Being creative is about asking the right questions

20th June 2003 at 01:00
A HISTORY of special measures and a lowly place in the league table led us to ask the question: "How else can we do it?"

For two years, the staff at our school, Huntington primary in Staffordshire, researched ideas about the brain, accelerated learning, multiple intelligences and learning styles.

To us, effective learning is a creative process which is more about skills and attitudes than content and which enables learners to work things out for themselves.

We found barriers to change were things such as our fears of missing targets, inspections, time constraints and over-prescription of content in our planning.

We set up a pilot programme in Years 3 and 4 to undermine these barriers.

The timetable was overhauled and spare time generated each week to be used at the class teacher's discretion. Learning was organised into five seven-week units over the year, with subjects taught in blocks, and there was an enrichment week between four of the units. Children used them to explore any aspect of the unit they chose, as long as it provided an opportunity to develop learning skills.

Each unit focused explicitly on thinking skills across the curriculum. For instance, children explored what it meant to be good at solving problems.

We made great use of outside experts, such as an artist in residence and a science expert, as well as field trips and museum visits.

The staff find this way of teaching more relaxing because they too have time to focus and reflect. The children's response has been fantastic and parents are becoming more involved.

As head, I have been thinking about whether the school's management structure and systems reflect our new way of thinking. For instance, we might move from a subject-based staffing structure to generic cross-curricular responsibilities. Why not have staff with responsibility for managing problem-solving across the curriculum? Our targets are realistic and reflect the high level of children with special needs. I have no difficulty in justifying these to any outside agency. We also set targets for processes such as raising self-esteem, which are much harder to measure.

Removing staff fear, giving people permission to experiment, to fail and to try again must happen in more schools for us to see a genuinely creative ethos return to the classroom.

Local and central government, as well as heads, need to think about the messages they are sending. My message to the staff was: this is what we believe, we trust what we know, don't worry about Ofsted (difficult for some, given our history) or the Local Education Authority. That's my job and I will stand between you and them to give our reasons for what we have done.

I wouldn't say we have the right answers. What is important is that we are asking the right questions and having the courage to address them. The school is a buzz of creativity - all year groups are moving to the new model in September and we hope to have a learning to learn curriculum in place by the spring.

Clare Robertson is head of Huntingtonprimary in Cannock, Staffordshire

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