Creativity In English Schools Waae John Steers

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Creativity In English Schools Waae John Steers

Creativity In English Schools Waae John Steers

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  • 1. © John Steers 2009 Creativity in English schools Creativity was an item on the United Kingdom education agenda in the 1960s and early 1970s but then it seemed to disappear from view. Those teaching the arts continued to hold firmly to the belief that creativity was at the heart of everything they and that it was their exclusive prerogative in the curriculum (Ross, 1978). Ten years or so ago it reappeared amid increasing supportive rhetoric to a point where it has now become centre stage on the education and political agenda. Of particular interest is the way that creativity permeates the whole of the new English secondary curriculum, not just in the arts. It is listed as a key concept in seven out of fourteen statutory subjects as well as featuring in the cross-curriculum dimensions and among the personal learning and thinking skills. The ‘Creativity and critical thinking’ dimension of the curriculum includes the statement: This dimension enables young people to engage with the world around them in critical and creative ways and to take part in imaginative and purposeful activity across the entire curriculum. Creativity and critical thinking can unlock young people’s potential, leading to personal fulfilment, as well as contributing to the artistic, scientific or technological achievements that help shape and influence wider society (QCA 2008a). While this support for creativity is very good news nevertheless problems remain. How can arts teachers can effectively foster creativity in many of the inflexible, target driven school systems we have today? They can no longer blame the curriculum but other concerns dominate, especially assessment where requirements, both real and imagined, often run counter to the ethos of the curriculum. Teachers’ understanding of the term ‘creativity’ varies enormously – while creativity is not seen as the sole prerogative of the arts, when they are well taught they should have a particularly significant role. Creative students need creative teachers with the confidence to take creative risks. This takes exceptional commitment and vision in a high stakes education system with its pressures to conform created by a standardised curriculum, standard assessment tasks, examination targets, school league tables, constant initiatives to raise standards, intimidating inspection regimes, scarce resources and very limited subject-based professional development. Taken together these conditions severely limited the scope for individual teachers to take risks and be genuinely creative. 1
  • 2. © John Steers 2009 It is often argued that arts teachers are as a matter of course predisposed to creativity – they need to be in order to keep the curriculum fresh for themselves and young people. However in a closely monitored education system those who take such risks may be in a minority and there is a contrary tendency to make teachers adept at finding safe prescriptions for their students to enable them to satisfy examination assessment criteria. Students may be coached to replicate safe and reliable projects year after year and the creativity on display is really that of the teacher who devised the project rather than that of the students. We should remember that creativity is not an unqualified virtue. It is not just allied with the pursuit of ideas that are inventive, innovative and imaginative, but also with ideas that may be heretical or revolutionary. Sadly the innovative and imaginative outcomes of human creativity are just as likely to be malignant as beneficent. While creativity may be directed to sustainable development, preventing disease, famine and poverty it may equally be directed at designing weapons of mass destruction, plotting crimes against humanity, exploiting the vulnerable or encouraging the profligate use of scarce natural resources for commercial gain. (And, of course, ‘creative accounting’ may be a root cause of the current economic recession.) What are the limits on creativity in schools and in the classroom? Should there be any controls other than those related to common decency and the practicalities of health and safety? Clearly there are profound ethical, moral and sometimes religious issues that have to be faced in the creative classroom or studio that can be in conflict with the ethos of many schools – social institutions that often place a high value on some degree of conformity. Creative individuals are likely to display a range of characteristics, capacities and abilities that some teachers find hard to accommodate. For example: ° Tolerance for ambiguity – how often are teachers required to make everything clear-cut, define precise learning outcomes, eliminating all uncertainty? ° Flexibility and openness to alternative approaches – how is it that school managers and inspectors place such high value on adherence to schemes of work and detailed, sometimes minute by minute, lesson plans? ° Playfulness with ideas, materials or processes – how often do teachers insist students stop ‘messing around’? ° An ability to concentrate and persist, to keep on teasing and worrying away at a problem rather than seeking premature resolution – how often is there insistence that student assignments must be handed in on time to meet teachers’ arbitrary deadlines? 2
