“All Schools Should be Art Schools”

“All Schools Should be Art Schools”

With the start of the new academic year and Wales moving to alert level 0 people are starting to return to a level of normality. But whilst the two-meter distance ruling has changed meaning business can re-open, the directive from Welsh Government continues ‘to be work from home wherever possible’ (WG, 2021).

After such a long turbulent year, the National Academy for Educational Leadership will not be returning to its office in Swansea and will continue to develop the organisation as a ‘digital entity’.  We will continue to innovate new ways of working to provide support and leadership development to educational leaders across Wales.

Following such a difficult and challenging year, like so many others, I really welcomed a summer break.  I visited Liverpool, a vibrant city with a population of nearly half a million, a city which lost its UNESCO World Heritage status the weekend before I visited.  There is a clear balance in the city between the old and the modern which gave me a sense of respect for all that has been before, but I could also sense the excitement that this vibrant city was embracing the future.  During my visit I travelled on the ferry across the Mersey, visited the 5th largest Anglican Cathedral in Europe and embarked on a magical mystery Beetles tour. A particular highlight was my visit to TATE Liverpool, housed in a converted warehouse within the Albert Dock on Liverpool’s (formally UNESCO’s) world heritage waterfront, and one of five TATE galleries within the UK.

Amongst the work on display was a tribute to the Merseyside NHS staff by the artist Aliza Nisenbaum, which was very impressive and well deserved, however, what really caught my eye was a wall mural by Bob and Roberta Smith (2016) with the phrase ‘All schools should be art schools’. I was immediately transposed back to thinking about Curriculum for Wales and the four purposes (WG 2015). I stood there for a short while considering what this piece of art was trying to say or portray and was it as explicit as suggesting that all schools should provide art lessons for pupils? The individual letters were fixed to wooden sticks as though it was part of a protest.  Of course, art means one thing to the artist and can mean other things to the observer but to me what this piece of art was really saying; all schools should be creative schools, ‘demonstrate’ your imagination in your own way.  Schools or indeed educational settings should be places where all our children and young people can have the opportunities and experiences to develop into ambitious, capable learners, healthy, confident individuals, ethical, informed citizens, enterprising, creative contributors (WG 2015).

Robinson (2015) states that for a school to excel at providing a great learning experience it needs ‘an inspired school leader who brings vision, skill and a keen understanding of the kinds of environments where learners can and want to learn’.  Creative leadership is essential if we are to realise Curriculum for Wales, leaders need to provide the environment and climate for creativity and innovation to thrive. They need to facilitate the creative abilities of every member of the organisation to collaborate and strategically promote a culture of innovation within the organisation (Robinson, 2017) and they must create the space and time for this to happen.

Barber et al found in their research that systems moving from ‘good’ to great, provide only loose guidelines on teaching and learning processes because peer-led creativity and innovation inside schools becomes the core driver for raising performance at this level (2010, p.20).

So, at a time where we can resume ‘normal’ routines, let’s pause to consider what kind of school or educational setting we want for our children and young people. We should also take time to consider what kind of leader we want to be and want kind of leadership is required for implementing Curriculum for Wales.

Let’s be imaginative, let’s avoid ‘snap back’ to the old ways of working. Let’s continue to embrace the digital world and all that it has to offer and let’s continue to provide environments which allow our children and young people to be imaginative, innovative and creative.

Tegwen Ellis, Chief Executive 
National Academy for Educational Leadership Wales

References

BBC News. 2021. Liverpool stripped of Unesco World Heritage status. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 August 2021].

Hwb.gov.wales. 2021. Curriculum for Wales: the journey to 2022 – Hwb. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 August 2021].

McKinsey & company, 2010. How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better. [online] London: McKinsey and company, p.20. Available at: [Accessed 13 August 2021].

Robinson, K. and Aronica, L., n.d. Creative schools. 1st ed. St Ives: penguin random house UK, p.182.

Robinson, K., 2017. Out of our Minds. 3rd ed. West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons.

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