Demands for a more creative curriculum are emerging thick and fast, but what do we mean by this and how might it be achieved in teaching? Rachel Lofthouse reports

Creativity has gained mainstream currency now that personal, learning and thinking skills (PLTS) have been embedded across the new 11-19 curriculum. One of the PLTS outcomes is that pupils become creative thinkers. This dimension is considered critical in its own right, but is also seen as a means to raise overall achievement (‘Pupils’ creativity to be assessed, 15 February 2008). Links are also being made to the government’s commitment to provide secondary pupils with genuine opportunities for cultural experiences both within and beyond the curriculum.

In the secondary context creativity has frequently been narrowly associated with subjects drawn from the arts, culture and design. So what does a broader approach mean, and how can we achieve a creative approach to learning? Cross-curricular creativity has been explored by teachers, researchers and policy makers for over a decade. In 1998 the DfES published All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education. It indicated that ‘creative and cultural education are not subjects in the curriculum, they are general functions of education’, thus making them the responsibility of the system and all teachers within it. This focus on creativity will be welcomed by some teachers, and met with anxiety by others. They may be reassured (or otherwise) by the report’s assertion that ‘creativity is possible in all areas of human activity and all young people and adults have creative capacities. Developing these capacities involves a balance between teaching skills and understanding, and promoting the freedom to innovate, and take risks.’

In 2002 the Department for Culture, Media and Sport set up Creative Partnerships which has established innovative long-term partnerships between schools and creative professionals. Their claim is that through such initiatives ‘young people develop the skills they need to perform well not only in exams and extracurricular activities, but also in the workplace and wider society.’ In 2006 this work was considered by Ofsted in its report Creative Partnerships: Initiative and Impact. Predictably the evaluation revealed diverse outcomes, but did recognise that many well-led projects had been highly effective. These tended to enable pupils to develop ‘an ability to improvise, take risks, show resilience, and collaborate with others’. Concerns were raised about the programme’s potential to influence system-wide change to teaching and learning and generate sustainable outcomes for the majority of pupils ‘whether they intended to work in the creative industries or not’. It is also true to say that with even the best of intentions the Creative Partnerships model cannot be funded sufficiently to impact on all schools and all pupils.

So what about the rest of us? The QCA has developed guidance and provides case studies from across the curriculum. It suggests that ‘Pupils who are encouraged to think creatively and independently become:

  • more interested in discovering things for themselves
  • more open to new ideas
  • keen to work with others to explore ideas
  • willing to work beyond lesson time when pursuing an idea or vision.’

These are desirable outcomes we would all no doubt desire for our pupils. So, the policy initiative is stacking up and will require a change in practice if creativity is to be developed as a significant feature of teaching and learning in every secondary school. What are needed are concrete models outlining how this might be achieved.

One such model comes from Chris Durbin (‘Creativity – Criticism and Challenge in Geography’, Teaching Geography, April 2003). Durbin’s Creativity Wheel articulates the outcomes of the various policy reports by providing an accessible approach for both teachers and pupils. His suggestion is that ‘creativity is as a circular process – a wheel’ and that ‘it is possible for teachers and students to access creativity at any segment on the wheel’. The diagram above illustrates this wheel, and recognises that while creativity is about using the imagination, it is also about producing real things for real people often with strict limitations and in a situation where the outcomes will be evaluated. This type of framework starts to make creativity seem purposeful and relevant in a range of curriculum areas.

So if pupils are to become ‘creative thinkers’ will we require a different type of teacher? A useful exercise carried out by Brin Best and Will Thomas, in their book The Creative Teaching and Learning Toolkit (Continuum, 2007) was the mapping of the attributes of creative teachers and creative learners. This may provide a starting point for teachers serious about enabling genuine opportunities for creativity within learning.