  • 3. © John Steers 2009 ° A willingness to explore unlikely connections and apparently disassociated ideas – how often are students told ‘get back on task - stop wasting time’. ° The self-awareness and courage to pursue their ideas in the face of considerable opposition – how often is this interpreted as stubbornness or insubordination? ° Confidence, the self-belief to take intellectual and intuitive risks (perhaps in essence creative thinking is simply ‘risky thinking’). So why do teachers often advise that it is best to play safe, stick to established routines, and not to take too many chances? Can we honestly say that it is a principal aim of arts education actively to foster the creativity of every child rather than just those who we perceive as being ‘gifted and talented’? Is there a fear that any relaxation of control will promptly result in anarchy and a total loss of teacher authority? It is important to stress that creativity is rarely a simple linear process and usually there is interplay between cognitive and affective processes, with various development phases such as preparation, generation, incubation and verification being revisited and reviewed – for example when dead ends seem apparent (Dewulf and Baillie, 1999). This suggests that adequate time is a key component if the creative spark is to flourish. How can this be accommodated in school timetables where often, at best, an hour for one of the arts subjects is sandwiched between the drip feed of an hour of mathematics and an hour of history for week after monotonous week? There are other preconditions that are equally important for both teachers and students including a strong atmosphere of mutual trust and affective support – what student is likely to take creative risks if they think their ideas will be quashed as soon as they begin to form? The constructive use of probing but sensitive questioning is essential to increase the intellectual challenge. Students must be allowed to develop a real sense of ownership of the task or problem and their confidence has to be bolstered by positive feedback. It has become abundantly clear that the ethos in which creativity can flourish does not always sit easily alongside nationally prescribed requirements that are found in most school systems. Nevertheless the good news is that times have been changing fast in the United Kingdom. The changes were almost imperceptible at first but they now have real momentum and present both considerable opportunities and major challenges for arts teachers. Developments can be traced to a government report All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education (NACCCE, 1999) that was published in 1999 and included wide-ranging recommendations for reform of education. The then prime minister, Tony Blai, asserted ‘Our aim must be to create a nation where the 3
  • 4. © John Steers 2009 creative talents of all the people are used to build a true enterprise economy for the twenty-first century – where we compete on brains, not brawn’ (NACCCE, 1999, p.6). A new secondary curriculum (NSC) is currently being phased in England and this is permeated with references to creativity (QCA, 2008b). Unusually implementation provides top-down support for bottom-up innovation. Included in the cross-curricular dimensions of the NSC is ‘Creativity and Critical Thinking’. This is intended to help engage students critically and help them understand what the creative industries are and why are they might be important to them. It should also help them understand why cultural experiences are relevant to them and how they can become involved as a spectator, participant or creator. To this end it is suggested they should learn to: ° think and act creatively, using their imagination to explore the unfamiliar and make unlikely connections ° think critically, exploring, developing, evaluating and making choices about their own and others’ ideas ° express and pursue original ideas with purpose and persistence ° take risks, improvise and make the most of the unexpected ° collaborate with other learners through negotiation, modification and compromise ° refine, modify and develop ideas, work, performances or products to ensure they are of real value (QCA 2008a). This will require opportunities to: ° engage in creative activities and critical thinking across their curriculum, exploring links between subjects and wider aspects of learning ° appreciate the full range, potential and impact of the creative industries from arts to science to technology ° participate in high quality cultural activities as spectators, participants and/or creators ° work with a range of creative individuals, both in and out of the classroom ° demonstrate their creativity by developing ideas, products, work or performances for real audiences ° encounter the work of others, including theories, literature, art, design, inventions and discoveries, as sources of inspiration ° discover and pursue particular interests and talents (QCA 2008a). In February 2008 a new £25 million ‘Find Your Talent’ scheme was announced, part of the government’s ambition to give all young people in England the chance to experience high quality arts and culture and currently this is being piloted by ten pathfinder consortia across the English regions. It was accompanied by a further £110 million investment in the ‘Creative Partnerships’ scheme – relaunched as an independent organisation ‘Creativity Culture and Education’ (CCE) in December 2008 – that allows children and young people in schools to work with creative professionals. 4
