Image of the Liverpool Cathedral

Sir Ken Robinson

Oration

Presented by: Dr Edward Harcourt

Honourable Chancellor, I have pleasure in presenting Sir Ken Robinson for the award of an Honorary Fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University. 

This is a truly civic university, firmly rooted in this extraordinary city, and its defining ethos comprises three deceptively simple yet very powerful words: dream, plan, achieve. 

Each year at Graduation, the University's highest honour – an Honorary Fellowship – is bestowed on select individuals outside the University, in recognition of their outstanding achievement in a given field or profession, and who personify and inspire others to 'dream, plan, and achieve.' 

We propose Sir Ken Robinson today, in recognition of his outstanding commitment to education. 

For more than 35 years as a researcher, teacher, adviser, writer and speaker, he has been involved with local and national education systems, and with community, cultural and corporate organisations across the globe in pursuit of a wider appreciation of the importance of nurturing human creativity and intelligence. Sir Ken was once a distinguished professor of education. 

Today, he is an academic superstar: his work has the kind of reach, influence and impact that most academic staff can only dream about. He believes that too many of us have no sense of our true passions and talents, and that creativity and innovative thinking can be instilled in us in a considered and organised manner by our schools, colleges and universities. He believes in education as an art form, not a delivery system.  

Sir Ken's central insight evolves from a paradox posed by a question. The question is: how creative are you? The paradox is that while most children think they're highly creative; most adults think they're not. So what happens within the educational system as we grow up to make us think we are not creative? This question has been at the foundation of Ken Robinson's work, in academia and far beyond, and has produced two bestselling books, The Element: A New View of Human Capacity and Out of Our Minds: Learning How to be Creative.

These best-sellers have brought the insights of Sir Ken's work to millions of readers. But he devotes equally as much time to working within the system. He has advised governments on schools and education in Europe, Asia, and the USA, as well as with international agencies, Fortune 500 companies and some of the world's leading cultural organisations. 

He was also, years before most of us had heard of Twitter, an early social media star; the videos of his famous talks to the prestigious TED Conference have been viewed more than 25 million times and seen by an estimated 250 million people in over 150 countries. His 2006 talk: 'Do Schools Kill Creativity?' is still the most viewed in TED's history. It is a superb example of how erudite commentary can have a massive social impact. 

Sir Ken's own road to erudition began in a noisy, crowded and happy household just a few hundred yards from Goodison Park here in Liverpool. One of seven children, he was born into a strong and loving family with the strength of character to weather post-war deprivations. 

An industrial accident left their father quadriplegic, confined to a surgical bed and a wheelchair for the remainder of his life. And at four years of age Ken contracted polio and was himself hospitalised for eight months. 

When he came out of hospital, Ken was wearing two leg braces and was in a wheelchair, or walking on crutches. "Literally overnight," he recalls in the autobiographical sections of one of his books, "I went from being a strong, fit and highly energetic child, to being almost completely paralyzed." Polio's physical after-effects meant that Ken left mainstream education to attend the Margaret Beaven Special School in West Derby, where his potential was spotted by Charles Strafford, one of Her Majesty's Inspectors for Special Education. 

As a result, he was coached, as he recalls in his autobiography, by the redoubtable Miss York for the eleven-plus examination, and became the first in his family, and the only Margaret Beaven pupil to pass the exam that year. 

With a scholarship to the Liverpool Collegiate School, he began to develop the interests and capabilities that have shaped the rest of his life. He says of that time: "If a teacher hadn't seen something in me that I hadn't seen in myself, my life might have gone in a very different direction." He went on to study English and drama at Bretton Hall College of Education at the University of Leeds and gained his doctorate from the University of London, researching drama and theatre in education. 

Between 1985 and 1989, he was the Director of the Arts in Schools Project to develop arts education in England and Wales, which influenced the framing of the National Curriculum in England. 

From 1989 to 2001, he was Professor of Arts Education at the University of Warwick, during which period he led the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education. 

His 1999 report to the UK Government, known as the Robinson Report, was published to wide acclaim.  

Knighted in 2003 for services to education, Sir Ken has honorary degrees and received numerous awards in both the UK and the US. These include the George Peabody Medal for contributions to the arts and culture in the US and the Benjamin Franklin Medal from the Royal Society of Arts (of which he is a Fellow), for outstanding contributions to cultural relations between these two countries. 

He has been awarded several prizes throughout his career, the most recent being the inaugural Arthur C. Clarke Imagination Award in 2012.  

His family's move to California in 2001 followed an invitation to act as Senior Adviser for Education to the J. Paul Getty Trust, one of the world's most visible cultural institutions, with a remit to help maximise educational outreach and impact. 

He has authored and co-authored a wide range of books, reports and articles on creativity, the arts, education and cultural development, and is much in demand as a speaker. 

Miss York and Charles Strafford, his old teachers at the Margaret Beavan Special School in West Derby, must surely be beaming with pride. 

It is a pride shared across the city, and it is therefore with great pleasure that I present Sir Ken Robinson, this most distinguished son of our city, for admission to our highest honour, as an Honorary Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University.