Incorporating more creativity in your curriculum will take staff out of their comfort zones, but will pay dividends in raised motivation and achievement for students, writes Becky Swain

Given almost all recent education reform allows space for creativity, now is the time to increase opportunities for your students to be creative – to increase motivation to learn and boost achievement. Creative Partnerships is a national initiative aimed at helping schools develop more creativity in their curriculum. In this month’s Case in Point, we hear from Creative Partnerships on how schools can benefit from this programme, before learning from a school that has overhauled its curriculum to boost creativity in learning and improve Key Stage 3-4 results

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 Andrew Adonis, Parliamentary under Secretary of State for Schools

It has been a revelation to me that I can work with someone with such complementary expertise and how much this extends what together we are able to offer students.
Secondary school teacher, Derbyshire

Putting creativity at the heart of school life and giving young people a key role in planning and decision-making can create a special ethos, changing the aspirations and performance of learners and the aspirations of school staff. It is arguably the ultimate personalised learning approach.

In 2002, Creative Partnerships (CP) was set up to help support schools in this endeavour – for details of what the programme involves, see the box above, right. The most successful schools I have visited put a great deal of energy into ensuring that the curriculum for their students meets the challenges they will face as adults in the 21st century. Schools that have been open to collaboration with external partners on the CP programme have had their aspirations transformed, achievement raised, and have been better able to redefine what it means to succeed. Schools’ projects have been focused on a diverse range of issues, such as literacy and numeracy, use of outdoor space and engaging parents, pupil voice, enterprise and employability, problem-solving, pupil self-esteem and motivation.

Unlocking creativity
When I first joined CP in 2004, Estelle Morris, a former secretary of state for education, challenged us ‘to encourage schools to draw on support of creative individuals to help reshape time, space and skills in schools.’ It was not by chance that she followed the challenge with ‘Now is the time!’

The comment felt like a rallying call to action. Having been a teacher for many years before joining CP, I was committed to exploring new approaches to teaching and learning, but often felt that I did not have the necessary time and space within school to reflect on my teaching and collaborate with others. The Government investment in CP has given schools the capacity to build on years of good practice in working with external partners and extend the sustainability of these partnerships.

It is 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. Among many reports focusing on the value of creativity in education and learning, the National Advisory Committee for Creativity in Culture and Education (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 importance of creativity and partnership working for the development of learners.

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. The new Secondary Curriculum Review  shows that true potential for flexibility, and possibly quite revolutionary change, comes in the language of the key concepts in the programmes of study that outline the importance of cultural, creative and critical understanding. The review offers up a curriculum that has the potential to offer a new way of looking at subjects, with the capacity to make key concepts or skills and processes a starting point that might lead us away from a content-led curriculum. More broadly, it identifies key links in learning, including global awareness, enterprise, sustainability, technology and media literacy, that are crucial if young people are to thrive and survive in modern society.

Leading creative learning
Participation in Creative Partnerships is seen as a key contributor to the marked improvements in the school’s SATs results. Creative Partnerships has provided me with the time and opportunity to work with my staff to develop new approaches to teaching and learning across the school.
Headteacher, Barmston Primary School, Durham

Although schools have an array of competing priorities, and what feels like daily systemic barriers to developing creative approaches, the climate is sympathetic to exploring their benefits. Having mentored many colleagues during my teaching career, I am sympathetic to factors that mitigate against allowing space within the classroom for young learners’ self-expression. The flexibility needed for creative approaches can lead teachers to feel that they will lose control in the classroom.

What many teaching colleagues call ‘the C word’ is not the preserve of the gifted few. Given the right qualities, environments and characteristics, it can be developed in anybody. It is not something that can simply be mined from a prescribed body of evidence but is dependent on the way in which students interact with the content of creative programmes. To tap in to the creativity of your pupils, you will need to move out of your own comfort zone. This pays dividends in raising motivation and achievement. One of the keys to unlocking some of the fear of taking on these new approaches is to work with a creative practitioner.

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 and the planning and preparation of projects. School staff can benefit hugely from professional development that focuses on developing their own creativity. Giving staff access to mentoring programmes and professional development that supports effective partnership working can also help teachers gain the confidence to take on new approaches that can motivate young learners.

