Becky Swain from Creative Partnerships explains the initiative’s aims and how it works with schools to help develop contexts for effective creative learning‘Partnerships between schools and creative practitioners help unlock the creativity of learners and educators and develop creative approaches to teaching all aspects of the curriculum.’

Lord Adonis, Schools Minister Creativity is being seen by an increasing number of schools as a process that can increase the motivation of teachers and learners, raising achievement and helping them to meet improvement targets. Rather than being regarded as purely in the domain of the arts – the preserve of the gifted few or an add-on activity – creativity is being harnessed to enable children and teachers to discover their strengths and talents and transform learning in schools. Partnerships between schools and creative professionals have been at the heart of these developments since the government set up Creative Partnerships in 2002. Since then, the organisation has supported thousands of innovative, long-term partnerships between schools and creative professionals, who inspire teachers and young people to challenge how they work and experiment with new ideas in all subject areas. Recent research, including an inspection by Ofsted, has concluded that Creative Partnerships is making real differences to the lives of the young people it reaches.

What is Creative Partnerships? Creative Partnerships is the government’s flagship creative programme for schools and young people, managed by Arts Council England and funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF). Creative Partnerships aims to:

  • raise the aspirations and achievements of young people and equip them with skills for life;
  • transform the approaches and attitudes of schools;
  • refresh the skills of teachers and their capacity to work with creative professionals;
  • encourage the growth of the creative industries.

The programme achieves its aims by unlocking the creativity of learners and educators, putting innovative thinking at the heart of the school and developing creative approaches to all aspects of the curriculum and school life. It enables children and teachers to discover their strengths and talents and taps their enthusiasm. Since 2003 Creative Partnerships has supported 4,747 projects in every area of the curriculum. It has worked intensively with more than 1,100 schools, 550,000 young people, 46,000 teachers and 4,250 creative professionals and organisations.

From 2008, Creative Partnerships hopes to work with more schools in local authorities across England. Schools which would like to register an interest should email [email protected] or register online at

Supporting schools to build partnerships

Many of the most effective schools we have worked with at Creative Partnerships have shown an openness to collaboration with external partners to engage students in a school curriculum that has the capacity to transform aspirations and raise achievement. Schools identify their own needs, linked to wider school development plans, before engaging in a long-term partnership with creative practitioners. These might include architects, theatre companies, museums, web designers, film makers, fashion designers, inventors or scientists. Creative learning programmes have been focused on a diverse range of issues from learning environments, outdoor space and engaging parents and the community to pupil voice, literacy and numeracy, enterprise and employability, problem solving, and pupil self esteem and motivation. For projects to take off, governing bodies, heads and school leadership teams need to make every effort to support partnership working by making space for school staff to develop a shared understanding of creativity and its value for learners, alongside time to plan and evaluate projects.

Making space for creativity

Having been a secondary teacher for many years before joining Creative Partnerships, I find it heartening that almost every area of current education policy from inspection to curriculum plans and the promotion of teacher-led innovation has the capacity to support the creativity agenda. Amongst many other reports focusing on the value of creativity in education and learning, the National Advisory Committee for Creativity in Culture and Education’s (NACCCE) report All our Futures: creativity, culture and education (1999), Ofsted’s Expecting the Unexpected (2003), and the joint Department for Culture Media and Sport and DfES report Nurturing the Creativity of Young People (2006), all cite the central importance of creativity for the development of young learners. All of the key principles of DfES reform underpinning a step change in children’s services, such as greater personalisation, freedom and independence for schools, a major commitment to staff development and partnerships beyond the classroom, support the need to place greater value on making time and space for creative approaches to curriculum planning and delivery in schools. As an LEA governor at an inner city primary school, I recognise that schools have an enormous array of competing priorities and what feel like daily systemic barriers to developing creative approaches. However, the climate is sympathetic to exploring the benefits of creativity and its capacity to raise student motivation and achievement.

How creative is your school?
It is unhelpful to be prescriptive about developing contexts for effective creative learning. Schools develop unique perspectives based on years of experience and understanding of their particular contexts and it is important that this uniqueness is respected.

