Build your own tower of strength

12th September 2003 at 01:00
Creativity will flourish if child-centred learning is confidently supported. Diane Hofkins reports

Creativity is such a nebulous thing. How do you describe it? The Office for Standards in Education attempted to do this during the summer in its report Expecting the unexpected: developing creativity in primary and secondary schools. The inspectors made all sorts of relevant points - creative schools are outward-looking and flexible; creative teachers show "a willingness to observe, listen and work closely with children to help them develop their ideas in a purposeful way" - but what really brought it home was their description of the work of a nursery school:

"One child had visited Blackpool and become fascinated by the Blackpool Tower. When she came back to school, she talked a great deal about it and made drawings of it. She then began to use building blocks to make models of it but was not satisfied with the results. One of her teachers was on a visit to Blackpool and took a picture of part of the tower. When the child saw the photograph, she realised that the tower was not made of blocks but of girders and therefore decided that she would need to take a very different approach.

"By this stage, the whole school had become interested in the child's endeavours. So the staff decided to involve all the children. It was suggested by some of the children that beanpoles might be better than blocks. Therefore, the school invested in these and made space available in the workshop. The meticulous recording of the project's development showed how the school had adapted to the unexpected and given time and space for it to become a prolonged, detailed and challenging project".

This is unquestionably child-centred learning, but it is in no way woolly-minded. This was one of several nurseries they visited which had been influenced by the early years' philosophy of the Reggio Emilia region of northern Italy, whose Hundred Languages of Childhood exhibition regularly tours the world.

Starting from the basis that children are powerful, their approach gives three to five- year-olds considerable autonomy, with adults helping children realise their own creative intentions.

Nurseries do have more freedom to abandon their timetables for such activities, but surely this Blackpool Tower project is also an example of solid good practice, which will be achieved by more schools as they recognise the freedom they have to structure the curriculum according to their beliefs.

OFSTED'S CREATIVITY CHECKLIST

* Does the school have a commitment to promoting creativity: how is this expressed?

* Has creativity been discussed as a concept?

* Have the views of different subject areas been considered?

* To what extent do subject leaders across the curriculum promote creativity?

* Have examples of creative practice been explored?

* How is good practice identified and disseminated?

* What kinds of in-service training might be useful?

* What curriculum opportunities are there for subjects to combine meaningfully?

* Is the timetable flexible?

* How does the school environment reflect and stimulate its creative work?

* Do pupils have access to suitable accommodation, including computer facilities?

* Have criteria been identified to allow teachers to assess the development of pupils' creativity from year to year?

visit www.ofsted.gov.uk for the full report

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