How Creative Partnerships operates
Far from aligning with an externally imposed agenda, you have an internally derived agenda with external support and interest … As a school, you then have a new pair of eyes, a different imagination working with you, shaping ideas together, challenging your thinking, helping to drive the process and making new links.
Enid Fraser, Headteacher, Parkview School, Barrow-in-Furness

CP provides young people with the opportunity to develop creativity in learning. It does not offer pre-packaged solutions. It brings resources and expertise and is a change programme  designed to build sustainable relationships between schools, creative individuals and organisations. This programme encourages students to think independently, take risks and ask questions.

Schools wishing to take part in creative partnerships identify their individual needs before developing a long-term, sustainable relationship with creative practitioners. These might include architects, theatre companies, museums, web designers, film-makers, fashion designers, inventors and scientists.

Once the partnerships are formed, they drive projects designed to capture the imagination of pupils, teachers, parents and community groups alike. At the heart of the programme is the passionate belief that everyone is creative and has the right to participate in the varied and exciting culture of this country. Partnerships’ influence extends well beyond the arts, often raising achievement in basic skills and dramatically improving behaviour. They help to bring a spirit of fun and discovery to everyone’s learning.

Ofsted noted, in its inspection report for CP (October 2006):
Without exception, schools valued opportunities to plan with a creative practitioner. The questions asked by them about the purpose and relevance of intended strategies, linkage between subjects and use of time and resources, resulted in initiatives that provided pupils with the ‘unpredictable experiences’ that stimulated creativity. The majority of teachers involved in projects identified a shift in their planning towards more open-ended outcomes while remaining clear about learning objectives.

One project may address poor reading skills at Key Stage 4. Another may explore how the geography curriculum can be made more attractive to young people at Key Stage 3. There are projects that have focused entirely on re-engaging a small group of disaffected boys in Year 11, whose behaviour is affecting the aspiration and performance of the whole year.

In all cases, CP will ensure that teachers have the opportunity to plan in depth and, where necessary, the time and resources to undertake further research. Working with the school, CP will identify appropriate creative practitioners and recruit them to work on the project. It will provide training to both teaching staff and creative practitioners to prepare them for working together.

Once the project is completed, CP encourages thoughtful evaluation and reflection and will use the experience to revisit the school improvement plan. Often it will trigger changes to the plan as new priorities emerge from the experience.

Inevitably, this process generates new ideas, projects and approaches, each more ambitious than the last. Again, careful planning, research, training and the identification of appropriate practitioners take place.

At this level, projects may include a whole year group contributing to the creation of an installation within school, involving input across many curriculum subjects. Another may see a secondary school collapsing its entire curriculum for Year 7 into a single subject title ‘cultural studies’, over which teachers of English, history, languages, maths, science and art collaborate to generate and deliver a coherent multi-layered curriculum.

Long-term relationships between lead creative practitioners and schools lie at the heart of this process. Creative practitioners bring a new approach; they have different expectations of young people and, when these are set high, the young people rise to the challenge, frequently astonishing their teachers. They bring a different language and practice that stretches and challenges teaching staff and young people. The creative practitioners also benefit. They too are challenged, encouraged to develop new practices and exposed to new voices and different world views. Their personal practice is enriched.

What is creativity? Creativity is defined by the NACCCE as: Imaginative activity fashioned so as to produce outcomes that are both original and of value.

All our futures: creativity, culture and education, NACCCE, 1999

Searches for encyclopaedic definitions of creativity often throw up more than 50 different definitions. It is certainly beyond the scope of this article to start to list them. Many things come to mind when you think of creativity, such as people being imaginative, inventive, taking risks and challenging convention. You may consider notions of originality and the value of what people produce. Many believe that you can only be creative if you are artistic.

The definition above has guided much current thinking in education. This report states that we are all, or can be, creative to a lesser or greater degree if we are given the opportunity. Creativity is described as having four characteristics:

  • thinking or behaving imaginatively
  • purposeful activity – that is, it is directed to achieving an objective
  • generation of something original out of the process
  • the outcome must be of value in relation to the objective.

