A View From the Bridge: Derri Burdon – Curious Minds

A View From the Bridge: Derri Burdon

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Reflecting on the launch of ImagineNation

On the train back up North after attending the Parliamentary Launch of ImagineNation at the Houses of Parliament, I’m pondering how lucky I am to have a job that takes me to interesting places to mingle with interesting and values driven people. I’m also ruminating on some things I heard this evening that I disagree with. Two contradictory statements are compelling me to write my very first blog: The Rt. Honourable Matt Hancock MP’s assertion that headteachers are driven by a passion to help children pass exams, and Darcy Bussell’s view that Dance shouldn’t be an exam subject.

Putting both views into context I don’t entirely disagree with the sentiment the speakers were delivering. Mr Hancock was making the very valid point that cultural professionals need to speak the language of school leaders if they want to convince the doubters and naysayers about the value of cultural education. I’ve spent the last decade of my professional life practicing being multi-lingual for this very purpose. But Mr Hancock please? In my day to day work I meet lots of headteachers with a wide spectrum of views and approaches to their work, but I have yet to hear any of them say (or give any indication) that it’s their life goal to help children pass exams. That’s your government’s agenda, not theirs. The majority of school leaders I speak to are frustrated by the constraints they’re forced to work within and the narrow measures they are subject to. They are passionate about fostering a love for learning and knowledge in children, that will open doors to a rich and purposeful life. Most understand that cultural learning is fundamental to achieving this (and don’t need a set of costly, randomised control trials to prove it). Your colleague, Ed Vaisey, was right when he lamented how “the changes to the curriculum over the past couple of years have had a detrimental effect on the arts”. I’m afraid your assertion that you support the call to action contained in ImagineNation will remain meaningless until you can persuade your colleagues in the Department for Education to afford arts subjects in schools the status they deserve. One North West headteacher summed up the situation perfectly for my colleagues and me, when he posed the provocation: “cultural education - I won’t get sacked if I do it, I won’t get sacked if I don’t”.

And Darcy. . . I admire you so much I wanted to name my daughter after you (her Dad wasn’t so keen) but your plea for Dance not to be an exam subject made my heart sink. You spoke eloquently about how Dance can change lives and called for it to be made available to every child through physical literacy lessons in schools. YES, YES to all of that. But I’m afraid you’re missing the point if you think Dance being an exam subject is a wholly bad thing. You were clearly born with the potential to become a prima-ballerina and were lucky enough to have a childhood that bought you the opportunity to develop your innate talent to its fullest. But that’s simply not the case for everyone. There are likely hundreds of potential prima-ballerinas who don’t know what they could be because they aren’t given the opportunities that you had. Their parents can’t or won’t afford to send them to Dance class and their schools do Dance as part of a PE lesson once in a blue moon. Bopping around to world-music with their mates for an hour once a week for a few weeks a year might make children healthier and happier (dancing is physical and fun – ask any Dad at a wedding), but these flat offers aren’t going to nurture and propel future talent or spark creative potential. I could give you many examples of people for whom taking GCSE Dance at school provided the stepping stone into a dance related career and an opportunity for them to shine. And in this world where exams matter (see above) why shouldn’t arts subjects be taught with the same rigour as academic subjects? I’d like to bet you did Dance exams (isn’t that your signature on RAD certificates?). We’re battling to keep arts subjects available at key stage 4 and we need high profile advocates like yourself to fight with us not against us.

Thank you CLA for inviting me to your wonderful launch event this evening and for publishing ImagineNation. I know already that the little black booklet will be a mighty weapon in our armoury as we continue to fight for a rich cultural and creative education for all children and young people.

Derri Burdon
Chief Executive
Curious Minds

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