Creative arts teachers and specialists joined AQA in Manchester this month for its fifth annual Creative Education Conference.
They came together from schools and businesses across the sector to share ideas and best practice that support a broad, creative curriculum, including sharing materials and facilities, procurement and other approaches.
The day began with a live modern dance performance from Maddison Bell (a student at Guildford County School), Future DJs and The Ferrers School. This was followed by the official opening of the conference by AQA’s Head of Curriculum Strategy, Dale Bassett.
First speaker of the day was Alison Gordon, Assistant Director of Business, Innovation and Enterprise Policy at the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. Alison highlighted the importance of the creative arts industry, particularly in places likes Manchester, and how public investment in it has "made a market" for cultural and creative growth and been a key factor in boosting regeneration in the region, creating new jobs and opportunities.
There were presentations from a range of industry figures that each looked at a different aspect of the creative arts industry and explored ways in which the sector can work with the existing curriculum, to enhance learning and ensure this aspect of a child’s development is not forgotten in the pursuit of academic targets.
The presenters also talked about how creative subjects can enrich learning for young people and be a positive driver in the local community, and how the growth of the creative arts industry, one that continues to buck economic trend, should be embraced by education leaders.
Ray Oudkerk, Assistant Principal at the Brit School, shared his thoughts from 20 years of teaching and said that decision makers should consider that creativity in the arts is as valuable as the creativity in other subjects, such as maths. He said the positive impact on social cohesion the creative arts can have should not be underestimated.
Mark Reid, Head of the Education at British Film Institute (BFI), gave a presentation reflecting on the role film plays in the arts and creative education. He highlighted the need to encourage creative freedom in children and how the arts can help a child’s ability to develop alternative ways of thinking through exposure to new experiences.
Cassandra Chadderton, Head of UK Theatre, talked about the shortage of skilled professionals in the industry for many of the behind the scenes roles – particularly in the world of theatre – despite there being a clear demand. She also raised the issue of professional development for those interested in working in the creative sector and those already working in the industry, looking at what can be done to work better with educators and professionals to ensure there is clear career progression.
This was also touched on by Carys Fisher, Senior Policy Executive at UCAS, who finished the morning’s presentations looking at progression into higher education (HE) for creative arts students. She said that one key factor in choosing which route to take is the employment and career prospects a student would be open to after completion of their study.
The second half of the day consisted of a series of workshops looking at the challenges the creative arts subjects face and ways in which to ensure these subjects continue to be a key part of every child’s schooling and development.
James Lloyd, AQA’s Head of Policy and Public Affairs, led a session on 'Creative solutions to creative provision'. This explored ways in which schools can consider new and different ideas to ensure creative subjects are still available to students – including sharing best practice on how to support a broad, creative curriculum, whether in relation to sharing materials and facilities, procurement or other approaches.
Sandra Allan, AQA’s Head of Curriculum for Creative Arts, along with AQA colleagues Dale Bassett and Paul Stover (Curriculum Support Manager for the Creative Arts), discussed 'Ensuring creative subjects survive and thrive' in their workshop. The creative industry is worth around £90 billion a year and growing at almost twice the rate of the wider economy. This presents plenty of opportunity for children with the right training and qualifications. With the reform of GCSEs and A-levels in creative subjects, they explored how one or more creative arts can work for schools and colleges in the curriculum and how to link these to employment options and future opportunities for students.
Dave Mellor (AQA’s Director of Assessment and Curriculum) and Helen Burden (AQA Assessment Design Manager) looked at how creative subjects are assessed. They gave a short presentation on grading and marking challenges, then opened the floor up for discussion and looked at alternative ways that assessment could work.
Sandra Allan, who organised the conference, said:
"Creative education is a vital part of today’s teaching. It underpins progression into the UK’s creative industries, and events like this are a vital way of sharing and networking across the industry to help us understand the needs of teachers, students and professionals.
"We want to work with everyone across the creative arts industry, to ensure that the design of our qualifications and curriculum in creative subjects is the best it can be. Our goal is to inspire new thinking and new collaborations between industry, higher education and schools and colleges, to support a high-quality creative education both now and in the future."
Comments from Keynotes speakers
Mark Reid, Head of the Education at British Film Institute (BFI), said:
"It was a pleasure to speak at the AQA Creative Education Conference; this is such a vibrant and exciting time for the arts in the UK. We need to do all we can to support teachers and schools in giving the arts the priority they deserve in children’s lives."
Ray Oudkerk, Assistant Principal at the Brit School, said:
"AQA has always supported creative arts and I wanted to share the extraordinary creative education that is delivered day in and day out at The BRIT School. I've personally seen and experienced the incredible impact that arts education has on young people for over 20 years as a dance teacher."
"That impact isn’t being measured in the current educational landscape, but it's so real in so many ways, including the careers that young people go on to have in the creative industries.
"The wellbeing that arts participation brings and the ways in which arts are integral to social cohesion are to an extent immeasurable. Decision makers need to understand the value of ensuring arts education is an entitlement in schools, rather than a privilege."
Cassandra Chadderton, Head of UK Theatre, said:
“At a time when the creative industries are growing at twice the rate of the rest of the economy, but nine in every 10 schools is cutting back on resources for creative subjects, it’s never been more important to talk about the value of creative arts in schools.”
Carys Fisher, Senior Policy Executive at UCAS said:
"UCAS provides intelligence and reporting on trends in applications to higher education. We were delighted to attend the Creative Education conference to share our insight into the applicant journey for those applying to creative arts courses."
For full detail of the conference including details of speeches and presentations from all keynote speakers, please visit the dedicated AQA Creative Education Conference webpage.