It is useful at this stage to distinguish between creativity and innovation. Creativity is typically used to refer to the act of producing new ideas, approaches or actions, while innovation is the process of both generating and applying such creative ideas in some specific context. Creative Partnerships Durham and Sunderland have developed a creativity wheel which has proved effective in helping to track students’ creative development.

Modelling creative process
Creative schools are like creative learners – modelling the creative process, they are questioning, reflective, tolerant of ambiguity and celebrate difference. 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 a willingness to embrace open-ended outcomes, challenge and risk. 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 as one of their greatest assets, asking difficult questions and challenging how a school operates.

Second, 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, to make connections, modelling skills for creativity that we want to develop in young people.

Third, and perhaps most important, 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. The box above gives details on how to evaluate your school’s creativity.

Enriching the curriculum
Dome fever has taken over. Dance, drama, music, English, geography and science want to use the space.
Richard Harris, Headteacher, Sandwich Technology College, Kent

The curriculum is extensively enriched through the school’s creative partnerships, which contribute positively to pupils’ social development … There is evidence that more innovative learning strategies are developing as the project impacts positively on the effectiveness of teaching.
Ofsted report for Islington Arts and Media School, March 2004

The East of Eden project at Sandwich Technology College, Kent, involved the college working with Arts Catalyst and artist Lucy Stockton-Smith, planning, designing, building and fully utilising two geodesic domes in the school grounds. Each dome is a microenvironment, one using organic farming and the other commercial farming methods. The project started from small beginnings to involve more than 10 teachers across curriculum areas and is now utilised by staff across the curriculum to explore ecosystems and sustainable development in geography, environmental chemistry and food production in science and many aspects of design technology. These range from the design of the dome and interiors to heating and cooling systems, irrigation and hydration systems.

At Stoke Newington Media Arts College, staff and students worked with SODA, a creative technology company specialising in play, learning and outdoor installation. The Energy Project – a three-term project across seven departments, involving 240 Year 8 students – has encouraged new ways of working across year groups, giving a real sense of common purpose to real-life learning within the school community. Although the focus was on Year 8, one of the ambitions of the project was to embed creative elements of the project in schemes of work for other year groups for delivery in future years.

These are tried and tested examples of projects but they are developed to meet the particular needs of a particular school and may not translate to your school environment. The key is to build a community of enquiry in schools to begin to ask questions about learning that are relevant for your school.

Some of the examples of questions that were raised by schools include explorations into how adults’ attitudes encourage students’ creativity and whether filmmaking and using role-play and personification enhance pupils’ understanding of abstract scientific concepts? One of our projects asked: ‘What should learning be like?’ Whether you want to find a solution to Year 7 comments that they find moving around 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.

Involving young people
Partnership works best when everyone from the school is on board and really committed and believes in the positive effects that can result. It also comes through planning, proper preparation and everyone being signed up, enthused and having a full understanding of what we are doing and, more importantly, why we are doing it.
Rob Harris, creative partner, Slough

Embarking on a truly learner-led, enquiry-led project, involving young people as early as possible in the entire process, will lead to a much greater degree of engagement and learning for everyone involved. This is an ambitious undertaking but, with the right commitment and investment of time in thoughtful planning, it will lead to growth and discovery. A project does not have to involve large numbers or large-scale events, it may be best to start with something more manageable. Taking the time to plan together with the pupils is a substantial part of the learning. As Rachel Dickins, Assistant Headteacher of Deansfield High School, Wolverhampton (see the case example below) suggests, we may arrive at a place where school staff, students and external partners are confident that they will be listened to when they want to move an idea forward.

Creative Partnerships is the Government’s flagship creativity programme for schools and young people, managed by Arts Council England and funded by the DfES and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). It aims to develop:

  • the creativity of young people, raising their aspirations and achievements
  • the skills of teachers and their ability to work with creative practitioners
  • schools’ approaches to culture, creativity and partnership working
  • the skills, capacity and sustainability of the creative industries.

What is Creative Partnerships?

Creative Partnerships focuses on the most deprived communities in England. The programme achieves its aims by nurturing the creativity of learners and educators, and developing creative approaches to teaching all aspects of the curriculum.

