Chris Fenton enthuses about the possibilities of reintegrating the curriculum, and making it more creative and relevant to children

The growth of the Foundation Stage over recent years and the movement of its ideas into KS1, have highlighted the continuous development of creativity within current educational thinking. The constraints of the QCA guidelines have in many cases led to a prescribed manner of long-term planning that in best case scenarios uses the local environment, local history and communities to highlight the learning intentions of the schemes and at worst is teaching by numbers.

The creative curriculum calls for professionals to reconstitute their long term planning. To look for opportunities to link themes, objectives and, perhaps most significantly, opportunities for PSHCE and citizenship to engage and involve children in their learning experience and prepare them for the 21st century. Through the new educational thinking, and the freedom it brings, we are able to build curricula that are not only relevant to the communities served by schools, but also to a world context.

All this new thinking, however, places primary schools in a dilemma as to how to achieve it. Some great examples can already be found in schools that are comfortable with their identities, curricula and ‘value added’. Such schools are often already embracing these initiatives since they are able to evolve through confident leadership at all levels. Senior teachers and leaders have the confidence in their procedures and ethos to allow creativity and innovation to flourish. Indeed, where an entrepreneurial spirit of education is an expectation of a school, new initiatives are merged into current practice with ease.

It is the schools facing challenges and pressures that will see the freedom on offer as an additional worry. It is these schools where the opportunities are in danger of not being truly realised, to the detriment of all stakeholders. Schools such as these are in need of confidence. The relative rigidity of the former curriculum can often provide this since such schools know that they are covering what is expected of them and can use the evidence they are gathering to help to build on progress and plan for change.

How, then, are such schools going to comfortably relax their curriculum and allow it to become more representative of the community when they are so reliant on the yardsticks of old?

It is my belief that these schools are the ones who will benefit the most from the opportunity to physically stop, look around at what they have achieved and where they need to develop and grasp the nettle of change. For, in its very essence, the creative curriculum is allowing schools to regain ownership of their curricula and, against a backdrop of standards, use their collective experience, understanding, professionalism and creativity to start again at the beginning. Consultation, communication and a shared vision are the tools that will enable schools in challenging circumstances to rebuild their confidence and assert a sense of professional ownership that, under supportive guidance, will allow them to flourish.

Where do we start?
The only place to start when taking on such a far reaching sense of change within a school is through the identification of a clearly constituted plan for change. Initial consultations on what the school would like to achieve and the type of school they would like to be are the obvious starting point. Since child-centred learning lies at the heart of what is on offer in order for schools to successfully ascertain how to achieve this, they must first look within themselves and find what their school ethos truly is.

A curriculum based around the needs and expectations of all school stakeholders, under the umbrella of an agreed ethos, can enhance the individuality of a school and create a ‘feel’ that is utterly unique to it. This uniqueness is what truly creates ownership and ultimately constitutes what the creative curriculum is about.

The freedom that comes with the creative curriculum gives an opportunity for schools to begin redefining themselves. It seems that the freedom to create a unified school ethos has benefits beyond a statement of intent. When teachers are nurtured in their creativity and managed in a way that values their experiences, child-centred learning follows naturally. Following a distributed approach to leadership allows teaching autonomy and the use of specialist teachers further embellishes the growing sense of ethos. Continuous appraisal will lead to successes being celebrated mutually and, where areas still need to be developed, they can be shared, and agreed movement identified.

Leadership teams need to identify the curricula, teaching and nurturing strengths and weaknesses of all staff as a means of building teams to address the challenge of rebuilding a curriculum. Of course, such an enormous change isn’t going to take place overnight, but a key strategy in motivating a culture of change is to identify which staff members would be more likely to embrace change and playing to their motivation. Any sense of change is often met by those who resist and indeed often fear it.

One of the most significant elements of change is the stress that comes along with it. Such significant changes in working practice, if managed unsympathetically, can lead to stress and ultimately a resistance to the change creating it.

