Creative Wales - RSA

Creative Learning: A Welsh Plan

Blog 8 Comments

  • Picture of Rich Pickford
    Rich Pickford
    I'm based out of Nottingham Trent University running Nottingham Civic Exchange. Former RSA staffer.
  • Education
  • Creativity
  • Curriculum
  • Schools
  • Teaching
  • Creative Institutions and Systems

If you find yourself fatigued by the coverage of the Westminster General Election why not remind yourself about the positive power of democracy by reading the Welsh Government's Creative Learning action plan. This plan sets out a vision of a more creative and cultural Wales that drives improvement by fostering the creative capacities of its citizens.

The plan forms part of the Welsh Government's response to Professor Dai Smith's report on Arts education in the schools of Wales (2013) which gave twelve recommendations for how Wales could improve its offer in this sector. All twelve recommendations have been used to create the plan which aims to improve the overall quality and offer of the Welsh education system while at the same time ensuring that Welsh children are given greater access to culture and the arts. 

The RSA is particularly pleased to see that an emphasis has been placed on the development of the creative capacities of teachers as well as pupils. Not only will there be a development of Lead Creative Schools to act as national exemplars but a programme of training will be rolled out across the whole country aimed at developing creative teaching methodologies. This programme involves schools working with regional creative leads as well as teacher training providers and the Arts Council of Wales. This focus on the skills of educators is vital for the long term sustainability of such a programme and should ensure that teachers will be able to benefit from the plan well beyond its five year pilot.

One of the most impressive elements of the plan is the way that it seeks to break down the walls of the classroom by inviting teachers and students to explore the cultural capital of their community, while at the same time inviting the community into the school. The RSA has previously explored such ideas through the Area Based Curriculum project.  Schools working towards Lead Creative School status will work with a local creative professional to develop pedagogy, but also to improve access to creative opportunities in the area. This sort of collaborative thinking embraces the adage "It takes a village" and is at the very heart of the plan. We hope this means that schools and teachers will not be left feeling that this is yet another responsibility handed down to them, but rather that they are part of a wider plan to improve the lives of Welsh children.

The plan also makes a valiant effort to test the impact of creative learning by providing a clear guide to how it intends to evaluate impact. The effectiveness of the plan will be assessed against three main criteria:

  • Progress in attainment in numeracy and literacy;

  • The impact of the programme on reducing the difference in attainment of young people from different socio-economic backgrounds;

  • And the creativity of learners.

The Welsh Assembly has committed to publish progress relative to these measures yearly but importantly the plan as a whole will be given five years to bear fruit. This forward looking approach should avoid dangerous short-termism that often plagues educational reform and allows schools to acclimatise to a new way of working before declaring the initiative a success or failure.

On Tuesday 12 May RSA Fellows and the general public will be discussing the potential impact of this plan and what it might mean for Wales.(details to be released soon) RSA Fellow Yvonne Murphy will chair a debate and audience Q&A following presentations by David Anderson, Director General National Museum of Wales, Maria Amparo Asenjo, Architect and Panel member for the Design Commission of Wales and Tom Gilliford Project Engagement Manager for Creative Learning and Devlopment at the RSA. The event is aimed at exploring good practice, widening the creative scope and identifying the barriers the plan might face. Those attending are asked to consider the following questions and share their solutions, problem and opinions on the day:

  • (Q1)What are the implications for the creative, heritage and education sectors?

  • (Q2)How can we ensure that teaching environments match the aspirations expressed in the plan?

  • (Q3)What would indicate the success of the plan and how is this measured?

If you can't wait to share your thoughts and ideas why not be part of the conversation right away in the comments section below and via @RSAcymru using the hashtag #RSAcreativewales .  We also want to hear what your burning questions would be if you came to the event. 

Full details and booking instructions for May 12 will be available on the Wales|Cymru RSA webpage soon and published via our twitter feed.

Next steps...

If you want to know more about the work of the RSA then get in touch with our Regions and Project Engagement Teams who can tell you more:

Connect with FellowsCreate your online profileFind like-minded fellows and Engage with projects in your area.