Creative Partnerships enables headteachers to realise their personal vision for a school, freeing them up to innovate and succeed. It encourages an approach designed around the needs of the individual school, with learning tailored to the needs and aspirations of each pupil.

Creative Partnerships enables schools to work with creative practitioners to develop a broad, balanced and relevant curriculum. It does so by supporting a range of creative practitioners to work in partnership with schools in long-term sustained relationships.

For examples of projects, full evaluation reports and other resources, visit

Creative Partnerships in numbers

Since 2002 Creative Partnerships has:

  • supported 4,747 projects in every area of the curriculum
  • worked intensively with more than 1,100 schools, 550,000 young people, 46,000 teachers, 4,250 creative professionals and organisations and 31,500 parents
  • developed continuing professional development  opportunities for more than 1,000 other schools.

Creativity: find it, promote it

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority’s (QCA) three-year research project, Creativity: find it, promote it, identified the following three characteristics about the importance of creativity:

  • creativity improves pupils’ self-esteem, motivation and achievement
  • creativity prepares pupils for life: an important aim of the national curriculum
  • creativity enriches pupils’ lives.

The QCA project outlined the following creative behaviours that can be identified and promoted:

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

For further information see

What is different about creative learning?

  • Students 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 from a broader range of professional expertise – they can be artists but can also be architects, web designers, chefs, gardeners, engineers and scientists
  • School staff, external partners 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 in to 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

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 taking creativity seriously, and would like to use 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.

Funding and partners

There are often resources implications to partnership working. However, many schools, initially resistant to trying new approaches, are now finding money within school budgets from personalisation funding as well as extended schools, enterprise, Aimhigher and gifted and talented initiatives. For further information on finding and funding partners, look on the Creative Partnerships website for examples of project work:

Each project will give details of the partners involved and you can contact those partners in your region for further conversations. For other sources of partners, funding and advice on planning, delivery and evaluation of partnership projects, see the Building creative partnerships: a handbook for schools at

The quality of work that has come from the school’s link with Creative Partnerships is truly amazing and a very special feature of life at Deansfield.
Ofsted letter to pupils, Deansfield High School, Wolverhampton, 2006

Black Country Creative Partnerships focuses on supporting schools in developing their role within local communities, involving pupils in community consultation and taking an active part in the regeneration of the Black Country. It is currently working with 65 schools, building sustainable networks to promote motivation and creativity in schools across the subregion. Deansfield High School in Wolverhampton is one of six innovation centres that all have excellent creative practice.

The school has worked with Creative Partnerships since 2002 and has seen the benchmark of students achieving more than five A*–C GCSE rise from 19% to 52%. This has helped the school to rebuild a strong relationship with the community through new opportunities to celebrate pupils’ work and extensive regional and international media recognition.

Creative Partnerships has given pupils a renewed interest and voice in their education, has inspired staff and established new working relationships.

Steve Hawke, Headteacher, Deansfield High School, says:
Creative Partnerships makes my life difficult sometimes because I have to be a risk taker. It can create flak, because of classes being off timetable – but I can take this, in the knowledge that the bigger picture is being enhanced.

The school has developed many exciting projects and built long-term partnerships in the public and private sector. These include an award-winning regeneration scheme, Planning for Real, involving pupils in the creative aspects of a new housing development by Persimmon Homes.

Persimmon has recently recruited Year 11 pupils to be trained in sales and marketing and the school has secured arts and business funding to develop coursework; pupils will be hosting open weekends on the £15m Dean’s Park development near the school.

There are 19 distinct Creative Partnership projects at Deansfield High School this year and they involve around 30 members of staff and at least 500 pupils. These include fashion, regeneration, crime reduction, teenage pregnancy, interior design, healthy eating, public art and construction as starting points for personalised learning.

Creative Partnerships coordinator Rachel Dickins explains:
Ofsted’s endorsement of our approach, along with Guardian coverage has really encouraged us to continue developing our pupil-led approach to Creative Partnerships. As an innovation centre, we are more ambitious than ever this year and this has helped us raise around £70,000 in additional funding.

Becky Swain is Senior Officer in the learning team at Creative Partnerships’ national office. Becky is a former secondary teacher and theatre education officer.