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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 05/04/2011 | 2 Comments

The last time I paid attention to Scotland's enterprise figures was in 2002 when I was writing The Scots' Crisis of Confidence.  The picture then was pretty bleak with Scotland  being  'a Division Three' player when it came to entrepreneurial activity. As I'm now updating the book for a new edition later this year, I have had to look at Scotland's enterprise figures once again.

I had thought that there would have been a small, but significant and encouraging,  change in the figures during that period given that there has been a fair amount of activity on enterprise. For example, there is a major academic department at Strathclyde University, the Hunter Centre, and Scottish Enterprise have launched various schemes. In 2002 a major school initiative on enterprise education, Determined to Succeed, was launched - spearheaded and partly funded by  Sir Tom Hunter.

However, the latest available research published in the Global  Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) for 2009 continues to paint a bleak picture:

Scotland's Total Early-Stage Entrepreneurial Activity (TEA) rate in 2009 was 3.6%, significantly below the UK rate of 5.8% and an 18% decline on the 2008 estimate. The TEA rates for both males and females, at 2.5% and 4.8%. were the lowest since recording began in 2000 and the male TEA rate for Scotland was the lowest of any region in the UK. The long term trend in TEA rates in Scotland for both males and females appears to be negative, in contrast to a static picture for the UK as a whole.

In his foreword Sir Tom Hunter bluntly says that the figures are discouraging. He argues that 'Scotland as a whole needs to take a radical look at itself and change markedly.' 

However, experts such as Dr Jonathan Levie, who compiles GEM, say it is still too early to tell if DTS will make a difference and boost Scotland's enterprise rate. Many of the first children exposed to these programmes in the classroom are still at school or will have gone on to higher education.   However, even if the project does begin to boost enterprise rates there is a fear, expressed by Sir Tom Hunter in his foreword to the 2009 GEM that, as Determined to Succeed's money is no longer ring-fenced, in an era of cuts, it too will become underfunded.

I have little doubt that much good work has been carried out under the DTS banner and I was certainly impressed by some of the projects students were involved in. But sometimes I also thought that DTS displayed some of the unenterprising nature of Scottish education. I'm thinking here about students taking part in presentations heavily orchestrated by the teacher and the whole project appearing very teacher led.

I think that to really spark young people's creativity, confidence and spirit of enterprise we need a very different model – one that is much more driven by the youngsters themselves in what we could call a parallel learning experience. Ideally an experience that costs no money. This is no figment of my imagination as it exists right here on our own doorstep in the shape of a project called Room 13.

Room 13 began in Caol Primary School, near Fort William in 1994. The head teacher had lost all support from art teachers and managed to persuade Rob Fairley, a local artist,  to come into the school. He wasn't interested in formal teaching and eventually agreed to come in to the school to paint and talk to the students if they were interested. He was assigned room 13 as his studio.

Less than 20 years on Room 13 is a social enterprise organisation with a 'network of linked studios worldwide'  - yes worldwide. There are over 80 Room 13s across the world in Scotland, England, China, Hong Kong, Nepal, India, South Africa, Botswana, Turkey, Austria, Canada, Holland, USA and Mexico.  The 11 Scottish studios are all in  primary schools in Argyll, the Highlands or the North East. There are none in central or south Scotland.  Sadly for us, there are more Room 13s in Nepal (18)  and South Africa (17) than in Scotland. 

In the Scottish schools (perhaps in the international network) the general rule is that students are allowed to go to Room 13 during school time if their class work is up to date. Once there they have ' a great deal of autonomy' though they are also under the influence and guidance of the resident artist. The Room 13 studios are also run by the students themselves as a business. They appoint a management team and nominally employ the artist.  So primary school children act as company secretaries and directors.

When I was in Ullapool recently at one of the Ceilidh Place's terrific 'Changin' Scotland' weekend events I had the privilege of hearing some young people (Mark, Robert and Nikki)  talk about their earlier involvement with Room 13. With them was the one of the resident artists from Fort William, Claire Gibb, who is in charge of the international side of the project. She set out what she saw as fundamental to the success of the project:

1. Room 13 studios are run as a business. This gives the youngsters a strong sense of autonomy and ownership. It also encourages them to develop skills which are important for employment and entrepreneurship.

2. Room 13 encourages creative freedom. Claire sees it as more of an 'ideas' generating process rather than simply being about 'art'.

3. Room 13 encourages 'philosophical inquiry'. The culture is one of encouraging curiosity, questioning and learning.

4. Room 13 is about equality and shared learning. The students and artists are considered equals and treated with respect.

The whole Room 13 project is organic. There has never been a business or master plan and it has grown spontaneously as a result of contacts and an expanding network.

As one of the Room 13 reports explains:

The Room 13 trained artist in residence is not teacher, parent, social worker, nurse or police officer … This 'trusted adult', by involving youngsters in their own meaningful work, instils a culture of independent thinking, citizenship, confidence, professionalism, and self-discipline. Room 13 encourages ambition and aspiration at every level by providing a continuing motivation to learn and fulfil potential.

As the artist is effectively self-employed - using the studio but having to fund themselves -  Room 13 potentially costs a school, or community centre, nothing.

To my mind one of the reasons why Room 13 works so well is that it creates a different space for students where real creativity, learning and enterprise happens. This may not be about art. Room 13 has inspired students to do many  different things such as raise money for ambitious travel or sponsorship projects. Because this is a space away from the conventional classroom there is no need for evaluation or traditional educational methods. However, these youngsters are still exposed to business as usual education in the rest of the school day.  This is what I mean about it being a parallel learning experience where students potentially get the best of both worlds.

Many in the arts community in the UK admire the project enormously. Anthony Gormley who created the Angel of the North sculpture is quoted as saying 'Room 13 is the paradigm we are all working with'. The Director of Tate Galleries, Sir Nicholas Serota, has described it as 'the most important model for artistic teaching that we have in the UK' and  Richard Demarco has called it 'the most important  arts movement in Scotland in my lifetime.' 

As an admirer I'd like to see Room 13 have a much bigger profile in Scotland. It would be fantastic if more schools were inspired to set up their own studios and become part of growing network. There is also scope for community projects involving people of all ages. A bit of investment from the Scottish Government or business may help to spread the word in Scotland and beyond. However, I'm also aware that political/establishment interest could hi-jack the project. For example, they could try to impose the Room 13 concept on schools where staff are unable or unwilling to allow the basic operating principles which Claire so eloquently identified as fundamental to its success. They could try to control it and make it fit with existing goals of the education system or their limited business model.

There's little doubt that Room 13 projects could inject some much needed oomph into entrepreneurship in Scotland  by empowering and liberating individual creativity. But this can only happen on a bigger scale if 'the powers that be' accept that it is essentially unmanageable and (while giving it a bit of support) essentially allow it to flourish in its own way. And that's a real challenge for our culture and part of the reason why we have an enterprise problem in the first place.

More information on Room 13 is available on their website.  

PS. I want to add that one of the Room 13 youngsters won a runner-up Turner prize (for adults) and have given lectures on art at the Tate.

Comment By Comment
ielliott
Joined: 26/03/2010

Comment Posted: 05/05/2011 10:45
Dear Carol,

Given your writings on Scottish culture, enterprise and confidence I wonder if you have any thoughts on this recent piece by BBC Radio 4:

'Glasgow football managers 'taking over'': http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_9475000/9475696.stm

Kind regards,
Ian.
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