Be part of a projectDevelop a new projecthelp with an existing one and propose new partners or potential funders by getting in touch.

Be inspired- Read the RSA Journal, submit an opinion piece to RSA Comment or join the discussion on our RSA blogs.

If you're not already an RSA Fellow and you support our mission of 21st century enlightenment, find out more about joining us.

Rich is the Regional Manager for Wales & the Midlands, working to connect Fellows with the RSA’s work. Email him or follow him on Twitter @pickfordrich

Join the discussion


Please login to post a comment or reply

Don't have an account? Click here to register.

  • Professor Smith's recommendations will do next to nothing to improve the status of the arts in primary schools in Wales. The Welsh Govenrmnent has made a firm commitment to improving standards of literacy and numeracy in Wales, and believes this can only be achieved by a very unimaginative use of tests and ruthless comparison of school with school. Literacy and numeracy objectives have to be explicitly threaded throughout the curriculum, so no matter what the focus of the lesson - eg a teacher attempting to explore textures in music would have to embed within that lesson a specific literacy or numeracy element. When a curriculum is so centrally controlled as this it is very difficult for a teacher to be truly creative, as the progress of any lesson is severely hampered by the needs of the literacy/numeracy curriculum. This focus on literacy and numeracy is not only damaging the creative content of individual lessons, but limiting the creativity of teachers. Music for example, which may have a pivotal role in the development of children's reading, (eg see the research of Usha Goswami at Cambridge) may have long term benefits for all pupils. But because the research is in its early stages, and the findings not unequivocal, music is still s subject which is not given the status it deserves. In forcing all areas of the curriculum to be subservient to the needs of literacy and numeracy, we may lose just those less researched and understood influences from the creative arts that help forge a child's development.

  • Dear Wiard

    Thank you for your detailed reply. The attached document may be of help for your event, namely the e-dysg newsletter which comes through weekly from the WG. If you scroll down the page, you will find reference to the creative arts and also several tables which may be a useful planning tool.

    My own take is that the event is likely to attract Fellows from three areas, viz. creative professionals, teachers/educationalists and Fellows with a general interest. Your programme will meet the needs of the first group. The other two groupings may have some other questions to ask.

    As a Headteacher/teacher I would want to know: how will the allocation of creative arts professionals be managed within my geographical area (the attached docs refer to the new collaborative areas such as the Central South Consortium); if I have a member of staff I consider to be a 'cutting edge professional' whom I contribute to the 'pool', how will I be recompensed for this (e.g. cover costs); what are the arrangements for child protection and safety whilst an arts professional is in school? Is another teacher supposed to 'mind' the visitor, will s/he have a CRB check?, and if so, is the Arts Council paying for this? What is the time lag between application to the role and CRB clearance (I can't start planning any curriculum delivery until this is known). On wider curriculum issues, how does the Arts Council see its role? -- is it there to help deliver the existing curriculum requirements, will the professional's input be stand-alone or integrated? How far will arts professionals be acculturated into the life, values, expectations and restrictions of my own school? What measures are in place for quality control?

    Lots of points here and more than you could get through in an evening. Yet I feel that an awareness at least of these issues will help persuade education practitioners and the wider public that the policy has been thought through and is not just what might otherwise erroneously appear as a marketing opportunity for arts professionals. Exactly the same arguments would apply if they were business mentors, scientists or engineers. It's simply a question of adapting to the appropriate environment and showing an understanding of this.

    At this stage I am uncertain if I can attend. I have come down with a nasty bug in Portugal and will be playing catch up for the next few weeks to meet other deadlines.

    I hope that this helps.



    • Hi Rod,

      I don’t have answers to most of your questions, they will need to be directed to the authors and promotors of the Action Plan, but I’m sure these will have been considered when the project was reviewed and the funding allocated. Many arts professional do have up to date CRB checks and many individuals and organisations from the arts and creative sectors are involved in work in schools or with school groups outside the school environment. David Anderson will address that within a museum and heritage context, but the principles are the same for the arts sector. Much of what is in the Action Plan is not necessarily new, but better structured, funded and focussed. It is, in many ways, the opposite of what’s happening in England and addresses (without intending to do so) the concerns of the report from the Warwick Commission chaired by Vikki Heywood.

