Great imaginings: how creative thinking may have come of age

12th June 2009 at 01:00
The benefits of moving teaching beyond narrow academic parameters could be more far-reaching than originally realised

Ten years ago, a report was published that in many ways defined the optimism that characterised much of New Labour's early approach to education in England. All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education argued that Britain's success in the 21st century would be dependent on the intellectual capital of our creative sectors: the nation's schools needed to make creativity a cornerstone of its teaching.

As the financial pillars of economic success have crumbled in the global economic downturn, the legacy of All Our Futures has become increasingly important.

The report argued that, in order to meet the challenges of a post- industrial economy, schools needed to teach pupils how to be creative and to think imaginatively about solutions to problems.

Paul Collard, chief executive of Creativity, Culture and Education, a charity set up earlier this year to run creative and cultural programmes in schools, said that, while the report had some impact, there was still a long way to go. "The sector of the economy that will work for us long term is the creative industries. It is that ability to invent jobs from nothing, from ideas, that we need.

"When the report came out in 1999, it represented the cutting edge of thinking about teaching the workforce for the 21st century. There is a real sense now that we were ahead of the pack then and that the lead is being eroded. We should be spending billions unlocking the talent of young people. It is the only wealth we have left."

One of the largest schemes to emerge from All Our Futures was Creative Partnerships, launched in 2002 with Pounds 110 million of initial funding. Relaunched in 2008 as three specific programmes relating to sport and the arts, it gives pupils opportunities to work with creative professionals, such as fashion designers, writers, artists and entrepreneurs. Originally targeted at schools in the most deprived areas in England, it is now open to all and has been praised by Ofsted inspectors.

Creative Partnerships has worked intensively with over 2,700 schools across England, and more than 12,800 schools have had some involvement in the programme.

In 2006, Ofsted inspectors found that the programme stimulated children's creativity, improving their ability to take risks, show resilience and collaborate, but said pupils were often unclear about how they could apply these skills independently.

The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) discovered that young people involved in Creative Partnerships activities achieved GCSE results two-and-a-half grades better than similar young people in other schools. The projects could also be linked to a reduction in truancy in primary schools.

Caroline Sharp, who directed the research, said it was not possible to say definitively that being involved in the scheme was the cause of the better grades, but other obvious factors had been ruled out. "All Our Futures has had an impact. Certainly, schools took account of the ideas in it, that creativity and cultural education are things schools can teach children. It has recognised that creativity is not something children either have or not, but is something education can help facilitate and foster. That is accepted now."

The recommendations of the primary curriculum review by Sir Jim Rose, scheduled to be adopted in English schools in 2011, will go some way to achieve this, says Sir Ken Robinson, chair of the national advisory committee on creative and cultural education which produced All Our Futures. The Rose review presents a significant opportunity, he says, by providing more flexibility through prescribing less.

Sir Ken has long argued for schools to go beyond shoehorning creativity into the timetable as another school subject. "It is important that kids learn to read and write, understand science and history. But it's also important they develop their individual talents, that they all have their imagination stimulated, that education reflects the different ways they learn, that they leave school feeling confident, not humiliated."

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