at the last NEATN meeting.]
Prof Waters asserts these difficulties/challenges lead to cusp chasing; simplistic syllabus; the backwards extension of courses; using pupils as currency; OFSTED tweeting and ultimately diminished learning.
Prof Waters suggested that schools had the power to develop and deliver their own curriculum but suggested that currently the setting in schools looks something like this…
Prof Mick Waters said that what we needed in education was a change in conversation about certain aspects of ‘creativity’ in education. That we must:
  • Review our image of creativity as being just the expressive and performing arts
  • to not see creativity as being associated solely with ‘media’ or fun (he stressed that ‘heaven forbid people have fun when they are learning’ thus emphasising that it was exactly what we should be doing)
  • that we need to continue to strive to raise levels of competence and appreciation of creativity (To take an idea for the Newcastle Gateshead Cultural Venues Meeting to move from one of treaters to creatures of habit to cautious explorers to confident experimenters)
  • that broaden understanding creativity benefits productivity and contributes to social prosperity
  • that creativity has a positive impact on the human condition
  • that creativity in education widens the arena of influence and power because it promotes problem solving, inventiveness, audacity, collaboration and genius!


My notes on Ewan’s talk are terrible probably because his talk was so visual and interesting.
Just go and look him up!
If anything I loved his comparison of educators to conductors and finally introducing me to the Venezuelan Youth Orchestra which I’d been told about before on many occasions but never actually googled.

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