Just let your mind dance

3rd March 2006 at 00:00
100 Ideas for Teaching Creativity

By Gerald Bowkett

Continuum pound;8.99

Creativity in Schools: tensions and dilemmas

By Anna Craft

Routledge pound;22.99

The Creative College

Edited by Graham Jeffery

Trentham Books pound;18.99

"Hush, hush whisper who dares, Christopher Woodhead is creeping upstairs."

Not very creative, but the idea used to be enough to make one shudder, rather after the fashion of children listening to a Grimm fairy tale. But where the Grimm tales are scary but fictional, the stories exchanged between teachers of inspectors' excesses in the Ofsted Woodhead years were both frightening and true. They are still occasionally recounted with a mixture of amusement and suppressed anger by staffroom veterans up and down the country to the disbelief of newcomers who think their senior colleagues must have invented their own bogeyman.

For those of you with a strong stomach and high irritation threshold, Chris Woodhead is billed to appear on the opening morning of the Education Show next week. But you can reassure yourself by coming back after lunch when Sir Ken Robinson will leave you spellbound, amused and energised. Both are speaking about creativity in education, in schools and the curriculum.

One's in favour, the other against; there are no prizes for guessing which is which. These books will serve to illuminate the debate.

Most teachers love creativity. Before the national curriculum arrived teachers were expected to be creative about what they taught and how they taught it. (After all, if something doesn't work with a group or an individual, you'd be barmy not to try something different.) Stephen Bowkett's 100 Ideas for Teaching Creativity, therefore, will particularly appeal.

Written by an outstanding teacher of English for many years in Leicestershire schools, the book contrives to be more than it appears: a logical sequence of seven sections with a page for each idea. You can read it either as 100 good ideas for your teaching, or as a connected and coherent whole, or as a guide to becoming a creative teacher, or as a reader on teaching creativity to your pupils. There is bound to be something that will appeal to any teacher interested in refreshing and extending their repertoire of skills.

Anna Craft's original, thoughtful and thorough Creativity in Schools is pitched at a more scholarly level than Bowkett's book, but also relates theory to practice. It is worth buying for the spellbinding foreword, "Don't come strutting in here Johnny Confident", by Tim Smit, the founder of the Eden project. If, like me, you glance at the back of a book before buying it, this one comes with glowing commendations from no lesser figures than the multiple intelligences pioneer Howard Gardner, Sir Ken Robinson, and Professor Guy Claxton, author of the bestselling Hare Brain Tortoise Mind.

Craft starts by outlining the economic, social, political and technological changes that have put such a premium on creativity today, why this raises such huge issues for education and what ought to be happening in schools.

Proceeding through the implications for the content and organisation of the curriculum, for pedagogy - implicitly justifying Stephen Bowkett's practical approach - and for the dilemmas for teachers in the classroom, she concludes by setting an agenda for the development of practices which will promote creativity in schools, and for further theoretical work by researchers. For example, she cites the importance of linking creative project work in primary schools with mainstream subjects by agreeing goals for understanding and learning so that creative work has purpose and coherence. Buy this for your staff library, or the leader of professional development. It would be particularly useful in any school that encourages staff to take higher degrees based on action research.

The third book lies somewhere between Bowkett's and Craft's approach. It's a case study on the Newham sixth-form college in east London, focusing on how it adopted creativity and the arts as its defining theme. This is an uplifting story of the outstanding results possible when a talented group of individuals get together under creative leadership and decide to break the mould. Here you will learn of imaginative partnerships with local professional and amateur arts organisations and with higher education, and of active international collaborations. Everything is put in the context of an inclusive college determined to touch the artistic in all its students.

Graham Jeffery, unlike so many editors, takes his task seriously and brings coherence to the work by making a powerful contribution himself in the introduction and by providing three of the five chapters. Reading a book like this reminds you of how schools used to be before the national curriculum cast its suffocating cloak on teachers' imaginations. And remember that Woodhead ushered in the first convoluted version of that, too.

Tim Brighouse is chief adviser for London schools. See this week's Teacher magazine for a guide to Education Show highlights

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