Former head Roger Smith looks at ways of promoting creativity in schools, arguing that the concept needs to have its place at the centre of the curriculum.

Creativity and creative teaching are becoming part of the educational psyche but let’s set the concept of creativity within some kind of context. The government is beginning to recognise that young people need to develop the creative skills that will be necessary in the workplace of the future. Fast-moving technology and the increasing demands for flexibility and imagination mean that all our pupils need to be able to pose questions such as ‘what if …?’, ‘why?’ and ‘why not?’

It is also more than likely that, as young people start their careers, they will move jobs several times and will need the ability to cope with change so that they can produce creative solutions to increasingly complex environments. Creative teaching practices will help prepare them for this – promoting the  ability to solve problems, think independently and work flexibly.

In Expecting the Unexpected: Developing Creativity in Primary and Secondary Schools ( Ofsted suggests that ‘being creative’ and ‘creative teaching’ are not radical or new concepts – all that they really involve is a willingness to observe, listen and work closely with pupils to help them develop their ideas in a purposeful way.

Ofsted goes on to suggest that it is vital that school leadership is committed to promoting creativity because this support and encouragement will permit both pupils and teachers to work creatively and help to ensure that good practice is recognised, resourced properly and disseminated across the school. It identifies four characteristics of creativity in schools:

  • thinking and behaving imaginatively
  • imaginative activities take place in a purposeful way, ie related to a specific objective
  • the activity generates something original
  • there is value in the activity that is related to the original objective.

I think this is an interesting definition when it is applied to teaching and learning because it immediately removes any vague ideas that all creativity is about is lying on summer lawns thinking ‘creative’ thoughts that are never realised.

Purposeful creativity

Obviously, this kind of daydreaming can be part of a creative process but –and this is a big but – creative people actually do something. They are purposeful. They have an objective – whether it is an original recipe, a design for a bridge, a great painting or a beautiful poem.  Sometimes – and this is possibly part of the generation gap – teachers and pupils’ views about what is creative, in terms of being worthwhile and valuable, may differ. Many pupils may well feel that lying about ‘thinking’ about writing a poem is ‘wickedly’ original and creative. But most teachers and all those headteachers who are supporting creativity would argue that it involves action. Thinking about an imaginative idea and not doing anything about it is not being creative.

Creative schools are better schools

Creativity needs to be a whole-school issue. The National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education [NACCCE] is amassing a considerable amount of data that suggests that the more engaged pupils are in creative activities, the better the behaviour and the higher their achievements.

Ofsted notes that in the most effective schools:

  • headteachers placed the development of creativity high on their list of priorities
  • they were outward looking, welcoming and open to ideas from external agencies
  • there were no radical new teaching methods but pupils’ ideas were developed in a purposeful way.

The future of all current pupils rests on the wisdom of the decisions that they will make. A school where creativity is valued will be able to:

  • provide an environment where pupils go beyond the expected and are rewarded for doing so
  • help pupils find a personal relevance in learning activities
  • create a stable and structured ethos for a successful curriculum but at the same time create alternatives in the way information is taught and shared
  • encourage pupils to examine and explore alternative ways of doing things
  • give them time for this kind of exploration.

What can headteachers and senior managers do?

A creative school will be able to put creativity at the centre of the curriculum as well as provide the time, the resources and the professional development opportunities to be effective. Generating enthusiasm amongst teachers and pupils can be difficult. I would favour the big bang theory for creativity rather than the dripping tap where it is encouraged to simply filter slowly through the school.

Why not consider involving the whole school in one large cross-curricular creative event? How about it lasting a week that ends with assemblies and displays and where examples of pupils’ creativity is celebrated and rewarded and where parents and other members of the community are invited to come into school and share the creative successes? This is difficult to organise in a crowded timetable that is structured to a tight curriculum – but not impossible if you can provide the following flexibility:

  • timetable lessons so that they can be changed and adjusted easily
  • allow long blocks of time for creativity, eg a half day or whole day instead of the usual shorter blocks of time for lessons
  • challenge teachers to be different and to develop creative teaching strategies
  • develop better resources and working conditions so that pupils have access to materials, tools and spaces such as dance studios, music labs, computer suites etc
  • invite in creative artists such as actors, musicians, painters, computer software and games designers to run workshops
  • involve pupils in changing the environment – this can range from better and more creative displays to working with outside agencies to change parts of the site by improving outside areas etc
  • use the school community – ask around and you will find teachers, teaching assistants, parents and governors who have all kinds of creative talents that they will be willing to use as part of the school’s creativity drive.

It is people who are able to make or break new initiatives or prevent significant change from happening. Teachers will need training in creativity and it will need to be part of everyone’s performance management targets.

Teachers can promote creativity

If creativity is part of a staff development programme they are more likely to be enthusiastic about it. One of the most important points to make is that creativity doesn’t just arrive and settle in classrooms and become instantly successful. Teachers have to plan for it to happen. It might be possible for existing teaching styles, schemes of work and medium- and short-term plans to be modified in some way so that there is more potential for creativity.

It might also be the case that teachers will have to modify their approach and promote a range of teaching and learning styles that will allow many more pupils to demonstrate their creativity. This will only work, however, if pupils know their way around the subject that they are being creative about.

When lessons are being observed and teaching quality is being monitored, a creative teacher who encourages pupils to be creative should be able to demonstrate that they:

  • encourage open-ended questioning and promote and reward imagination and originality
  • increase their use of role-play, hands-on experimentation, problem solving and collaborative group work
  • create conditions for adventurous exploration of ideas as well as those for quiet reflection and concentration
  • use unexpected events where they are appropriate and, where appropriate, put aside what had been planned to go with some new idea without losing sight of the original broad objectives
  • are willing to stand back and let pupils take the lead.

Creativity is the future

The recently published QCA document, Creativity, Find it, Promote it suggests that pupils who are encouraged to be creative and independent become more interested in discovering things, more open to new ideas, keener to explore them – even willing to work beyond lesson time to do so!

Schools that promote creativity will ensure that all their pupils respond positively to opportunities and responsibilities and are better able to cope with new challenges as well as change and adversity.