From creative sparks to commercial arts

12th November 2010 at 00:00
An innovative scheme that offers real-life challenges, professional mentoring and commercial exposure is part of a wider attempt to embed creativity in schools. Hannah Frankel reports

It could have been a task from TV's The Apprentice. But the "Come to Woolwich" poster campaign was led by teenagers, not adults, and instead of looking for business acumen it was all about encouraging creativity.

"Having a real brief and pitching to actual clients was a unique experience," says Shermaine Slocombe, arts manager at Kidbrooke School in Greenwich, one of the schools involved in the campaign. "It gave the pupils a reason to be creative."

Building links between students and the community is at the heart of a learning scheme to unlock pupils' ingenuity. By asking children to respond to challenges set by professionals, it promotes the idea that imagination is relevant to all subjects.

Dubbed the "creativity accelerator" by its founders, for its potential to produce results across the curriculum, the scheme will be the focus of a conference, sponsored by The TES, at Wellington College in Berkshire next week. An online version will also be launched at the event.

"Our mission is to help identify and nurture creativity in gifted young people who might not otherwise have access to these kinds of opportunities," says Robin Wight, founder of the Ideas Foundation, the charity behind the creativity accelerator idea. "We want to be there when pupils have their `A-ha!' moment," he says. "That creative spark is exactly the time they need support from experts."

Under the scheme, pupils are assigned a mentor to guide them through the process. If their work is good enough, it could be used commercially and open doors to work experience and jobs.

Ms Slocombe says the students' work on the "Come to Woolwich" campaign so impressed the client - Greenwich Council - that it planned to display the ads at the St Pancras Eurostar terminus and bus stops across London. Sadly, financial constraints meant the plans were shelved, but pupils still took away the positive response from the council. "It said the final posters were better than those that had been commercially produced," she says.

Sir Ken Robinson, guest speaker at next week's conference and chairman of the commission behind the seminal report All Our Futures in 1999, believes promoting creativity is vital. "When schools embrace creative education, pupils engage more, teacher morale is greater and achievement rises across the board," he says.

He makes the distinction between "teaching creatively", when teachers use their skills to inspire and engage, and "teaching for creativity", when pupils develop their own imaginations, creative skills and powers of original thought.

A 2008 study by the National Foundation for Educational Research found pupils who took part in activities run by the government programme Creative Partnerships made, on average, the equivalent of two and a half grades better progress in GCSE compared with similar young people at other schools.

But funding for the programme will cease at the end of this school year as part of budget cuts, potentially leaving a vacuum for the promotion of creativity. Dr Anthony Seldon, master of Wellington College, believes links between schools and the wider community can help prevent this. "The future economy of this country will largely depend on ideas and businesses that are yet to be created," he says. "We need to start imagining them now, bring them to life and put our schools and our young people at the heart of that creative process."

With Skinners' Academy in north London, Wellington College will pilot a creativity accelerator scheme. "It's an exciting initiative because it seeks to tap into the huge reservoir of talent that this country's young people possess, but which is too often neglected," Dr Seldon adds.

The scheme's online version aims to replicate work that the Ideas Foundation has been doing successfully in London and Manchester since 2004 and make it accessible to all schools. A series of six-month projects includes workshops, work experience and guided responses to creative briefs, which pupils can complete at a studio, university or company. One project involved pupils at Kidbrooke School creating Nokia applications for the modern foreign languages department, and another designing trainers for Puma.

About 20 schools have taken part online so far. The best work was showcased at an annual festival, where creative professionals were assigned to work with pupils. At Kidbrooke School, a musician helped pupils create music with balloons while artists and designers ran workshops on shadow puppetry, product design and fashion.

"We would not do this if it did not raise achievement," Ms Slocombe says. "The curriculum is not put on hold during the festival - it is simply accessed in a creative way. It has boosted work and results."

The Derby High School, a science and arts college in Bury, has also reaped the benefits of creative projects. The school devised its own brief: the creation of pupil planners. Youngsters taking the creative and media Diploma embraced the challenge and produced a planner that includes a mini hand-held whiteboard with eraser and pen, so that all pupils can give immediate, silent feedback in class.

A graphic designer was on hand to advise, but Lynn Provoost, assistant head and director of arts at the school, believes the input from students was invaluable. "It is a fantastic design," she says. "Because it was a meaningful project, the pupils could see the value in it. It has had a huge impact on the whole school. Now they are open on everyone's desk during every lesson."

Following the project, a survey found that just four out of 842 pupils did not like the new planners. Next year the planners will be updated by other pupils and turned into a virtual learning tool.

This culture of creativity has been extended to the school's website, where manga-style illustrations are used to depict school uniform rules and a virtual "study buddy" cartoon has been put up to encourage revision and note-taking.

Ms Provoost admits it takes hard work and time to embed creativity across the curriculum. And some subjects lend themselves to creative approaches more than others, but she insists creativity can enhance learning in every subject.

"Giving pupils access to interesting and meaningful work creates that passion," she says. "Pupils really will put the effort in because the work is truly valued, which, in turn, makes them feel valued."

Sir Ken recognises that different schools will have their own views on what creative teaching and learning should involve but believes there are common principles to follow. Promoting creativity across the whole curriculum is one, he argues. So is investment in professional development and cultivating creative partnerships with the wider community.

"Creative schools recognise that promoting higher levels of creativity is both an objective and a method for school improvement," he says. "There can never be enough creativity in British schools."

l The Creativity Accelerators conference is to be held at Wellington College, Berkshire, on November 19. See


- Professionals in creative industries write and upload industry briefs.

- Pupils develop creative responses with the help of allocated industry mentors.

- Pupils upload finished work.

- The best work is made commercially available.

- Work experience offers are linked to a pupil's electronic portfolio.

For more information, see

Brief Working as individuals and as part of a team, Kidbrooke students had to create a new trainer range for Puma, devise a 30-second advert and a pitch to promote it. Each pupil was assigned a role as planner, designer, marketeer, film-maker or creative director.

Fitting the bill: pupils produce a `Come to Woolwich' poster for Greenwich Council

Brief: The Woolwich Development Agency challenged students from Kidbrooke School to design posters that would promote the city as an interesting and exciting place to live, work and visit, as well as being a place of history, heritage and diversity. Greenwich Council was impressed by the results and planned to put them up at bus stops and at St Pancras station.

Ringleaders: students create their own Nokia phone apps

Brief: Kidbrooke School students were set the task of designing a mobile phone app for Nokia for foreign students visiting their school, or for young tourists in London.

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