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Solution to the creative block

In theory, the promotion of creativity has always been an aim of the national curriculum. In practice, marrying the two has caused problems and organisations such as the think-tank DEMOS and the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts have produced reports about what creativity might be and how it could be promoted. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has to try and put these notions into practice and has produced an admirable pack entitled Creativity: Find It, Promote It. This offers a range of case studies of creative activities in a variety of subject contexts.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the activities acknowledge that to develop creative skills, pupils must have the chance to create. This requires them to generate ideas, perhaps informed by research into a topic. The next step is to test these ideas, usually by creating something. This process really needs to be iterative so the ideas can be reflected on and developed.

The educational value of this process is evident immediately, both in the intellectual development and the usefulness of such skills in personal and work-related life. So why has it been so hard to accommodate creativity in the curriculum that it requires a special national project to raise its profile?

One reason might be that for the creative process to be meaningful, a task must be worked on over time, perhaps over weeks. Before literacy and numeracy lessons, the structure of the primary school day made this relatively easy. However, now it is more difficult. The secondary day has always posed difficulties for subjects not traditionally seen as creative and therefore only experienced for short periods. By the time the paraphernalia associated with much creative work is assembled, the bell goes for the next lesson change. As a result, creativity is often restricted to special project work.

What has this to do with ICT? First, many of the most powerful ICT-based learning activities are creative and, second, some of the time-consuming elements of the creative process can be made more manageable when they are ICT-based. Creative activities that include research, exploration of ideas and making a product which describes your ideas are easily supported and enhanced with ICT; this can be anything from writing a factual essay to creating a digital video or animation that tells a story or explains concepts. These sort of tasks provide an opportunity to learn; find, analyse and use information; apply new and old knowledge to new situations; be flexible; and to work in a team - all key skills the creative industries are crying out for and which our school leavers seem to lack.

And why does ICT play such an important role? Because of two features: it opens access to sources of relevant skills and content information which have not been readily available in schools before the internet; and because it opens access to tools to create and manipulate a digital product with a facility and power that analogue equivalents do not support. The power of such approaches, supported by ICT, can bring the curriculum to life. A visit to the Highwire website proves what pupils can do given the opportunity and inspiring support.

Angela McFarlane is professor of education and director of learning technology at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Bristol

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