We define a creative school as a place where a number of critical factors are developed so that all pupils have an entitlement to a rich and varied experience of creative learning – learning which assists their development as achieving, aspirational, motivated, creative and socially aware learners contributing in a variety of ways to the well-being of their peers, their school and their community. We have seen that creative schools are like creative learners. As institutions they are constantly:

  • questioning and challenging;
  • making connections and seeing relationships;
  • envisaging what might be;
  • exploring ideas, keeping options open;
  • reflecting critically on ideas, actions and outcomes.

First, schools need to be resolutely partnership spirited. All parties need to be seen as equal partners, with creative practitioners’ lack of formal teaching experience valued as one of their greatest assets, enabling them to ask difficult questions and challenge how a school operates. Secondly, all partners need to believe in the power of half-formed ideas, where partners then need to develop a collective imagination to build something new, to ask unusual questions and to make connections, modelling skills for creativity that we want to develop in young people. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, schools need enthusiasm in sharing their practice in order to change the practice of others, recognising their potential as thought leaders on creative learning within the education system. Creative schools encourage creative, critical and reflective thinking and produce excited, enthusiastic, enquiry-driven learners.

Creativity self evaluation

The current school self evaluation form (SEF) does not prevent schools from emphasising creative achievements. However, there are no specific prompts for this information. An increasing number of schools are using the self evaluation process to analyse and celebrate their approach to creativity. Creative Partnerships has developed a creativity self evaluation form (C-SEF), which is available to complete online or download at This form is intended to help schools analyse how they are working to ensure that creativity is at the heart of learning, teaching and school organisation. Used as part of your existing SEF, it can help you assess, value and celebrate your whole-school approach to creativity. Some of the ways in which schools have tried to develop creativity at their core involve:

  • School development plans incorporating creative teaching and learning strategies as a key driving force for school improvement.
  • Creative teaching and learning as a standard item for internal SMT, departmental and faculty meetings and for meetings with governors.
  • Teaching and learning for creativity being embedded into schools delivering the curriculum.
  • Appointment of a director of culture and creativity to embed creativity across the school.
  • Inclusion of creativity in school’s mission statement.
  • Funds allocated for experiential CPD to develop teachers’ own creativity.
  • Changes in recruitment practice – actively seeking out new appointees in terms of their ability to teach creatively.
  • Enhanced sense of community and common purpose through a range of creative learning programmes.

There are many examples of successful enquiry-based projects but they are developed to meet the particular needs of a particular school and may not translate to your environment. The key is to build a community of enquiry in your school to begin to ask questions about learning that are relevant to your school. Whether you want to find a solution to Year 7 comments that they find moving round the school corridors between lessons frightening or improve boys’ literacy at key stage 2, working with an external eye can produce some startlingly imaginative and successful results. Embarking on a truly learner-led, enquiry-led project and involving young people as early as possible in the entire process will lead to a much greater degree of engagement and therefore learning for everyone involved.

So what is different about creative learning?
Creative learning in the context of this type of work is long term and collaborative in nature. It demands a joint commitment to a shared vision and willingness to embrace open-ended outcomes, challenge and risk.

  • Young people and children are consulted from a very early stage in the enquiry and at all stages of the planning – they are placed centre stage in the learning process.
  • External partners come with a broader range of professional expertise – they can be artists but can also be architects, web designers, chefs, gardeners, engineers or scientists.
  • School staff, external partner and young people all begin a process of imaginative enquiry together, as equals, willing to collaborate, explore and learn together.
  • An external partner forms part of a team over a sustained period of time, rather than coming into a school to deliver a defined ‘workshop’ activity with minimal teacher involvement.
  • Programmes focus on developing pupils’ creative behaviours, as well as wider outcomes. Artistic skills may also be developed, but this is never the primary purpose.
  • Projects are open-ended journeys, not pre-defined products or programmes.
  • Creative learning is an opportunity to think about the wider culture of learning and the possibility, through partnerships, of working with a wider range of people in the community.

Becky Swain is a senior officer at Creative Partnerships’ national office. She is an LEA governor and former secondary school teacher.