A school with creativity at the heart of the learning process will benefit by increasing the motivation of staff and pupils, says former head, Dave Weston. In this article and case study, he shows the way to more imaginative approaches to curriculum planning ‘Creativity is the defeat of habit by originality’ Arthur Koestler Many school leaders and teachers realise that is now time to take more control over the curriculum and to include a greater emphasis on creativity in the learning and teaching process. During the last five years, headteachers have developed the confidence to take innovative and imaginative approaches to curriculum planning and school organisation. This is due to some encouragement from central government in the light of recent perceived improvements in primary literacy and numeracy standards and to the realisation that a wider and more exciting curriculum can lead to greater levels of motivation for all pupils and staff. Creativity and innovation have now been legitimised by the DfES and primary schools are actively encouraged to develop creative ideas and actions: ‘promoting creativity is a powerful way of engaging pupils with their learning’ Excellence and Enjoyment DfES 2003 (page 31)
What is creativity?
Creativity is often associated with the ‘creative arts’ but in reality it is certainly not unique to the arts. It can be seen and identified in all aspects of the arts, humanities, sciences, maths and technology. The National Curriculum Handbook (1999) included creativity within the section on thinking skills. It stated that: ‘Creative thinking skills... enable pupils to generate and extend ideas, to suggest hypotheses, to apply imagination and to look for alternative innovative outcomes.’
Didn’t we always teach it?
Creativity was taught in the 1970s and 1980s, often through topic-based projects, but there was a lack of accountability, detailed planning and thoroughness. Much of this perceived ‘creativity’ disappeared in the 1990s as it did not fit into a strategic box and schools thought that there was not time for it and that such an approach was not valued by central government. The difficulty in measuring the success of a creative approach to primary learning and teaching gave our education system many problems. As a result headteachers, under the pressures of Ofsted inspection and statistical league tables, became reluctant to take risks with the curriculum. However, more recently this situation has started to change, especially with the development of the creative partnership schemes.
The Reggio Emilia approach
The success of the Reggio Emilia approach to early years education has influenced theory and practice in the area of creativity in primary education. In schools in Reggio Emilia there is an innovative staffing structure with each early years centre having an ‘atelierista’ (a specially trained art teacher) who works closely with the classroom teachers. In Italy in the primary sector there is significant teacher autonomy with no national curriculum or associated achievement tests. In Reggio Emilia the teachers become skilled observers and they routinely divide responsibilities, so that one can systematically observe and record conversations between children while the other is teaching the class. Teachers from several schools sometimes work and learn together and this contributes to the culture of teachers as learners. The learning environment is crucial in the Reggio Emilia approach and classrooms often have courtyards, wall-sized windows and easy access to stimulating outdoor areas. Each classroom has large spaces for group activities and specially designed areas for pupils and staff to interact. Display areas are large and stimulating and reflect the creativity of the children. Teachers in early years settings in Reggio often refer to the learning environment as a ‘third teacher’ as most centres are small with just two classroom teachers....