Last week saw the first of the big written exams for our Year 11s (History GCSE): while they were frantically re-reading their multi-coloured flash cards or manically re-mastering the twentieth century through quizlet, I was watching the Tuesday Afternoon Activity (TAA) drama group’s piece, devised and performed by themselves.
Back in the Michaelmas Term, golden post boxes appeared around the school and we were invited to send postcards to ourselves of yesteryear (‘a postcard to my eleven-year-old self’), and give advice we now wished, with the benefit of hindsight, we had had. Several hundred postcards from pupils and staff were sent and these were the inspiration for a lively, fast-paced, clever, touching and wickedly funny production.
Drama TAA crosses year groups so pupils from Years 9, 10 and 11, who won’t have known each other before, combine to form a troupe; established friendship groups have to tolerate once-weekly interruptions, and for an hour or so, different combinations are thrown up and new, serendipitous connections are made. This lot oozed certain confidence (but no arrogance) and made it all look so easy: mime, movement and chorus-work all taped as an energetic but tightly controlled cast zig-zagged across a horse-shoe stage and mingled with the audience seated at café-style tables sipping welcome refreshments on an unseasonally sultry evening.
As we – my mesmerised eleven-year-old son came along with us – ambled home, we mused on what remained from that evening’s performance. We guessed that, once the adrenalin and elation had subsided, those young actors would be left with more than a memory of having done something really well: to judge by the clarity of their words, the suppleness of their movements, the rhythm of their percussive limbs, the fluency of their connectedness, they will walk taller and find their voices off, as well as on, stage. Perhaps an analogy with those GCSE historians? What remains from those weeks of study and revision, beyond the stuff itself, will be an ability to cope with pressure and to harness adrenalin; to show what you really know and understand on demand; to read efficiently and critically; to write pithily to order. Naturally an examinee’s mind focuses on the exam and an actor on the performance but we who observe and spectate, we see what remains once the exam has passed, the curtain has fallen or the final whistle has been blown. These experiences force the rate of deep, sustained growth.
So there really does need to be room for very different and complementing experiences in young people’s lives. Room to solve problems collaboratively. Room to come up with ideas. Room to test out those ideas. Room to find solutions. Room to reject solutions that just don’t quite work. Room to make mistakes without which you wouldn’t find the brilliant solution. Room therefore to exercise your creative muscles.
I’m keen to hard-wire a place for this room: physically, of course, in the work we’re doing to gain permission to enhance our drama, music, sport and science facilities; in the curriculum, by making opportunities for pupils to study and work creatively and collaboratively, in subjects which emphasise creativity in their modus operandi; conceptually, by making the argument for young people developing creativity as a sure-fire means of becoming employable. That’s why Highgate is hosting a conference next month (school trumpet out here!): ‘Go creative! Get a Job!’ in which we will prove that creative choices are smart choices. If you’re interested in seeing the programme, which includes a filmed interview with Sir Ken Robinson, and Q&A with leading employers, philanthropists and academics, and a talk by actor and writer, Meera Syal, see here for details.
The next time you hear some kindly relative tell your children that X is not a smart choice because universities like to see Y subject on a cv, stop and challenge that response: not only are universities and employers too savvy to down-play the different intelligences young people hone in working collaboratively and creatively, none of us wants to shut our children out from the burgeoning opportunities which creatives have at their finger-tips!