      The Donaldson review is quite explicit in its response to the Dai Smith report (as well as the Culture and Poverty report by Baroness Andrews) and the flowing is an extract from page 46:

      The expressive arts provide inspiration and motivation as they bring children and young people into contact with the creative processes, performances and products of others and stimulate their own experimentation and creativity. They provide many opportunities for experiences such as visits to theatres and galleries and for bringing the specialist expertise of, for example, artists and musicians into the classroom. Achievement in the expressive arts also provides a basis for lifelong participation and can ultimately contribute to a thriving economy and cultural life for Wales.

      Scope and connections with other Areas of Learning and Experience

      The Expressive arts Area of Learning and Experience will span art, drama, music, dance, film and digital media, encompassing wider creative aspects such as improvisation. The Review has taken account of the report of the review of Arts in Education in the Schools in Wales, which described the arts’ as including the making, performance, expression or appreciation of one or more of: music; drama; dance; film and digital media; visual arts and design; literature and creative writing. All of these art forms will be addressed within the curriculum, mainly through the Expressive arts Area of Learning and Experience, but outcomes for literature and creative writing will form part of the Languages, literacy and communication Area of Learning and Experience. There will also be connections between the Expressive arts Area of Learning and Experience and the technologies components of the Science and technology and Humanities Areas of Learning and Experience in interpreting and expressing meaning.

      Illustrative examples of how children and young peoples experiences in the Expressive arts Area of Learning and Experience can contribute to all four purposes of the curriculum include:

      › (ambitious, capable learners) encouraging them to explore new and challenging areas of experience and to strive to improve their performance

      › (enterprising, creative contributors) developing their creativity in a range of forms of expression; providing rich contexts and challenges within which they can work collaboratively, learning from critical appraisal of their work

      › (ethical, informed citizens) enabling them to understand their own cultural identity and those of societies in other places and at other times, and to explore complex and difficult issues

      › (healthy, confident individuals) helping them to develop resilience and feel more confident as they gain enjoyment and personal satisfaction from creative expression; contributing directly to enriching the quality of their lives.

      I guess that the audience will be varied and cover a number of sectors, but it would be great if there is attendance from the education sector. Please do encourage anyone that you think may benefit from this or who could contribute to the debate to register. we have already over 20 bookings and seats are limited.

      Best regards,


  • Hi Rich

    I am pleased to see that this event is planned for Wales. However, I was surprised to note that there was no reference to the detailed response to the Smith Report undertaken by Margaret Morgan, latterly Secretary of the Wales/Cymru team. This resulted in an invitation by the relevant department within DCELLS to present our responses to them and I coordinated arrangements for this meeting, which was attended by a number of the RSA Team. So a lot of thought and suggestion about how RSA might be able to assist had already been considered by the previous RSA Wales/Cymru team. I don't know the composition of the new team.  However, I also made the point repeatedly whilst we were planning that response that, in order to generate joined-up thinking, the recommendations could only be considered in line with the recommendations of both the Donaldson and Furlong reports which reported at the same time that the Minister proposed his support. Indeed, WAG, to its credit, has indicated that only a joined-up approach will be feasible -- merely looking at creative arts in isolation without fully understanding the wider curriculum issues, funding and long-term training issues would be counter-productive.

    It is unclear how this event will reflect those wider education aspects, and though Joe Hallgarten's paper is of interest, it is unclear how the messages from England will translate into policy in Wales. For example, the references to the growing RSA family of academies will cut no ice in Wales. Since devolution, Wales has resolutely set its store out in terms of all-ability, community, comprehensive schools. Under a Labour administration, this will not change. That does not mean to say that we should not learn from other parts of the world, including the rest of the UK. However, I do not see that Fellows who have a clear understanding of the education landscape in Wales are represented at the meeting. Both the Professor of Education for Welsh Education Policy at UWTSD and the former CEO of the GTCW are both still Fellows, Margaret has a passionate and distinguished record in supporting creativity in the primary curriculum and I have an some small expertise in international education systems as well as Wales.

