I had a wonderful hour-long conversation with one of my best friends among the headteacher community of Milton Keynes last week who encouraged me to get back into headship because “OFSTED were valuing all the sort of things that I valued” and they needed people like me in headship.
There is quite a lot to unpick in that statement – about me, my intentions and about OFSTED. I am not going to try any analysis here, except to highlight the apparent (and I believe it is apparent but possibly not yet real) OFSTED commitment to what is loosely called creativity.
If you have been following this blog for any time you will realise that I do not really hold with any concept of creativity that disallows human creativity as a subset of God the Father’s own creativity in the world. We are not creators – we are co-creators and discoverers. There is nothing “new” that God has not already intentioned. However, that is somewhat, in the debate about creativity in schools, beside the point.
There is an urgent need to see the school curriculum as a source and outworking of the human creativity that comes from being made in the image of God, and it is to the shame of western educators in the last 30 years that we have made it about standards and at a time of great human flourishing in education, narrowed the curriculum firstly to the 11-12 subjects that have always been in there, and then to the EBacc and then to the core subjects and finally, in many Year 6 settings, to English and Maths, themselves narrowly defined. “Creative” education has been relegated to “the arts” as though scientists, writers and mathematicians are not naturally creative people.
This is the burden of a new report on creativity in schools from the University of Durham. So prominent is it expected to be that it has been given the informal title the “Durham Commission Report” in much the same way that the “Cambridge Primary Review” took the name of a university and attached it to a document. Over two years in the making, the report’s commissioners are from the great and the good in the world of creative arts (principally, but not only) and they have interviewed across the spectrum of education – teachers and leaders among them – to come up with something that they hope will pressure the DfE and other government bodies to give creativity a purpose and home in the curriculum.
It is an interesting exercise. They have paid due attention to the work of previous reviews and commissions on the subject of creativity over the last 52 years, starting with Plowden in 1967 and the 1999 Robinson Report (NACCCE) which did so much to alter the thinking of the government and to define creativity for us (the process of having original ideas that have value) – rooting it in the concept of originality rather than in the development of what already exists, or within the scope of beauty or goodness (which might serve as better criteria than originality).
The essential conclusions of the report are few and straightforward:
- that creativity is expressed through and in life, as an embodied concept;
- that it can be taught and that its exercise is beneficial to all people at all stages of their lives.
- that creative approaches to teaching as well as the teaching of creative approaches will “result in young people who have an ability to express their creativity and have the personal creative confidence” to support their lives in work, play and community.
- that the teaching of this creative capacity should be an entitlement for all young people, regardless of school or background.
- that as well as schools, parents, local communities and cultural institutions have a role to play in developing this capacity, and that a more creative-aware approach by all these bodies will help change the milieu in which young people grow.
- that this work is at its infancy and faces many obstacles.
The vision that underpins this work is one that seeks to support wellbeing, identity, community and what they call mobility (a different concept to that commonly understood but relating to technological advances) through 5 areas:
- Schools to be better enabled to provide for, establish and sustain the conditions for the promotion of creativity from early years to post-16.
- Teaching for creativity to be part of the academic rigour sought by schools across all subjects, even if creativity looks different from discipline to discipline.
- Teaching for creativity will include a range of classroom and communal practices and approaches that provide for both creative thinking and creative learning.
- The provision of opportunities will develop young people’ creative capacity by a combination of creative learning and good subject grounding.
- Cultural, industrial, collaborative, innovative, future-proofing and problem-solving advantages will accrue to us as a nation through the enlargement of creative capacity of young people entering the workforce.
The authors are no starry-eyed dreamers. They correctly identify a number of barriers to this – school focus on achievement in a narrow curriculum, unwillingness to collaborate, lack of courageous leadership and the lack of engagement of both educational and arts organisations – all are cited as possible problems.
The recommendations of the report can be summarised thus:
- Establish a network of 9 pilot Creativity Collaboratives across the country, to be evaluated after three years and enlarged upon where successful, funded by the DfE, Arts Council and educational trusts.
- DfE and Ofqual to have a good look at how the current exam structure and content is hindering the development of scholarship and craftsmanship.
- Schools that have gone down this creative path successfully to be recognised and noted by Ofsted, with “case studies of good practice” shared.
- DfE to support English schools’ participation in in PISA 2021 evaluation of creative thinking in order to influence and shape the framework.
- HE institutions to with with Creativity Collaboratives to develop research-informed practice to evaluate creativity and measure its impact.
- The education system should support young people in engagement with digital technologies, through training teachers in digital literacy/creativity, and asking NESTA to manage a pilot program to find out how digital education in schools can develop the creative digital skills needed by employers.
- Arts and culture to be fully in the curriculum, essential in every phase, via a National Plan for Cultural Education (CE), full NC arts provision to end of Y9 at the earliest, a rethink of the ArtsMark to focus on creativity, arts and culture, and CPD provided (by the Arts Council and DfE) for teachers in arts subjects.
- Start as early as possible: 0-4 curriculum should have creativity and teaching for creativity at its heart, with new ELGs from 2021.
- More extra-curricular creativity, through the sciences, arts and humanities, to be established across the country through existing and new hubs of provision.
- Creative capacities required by employers should be built into qualification frameworks, including that for apprenticeships. so that “the creative capacities that employers seek and which will enable [young people] to be resilient and adaptable, to pursue portfolio careers and engage in lifelong learning.”
As you will have seen from the last of these ten recommendations, this is a thoroughly neo-liberal, market-driven document, rooted in the OECD’s vision for young people and for western economies, where any mention of “community” is only made in the sense of being the milieu in which the self-referencing, resilient creative individual is meant to pursue lifelong learning in order to better the national wealth. There is nothing here about community as being the generous recipient of work done by its members, of the cultural life of communities as an end in itself.
There is nothing in this document about issues of faith, religion or personal belief. There is nothing in it about family or community except in the sense alluded to above. I suspect, though cannot prove, that the commission started with a deep concern for the kind of lives that children could have if they were enabled to develop their creative capacity better (this is a highly godly desire and one we should give a huge welcome to), but in order to get a hearing from the DfE had to show “impact” and “relevance” and a match to the national needs as perceived by the ministry. It feels like that. There are some passages in the document that promise much in the title and fail to deliver. There is, by way of example, a long section (Chapter 3) dealing with the “value of creativity” to identity and community (individual and collective creativity), to mobility (economic growth, creative competencies and employment skills, and automation) and wellbeing (mental health, young people’s relationship to technology) that focuses almost exclusively on economic benefit and on those aspects of personal and social health that will result in economic benefit. It is as though the commissioners, despite themselves, and enshrined in a neo-liberal bubble and can only see one definition of success.
This is why their definition of creativity is so weak – even Ken Robinson’s is weak, and that was one of the best. It simply leaves out the creative purpose of human life, to walk before God humbly and grow in knowledge of Him through the use of all the faculties that He has graciously poured out on each one. It is a good and worthwhile report, this Durham Commission report, but it only meets half the human need, even within its chosen brief.
I have ordered David I Smith’s 2018 book “On Christian Teaching” which I think will give many new perspectives on the pedagogies that enable children and young people to flourish. I will need to revisit creativity in the light of that book, I think. There is so much more to what we mean by creative development of young people than that contained in even the wildest aspirations of the authors of this report. Creativity, like so many words, has been re-branded in the contemporary discourse, and needs rethinking once again in the light of the life of God who made us the creative wonders that we are.