The Encarta dictionary defines stress as ‘an unpleasant state of emotional and physiological arousal that people experience in situations that they perceive as dangerous or threatening to their well-being.’ The word stress means different things to different people. Some people define stress as events or situations that cause them to feel tension, pressure, or negative emotions such as anxiety and anger. Others view stress as the response to these situations. This response includes physiological changes – such as increased heart rate and muscle tension – as well as emotional and behavioural changes. However, most psychologists regard stress as a process involving a person’s interpretation and response to a threatening event.

Offering schools the opportunity to rebuild their individuality has automatically created stress due to the suspicion that has evolved over many years of scrutiny, headlines and statistics.

nderstandably, school teams are wary of committing entirely to such an embracing new strategy, but the investment and research into personalised learning and its relation to progress through the Foundation Stage fuels the drive to open up the learning experience of our children and should offer some level of confidence in the scheme.

Therefore, if school leaders are to be successful in demonstrating success in this area they need to remove the idea that this significant change is a threatening event and should reduce the possibilities of developing stress symptoms in staff by encouraging them to work collectively in creating their fantasy curriculum and nurturing enthusiasm from there.

It is the freedom on offer from the creative curriculum that is stifling in its enormity. Schools need to break it down through focus groups and continuous consultation and appraisal in order for staff to see the opportunities available to both teachers and learners as they develop.

Planning for the creative curriculum invites cross-curricular planning to be based around a question.  A recent example of blending the creative curriculum way of thinking into schools slowly was to invite teachers within key stages to plan a half term’s work around an agreed question. Each team returned with wildly different approaches to the exercise, emphasising two areas:

1) The creative curriculum is vastly autonomous, creating enthusiasm among staff creating/ delivering it and honing their skills.
2) Introducing a creative curriculum ignites a professional discussion and inspires teachers to consider how what they deliver impacts on the learner.

Schools embracing the changes and starting slowly are beginning to recognise the opportunities arising. The need for rigidity in measuring standards of teaching and learning are obvious, and school self-evaluation needs to form the basis of any changes taking place; however, learners learn in different ways and if the creative curriculum is inspiring teachers and leaders to consider how they help learners to achieve then any form of internal or external scrutiny should identify that children are learning because of enthusiasm and originality in the methods of teaching and the curriculum being taught.

As QCA and local authorities begin the process of explanation and offering advice on how to achieve the expectations on offer, schools and leaders need to be addressing the farther reaching elements of their curriculum. The impact on transition between key stages through the concept of seamless learning would serve to alleviate some of the stress placed on children when changing key stage. The drive to improve the number of educational visits being taken and to meet the strands of Every Child Matters, etc, can all be met through a well thought out and collectively agreed curriculum. Similarly, the ever approaching statutory nature of the citizenship curriculum and personal finance education can both be served through a broad, balanced and creative curriculum. The many awards and recognitions available to schools such as the Eco-School Award and the Healthy Schools Partnership can be inputted into creative planning so as to make their expectations a standard part of the curriculum.

The creative curriculum is charged with the expectation of bringing the curriculum alive. Explicit links between subjects and making them relevant to the personal communities of schools, with significant links to an understanding of our place within the world, can and will bring the curriculum alive, but only if it is a well managed process of change management that embraces the views of all concerned. Very often change management fails when it is attempted too hastily and is too autonomous. A ‘You will do!’ culture in place of a ‘What would you like to do?’ ethos has been the failing of many enthusiastic and dedicated headteachers in the past.

The nature of what is being proposed is far too important an opportunity for it not to be attempted enthusiastically, but above all else in a consultative fashion. Communication and professional appreciation are the keys to achieving a slow and constitutional change and an evaluation of every aspect of what a school does will give strong and suitable grounding to measured improvements in practice.

The world is evolving at a quickening pace and education has begun to recognise that in order to create adults who can function within it and contribute to it, the curriculum being delivered across the country needs to reflect the world around us. The creative curriculum and the opportunities it brings will not create a generation of super humans, nor will it take place overnight, but it will increase the chances of pupils regarding education as something to be enjoyed, a fact that will lead to a greater understanding of the possibilities available to them as they become the adults leading us forward.

Former headteacher Chris Fenton is currently an educational consultant