    I do appreciate that, as Wiard says, plans always have to start somewhere and that this is a welcome start. Yet I also feel that the event needs a clear, wider education perspective, including the creative arts and not to have a single focus. I'm sure that the outstanding practitioners referred to (and whose presence will be welcomed by schools) would also need a very clear understanding of the school culture, aspirations and constraints with which they will be engaging.

    I am currently working abroad and am unsure whether I shall be able to make the event. Naturally, I hope that the event goes well.



    • Hi Rod,

      Good to hear from you and thanks for your input. Allow me a few points in response.

      First all, things have moved on considerably since RSA Cymru contributed to the consultation, following the publication the report by Professor Dai Smith in 2013. The current event is very much in the context of the Creative Learning Action Plan, published by the Arts Council of Wales (ACW) earlier this year and to which two Welsh Government Ministers have pledged £20 million over 5 years (see my response below). This is a reality that both the Education sector and the Arts and Creative sector will need to respond to.

      Secondly, David Anderson is and education specialist and that is why I was delighted he was able to commit to this, in spite of his busy schedule. Here is his profile:

      David Anderson was appointed to Amgueddfa Cymru as Director General in 2010. Prior to that he was Director of Learning in the Victoria & Albert Museum London having previously held various positions in museum education. He is recognised as an authority on cultural strategy and arts education.

      In 1999 he was awarded an OBE for services to museums and education. He has published widely including the UK Government report "A common Wealth: Museums in the Learning Age". He has been the advisor to the UK Government on a wide range of Initiatives including Culture On-Line, Creative Partnerships and a national museum and gallery education strategy. He is also the author of the best selling children's books "The Spanish Armada" and "Mutiny on the Bounty". From 2004 to 2008 he was also Co-Director of the Exhibition Road Cultural Group, London’s first cultural quarter.

      I think this qualifies him eminently to approach the subject from both perspectives and that his views will offer a lot to both sectors. 

      Thirdly, this is a debate and there will be plenty of time for input by attendees, so I hope that you and others will be able to be there or ensure that your views are represented. It is very much the intention to engage all sectors in this.

      Finally, this will also contribute to a better understanding within the staff and directors of the RSA into the various and varied developments in the devolved nations and ensure that this is ref;acted in their future outputs.

      I'm glad you think this is a welcome start and rest assured that we will build on this.

      Best wishes,


  • It will be important to show how this report integrates with the recommendations of the Donaldson Report, as the education system in Wales is in flux at the present time.  All the speakers appear to come from an arts background rather than having intimate and current knowledge of the "Great Debate" recently launched by the Wales Government Minister of Education, though the background of Yvonne Murphy is not shown.  There appears to be no contribution planned for the Fellows of the RSA Wales Cymru delegation who met Education Department officials to present our own report and contribution to the enquiry, written after the debate at our meeting at the time of the visit of our Chair last year.

    • Hi Rudi. This is the first instalment in what I hope will be an ongoing debate. We had to start somewhere and this is a strongly debated issue with the creative sector. The Donaldson review is very much part of the mix in this debate and I hope you will be there to raise this again on the night. Kathy Seddon (Fellowship Councillor for Wales) and I are making efforts to engage the education sector as well and i would love to hear if you have any suggestions in that direction. Things have moved on a lot from Professor Dai Smith's report on Art and Education and the Welsh Government have now accepted his recommendations, following the Donaldson Curriculum Review, and and both Huw Lewis AM and Ken Skates AM, Minister for Education and Deputy Minister for Culture respectively, have pledged £20 million over 5 years towards the Creative Learning Action Plan published by the Arts Council of Wales. Hopefully, many Fellows will be ablate attend to contribute further to this debate and gain the benefit of the insight of some outstanding practitioners in this field. 

    • Hi Rudolf, I'm the Head of Project Engagement here at the RSA. We are certainly keen to hear from those Fellows.  Could you kindly email [email protected]  He is the Project Engagement Manager in charge of Creative Learning and Development and he will be delighted to follow up with you about this.

      with best wishes