A brief history of creativity in English schools

How did we get to where we are today? Creativity Exchange offers new insights into the chequered history of creativity in schools.

While creativity does not appear on school timetables across the world there have always been teachers who have sought to cultivate it in their students. In England we need to go back just over two decades to chart the rise of its importance in schools.

1999 - The Robinson Report

A key event was the publication of the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education (NACCCE). Also known as the Robinson Report after its chair, the late Sir Ken Robinson, NACCCE argued that a national strategy for creative and cultural education was essential to the process of providing a motivating education fostering the different talents of all children. NACCCE defined creativity as:

‘Imaginative activity fashioned so as to produce outcomes that are both original and of value.’

It argues for the universality and individuality of creativity:

‘All people have creative abilities and we all have them differently. When individuals find their creative strengths, it can have an enormous impact on self-esteem and on overall achievement.’

The report led to important initiatives such as Creative Partnerships and Artsmark.

2001 - Little c Creativity

Following this, in 2001, creativity researcher Anna Craft made the simple but important suggestion that there are two different kinds of creativity. There is, she argued, a difference between being a creative genius (big c) and an ordinary person who is creative (little c). In schools we focus on little c creativity.

2002 - Creative Partnerships

Between 2002 and 2011 Creative Partnerships, one of the most ambitious schemes for promoting creativity in schools anywhere in the world, was funded by Arts Council England and two government departments in England. The programme worked with some 1 million children and over 90,000 teachers in more than 8000 projects in England. Creative Partnerships defined creativity very broadly to include, for example, scientists and architects, and looked beyond education to the issue of employability.

2004 - Creativity: Find it, Promote It!

Creativity Find it Promote it.png

These web and paper-based practical materials were one of the early government supported attempt to promote creativity in primary and secondary schools. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA)suggested that, by promoting creativity, teachers can give all pupils the opportunity to discover and pursue their particular interests and talents. Creative pupils, QCA argued, lead richer lives and, in the longer term, make a valuable contribution to society.

You can still access the materials here.

2006 - The Roberts Report

Nurturing Creativity in Young People. A report to Government to inform future policy, also known as the Roberts Report after its author, Paul Roberts, found that there was a ‘rich array of creativity work in pre- and main-school activity strongly, but not systemically, supported by the many creative programmes, projects and agencies.’

It offered a framework for the further development of creativity for children and young people and introduced the concept of an individual creative portfolio as a way of bridging formal and informal education.

2007 - Joint memorandum submitted to Education Select Committee

This little known memo submitted to the Education Select Committee by two government departments is one of the most thorough, well-argued, consensual, fair-minded and broad ranging pieces of writing about creativity in schools in the last two decades. The memo covers the issue of creativity and cultural education, the nature of creativity, the contribution of the arts, creativity in the curriculum parents, creativity and standards, initial teacher training, assessment, creativity and the creative industries, diploma and the relationship to enterprise education.

Curiously the memo had little impact on policy at the time, perhaps because of the dominance of the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies on education.

You can still see the memo here.

2009 - Personal Learning and Thinking Skills

Personal Learning and Thinking Skills or PLTS as they became known marks a significant shift away from curricula dominated by knowledge towards those which also seek to promote wider skills. Developed by the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA) and actively used in schools between 2009-2013, the PLTS described six groups of skills:

  1. Independent enquiry skills.
  2. Creative thinking skills.
  3. Reflective learning skills.
  4. Team working skills.
  5. Self-managing skills.
  6. Effective participating skills.

Young people who are creative thinkers, QCDA suggests:

  • Generate ideas and explore possibilities.
  • Ask questions to extend their thinking.
  • Connect their own and others’ ideas and experiences in inventive ways.
  • Question their own and others’ assumptions.
  • Try out alternatives or new solutions and follow ideas through.
  • Adapt ideas as circumstances change.

You can see the original materials here.

2012 - The Centre for Real-World Learning’s five-dimensional model of creativity

The Centre for Real-World Learnings five dimensional model of creativity.jpg

Commissioned by Creativity, Culture and Education, the Centre for Real-World Learning (CRL) at the University of Winchester researched and trialled a model of creativity which is now widely used in England and, since its publication by the OECD, across the world. At the time schools had only the definition of creativity offered by the Robinson Report alongside the more general criteria outlined in the Personal Learning and Thinking Skills to guide them.

Shaped by five key creative habits of mind these are further broken down into more specific elements such as making connections, challenging assumptions and daring to be different.

2019 - Durham Commission on Creativity and Education

The Durham Commission on Creativity and Education is a collaboration between Arts Council England and Durham University that aims to identify ways in which creativity, and specifically creative thinking, can play a larger part in the lives of young people from birth to the age of 19, both within and beyond the current education system.

The Durham Commission’s definitions build on all of the key events listed so far:

Creativity: The capacity to imagine, conceive, express, or make something that was not there before.

Creative thinking: A process through which knowledge, intuition and skills are applied to imagine, express or make something novel or individual in its contexts. Creative thinking is present in all areas of life. It may appear spontaneous, but it can be underpinned by perseverance, experimentation, critical thinking and collaboration.

Teaching for creativity: Explicitly using pedagogies and practices that cultivate creativity in young people.

One key finding of the Commission is that other countries in the UK, notably Wales with its new National Curriculum, are further advanced in their inclusion of creativity as a desired goal of education

2021 - PISA Creative Thinking

Every three years the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) identifies an important fourth new area alongside literacy, maths and science in which to measure performance of 15-year-olds. Creative Thinking is the focus of its in 2021 (now 2022 owing to the pandemic) and is a powerful indicator of the growing status of creativity in schools. PISA defines creative thinking as:

…the competence to engage productively in the generation, evaluation and improvement of ideas, that can result in original and effective solutions, advances in knowledge and impactful expressions of imagination

Those passionate about creativity in education are hopeful that the authority of PISA will lend weight to the arguments for creativity in schools in England.

If you’d like to explore the history of creativity in schools further, check out the Appendix to the Durham Commission report where we collate significant landmarks in the history of creativity along with reflections on what teachers can learn from them.

Further reading

    • Type
    • Articles

    • Source
    • Bill Lucas

    • Interest
    • Pedagogy

    • Leadership