  • 5. © John Steers 2009 These initiatives are intended as part of the government’s drive to unlock the creative talent of all young people. In the longer term the government wants every child to have the chance to develop their artistic and creative skills and, ultimately, to offer children five hours of high quality arts and culture a week, in and without the school day. Much of this is driven by ever-increasing recognition of the importance of the ‘creative industries’ to the British economy. Prime minister Gordon Brown has written in a government strategy document, ‘In the coming years, the creative industries will be important not only for our national prosperity but for Britain’s ability to put culture and creativity at the centre of our national life’ (DCMS, 2008, p.3). The same strategy document states: The creative industries must move from the margins to the mainstream of economic and policy thinking, as we look to create the jobs of the future… Britain is a creative country and our creative industries are increasingly vital to the UK. Two million people are employed in creative jobs and the sector contributes £60 billion a year – 7.3 percent – to the British economy. Over the past decade, the creative sector has grown at twice the rate of the economy as a whole and is well placed for continued growth as demand for creative content – particularly in English – grows (DCMS, 2008, p.6). Conclusions The challenge is how to make this all happen. Establishing/facilitating/supporting/encouraging creativity in schools is not a straightforward matter of introducing appropriate ‘top down’ policies or legislation: it requires a paradigm shift in the thinking of many teachers and school senior management teams. The issues that need to be resolved include: 1. How can we ensure that the opportunities on offer have a broad range that will motivate more students and enable them to see the relevance of the arts to their lives? 2. Too many students (and their parents and senior management) fail to understand the importance of art and design education and the huge range of opportunities it presents not least for potential employment. How can we increase the take up for the arts subjects when they become optional in the curriculum and how can we attract those more able students who are often directed to ‘more challenging academic subjects’? 3. Another aspect of inclusion is the gender imbalance between those opting for arts subjects – it is evident in the United Kingdom for example that fewer boys opt for the subject than girls and when they do so they do less well. How should this issue be addressed? 5
  • 6. © John Steers 2009 4. The challenge is to encourage genuinely creative teaching, creative learning environments, creative curriculum design and fostering creativity in young people rather than simply achieving high levels of attainment in examinations that are primarily a consequence of teacher prescription and often uninspiring teaching to the test with learners locked in a passive, largely uncreative, role. How can this be done? 5. Are we absolutely clear about what we want to achieve through arts education and how, ideally, arts education should be organised? Can we develop schemes of work for students that have real purpose, significant content and relevant meaning? 6. The arts too often operate in a curriculum ghetto – how do we encourage more teachers to look for links for learning across the whole curriculum so as to broaden understanding and enrich learning? 7. How do we prevent the arts continue being side-lined by many in senior management in schools, other staff, students and their parents? How do we ensure that they recognise its importance not least in relation to preparing for students for a world of work where the creative industries play a major part in the knowledge economy of many countries? Undoubtedly economic arguments can be used to advocate a stronger place in the curriculum for the arts but how can we ensure that the rhetoric is matched by some necessary change in practice? 8. If we want to provide substantial quality creative and cultural activity every week for every child how do we encourage schools to develop purposeful and genuine partnerships with an extensive range of individuals, organisations and institutions? 9. Assessment in the arts is a matter of informed judgement rather than the application of fallible standardised criteria often used to derive often spurious data about standards; objectivity in arts judgements can be reliably based on the comparative and experiential knowledge of the assessors, on connoisseurship, rather than limited verbal description. How do we ensure that assessment in the arts is really ‘fit for purpose’? 10. Arts teachers need the autonomy and the opportunity to develop a localised curriculum that meets the specific needs of their students. How do we ensure teachers, through both their initial teacher education and continuing professional development opportunities, become creative and reflective practitioners capable of thinking through 6
  • 7. © John Steers 2009 clearly what they want to achieve, the content and approaches that will best suit their particular students? In summary, the challenge to education, including arts education, is to make it much more relevant to the needs and interests of today’s young people and society more generally. The reward will be better motivated, better behaved, higher achieving students. It is said that it is attitude and not aptitude that causes most failure. Varying the rhythm of the school day – and the school year – making the most of differing learning environments and enriching learning through exploration of cross-curricular dimensions can all play their part in ensuring that students’ experience of the arts in school is relevant, purposeful and enjoyable. John Steers Notes and references I have written more fully on this subject elsewhere – see Steers, J (2009) ‘Creativity: Delusions, Reality, Opportunities and Challenges’, International Journal of Art of Art & Design Education, Volume 28, No. 2, Wiley Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, pp. 126-138. DCMS (2008) Creative Britain: New Talents for a New Economy– a strategy document for the Creative Industries accessed on 1 May 2008 at talents.htm Dewulf, S & Baillie, C (1999) How to foster Creativity, DfEE, London. NACCCE (1999) All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture & Education. DfEE: London. QCA (2008a) Creativity and Critical Thinking accessed on 1st April 2009 at 14474.pdf?return=/key-stages-3-and-4/cross-curriculum- dimensions/creativitycriticalthinking/index.aspx%3Freturn%3D/key-stages-3-and-4/cross-curriculum- dimensions/index.aspx#false QCA (2008b) National Curriculum accessed on 2nd May 2008 at Ross, M (1978) The Creative Arts, London: Heinemann Educational Books. 7