Leadership - Put creativity at the heart of learning

20th December 2013 at 00:00
With a little imagination and careful selection of staff, you can bring the curriculum alive

There is nothing as rewarding in primary education as witnessing a child use their imagination. It brings joy to them and to everyone around them, and it is instrumental in providing a scaffold for academic achievement.

Yet such is the educational preoccupation with literacy and maths that school leaders for the 7-11 age group can end up sidetracking creativity or ignoring it altogether. In the pursuit of league table status and government approval, we stifle the essential creativity of the next generation.

It doesn't have to be this way. A school leader can set the educational agenda so that creativity and academic achievement sit side by side, delivering a much rounder education. To achieve this, creativity has to be at the heart of the curriculum.

This does not mean abandoning literacy and numeracy targets. Weston All Saints Church of England Primary School, where I am headteacher, is one of the top-performing state schools in the UK, and prides itself on the way it emphasises high literacy and numeracy standards as well as creativity. Contrary to popular opinion, it is possible to do both well.

The art of expression

The first step is to ensure that a link to the arts is present in every subject; it is important that every member of staff understands that creativity should not be embedded in all areas of the curriculum. For example, in a maths lesson, students might plan, scale, measure and create outside mazes. Learning is not sidelined to allow creativity, but is enhanced by it.

The school leader has to set this agenda and enforce it rigorously, encouraging teachers to be creative in order to produce the environment for creativity in their lessons. Without a leader steering and supporting, the impetus will quickly be lost.

Providing this type of opportunity and choice takes time, hard work, passion and commitment from the whole team. It also requires intelligent recruitment. Every teacher hired by our school is chosen because they offer something extra that the children will benefit from. For example, one of our staff members is an artist in her spare time and another works with sculpture.

But it is not just in lessons where the creative agenda has to be followed. After-school clubs and extracurricular activities should also be part of the philosophy. One of our learning support assistants holds a lunchtime knitting class and one of the kitchen staff, who is also an artist, works with the children to link food and art through artists such as Andy Warhol.

Much research supports the view that children perform better academically if they are involved in creative activities, and the Cambridge Primary Review Trust has highlighted the value of creativity for achievement. Our latest results also suggest that creativity plays its part in inspiring students to do well in all subjects: 98 per cent of the school's 11-year- olds achieved level 4 or better in their English tests and the figure for maths was 96 per cent, way above the national average of 80 per cent.

Although high standards in academic subjects should always be the priority, these figures aren't the only positive outcome of a creative curriculum. If students have been involved in something creative, they feel as though they can do anything. This confidence boost is beneficial in class and at home, and can help students to adjust as they move on to secondary school.

Bringing creativity into the curriculum may seem a daunting task, but it doesn't have to be. Teachers are central to a successful outcome. As a headteacher, I must assess opportunities for staff, listen and build capacity into their timetables, and have a realistic view of what can be achieved. At my school we are careful not to take on too many activities, which is a danger when you have a passion for something.

Success doesn't happen overnight, but integrating the arts throughout the curriculum will give students rich and exciting years at primary school. After 30 years in education, providing a creative environment and watching children flourish academically is still an inspiring adventure for me. School leaders need to realise that academic achievement does not mean that creativity has to be extinguished, and that it is their duty to provide a rounded and fulfilling educational experience.

Dr Anne Bull is headteacher of Weston All Saints Church of England Primary School in Bath, south-west England

In short

  • Creativity is just as important for a rounded education as maths and literacy.
  • To teach creativity, it needs to be embedded into every aspect of the curriculum. This can inspire achievement in all areas of learning.
  • Integrating creativity across the curriculum may seem daunting, but with strong leadership it can be a seamless and highly productive process.

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