Innovation – the way to learn?

Here at Children & the Arts, we’re constantly amazed by the ingenuity of arts practitioners, so we wanted to share with you a fascinating project, the Wide Open School, which has just taken place at London’s South Bank Centre.

For the past month, leading artists from 40 different countries have run more than 100 workshops, seminars and performances in what has been described as an innovative experiment in public learning.

Attracting some of the UK’s most respected contemporary artists – Martin Creed, Tracy Emin, Jeremy Deller, Gillian Wearing and Michael Landy to name a few – subjects in the timetable ranged from the practical to the bizarre. There were workshops on how to lose friends, time and space exploration and sushi-making, as well as seminars on Facebook and even mini-performances of the Rocky Horror Show meets West Side Story. You can watch the project in action here. 

Formal vs informal

For us, the success and creativity of the Wide Open School supports the idea that education, particularly arts education, doesn’t always have to be formal, highly structured or take place in a classroom. In fact, most teachers would probably agree that learning is best achieved when people or children are simply highly engaged in the subject – something that is often down to the teacher, of course, rather than the content.

This kind of thinking could be behind the latest Department of Education announcement that academy schools will now be allowed to hire unqualified teachers.

The idea, the DfE says, is that professionals such as musicians, scientists and artists with “great knowledge and new skills” can bring their expertise into the classroom, rather than being kept out by a lack of formal teaching qualifications.

This change brings academies in line with new free schools and independent schools, which are already able to employ people without Qualified Teaching Status (QTS).

“Born not made”

Interestingly, some education professionals have been vocal in their support of the change. Richard Cairns, headmaster of Brighton College, said that he believes good teachers are “born not made” and that he had employed teachers “from all walks of life who had the potential to inspire children”, not just those with teaching degrees.

However, others – including many teachers’ unions – are strongly opposed and have raised valid and pertinent concerns about assurances of teaching quality. The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) has described it a “significant backward step” which could damage the teaching profession, while the National Union of Teachers said parents would simply see it as a cost cutting measure.

What are your views?  We’d love to hear what you think – please leave us a message on our Facebook page.

Alternatively, you can join the discussion on Twitter.