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How free is your curriculum?

Gerald Haigh describes an attempt to see how inspired schools can be

Creativity is a word that goes blurry if you stare at it too long. What exactly does it mean in schools? And if it is a desirable quality, how does a school know it has enough of it?

It's a question that exercises Creative Partnerships for the obvious reason that the organisation needs to know how its money is being spent.

That's why the Black Country Partnership in the West Midlands has asked schools involved in its first two-year phase to carry out a self-review. A similar approach is being used with the eight Dudley schools now joining phase two. The purpose is to build a self-assessed baseline against which future progress can be measured.

Filling in the form isn't a 10-minute job. At Jesson's primary in Dudley, the head, Lucy Griffiths, undertook the task with her senior managers - helped by the experience of having applied successfully for the Arts Council's Artsmark Gold.

Mrs Griffiths is deeply committed to the arts, reeling off a list of visits and events that her school has undertaken, from extended art sessions to modelling clay animals, from hosting a Russian choir to rearing chicks in an incubator.

"Whenever Dudley heads get together, freeing up the curriculum is what we talk about," she says. "I've gone overboard on trips, for example. Every class goes on at least one every year and there's drama and dance based on it."

At nine pages, the self- evaluation document is probing. At the same time it's a good way of helping staff to identify the many creative activities and approaches in the school that aren't yet recognised. Significantly, the process homes straight in on the school's core purpose - one of the openers is: "How has the Creative Partnership programme supported the delivery of the school improvement plan?"

It quickly identifies, too, the importance of commitment from the top. "How effective has the management of the programme been in school?"

A guide soon to be published by the National College for School Leadership says creative schools demonstrate a passion for learning and for developing creativity across the whole curriculum, a strong sense of vision and professional confidence, a high priority given to staff development and a culture in which risk-taking is accepted and innovative ideas are shared and celebrated.

Details of the Arts Council's Artsmark awards: www.artscouncil.org.ukartsmark

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