Arts Council England launches research scheme into creative learning

ACE Let's Create strategy 'music that makes our hearts sing'

Arts Council England (ACE) and Durham University have begun their £2.78 million, three-year project to explore new ways of teaching creative thinking across the national curriculum.

Eight Community Collaboratives – state-maintained schools, each with a network or a further eight to twelve schools – have received grants of up to £360,000 from the Durham Commission on Creativity and Education to investigate specific ways of improving teaching to instil creativity in students. 

The successful applicants are spread across England

  • Midlands – Billesley Primary School, Welbeck Primary School
  • South West – Penryn College, Halterworth Primary School of the University of Winchester Academy Trust
  • North West – Holy Family Catholic Multi-Academy Trust
  • North East, The Duchess’s Community High
  • London – St Marylebone CE School
  • South East – Anglian Learning (schools in Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Essex

Each application succeeded on the basis of its proposed field of research. For example, Halterworth will be exploring the various enablers and barriers to teaching for creativity, taking into account the way inequality, including self-belief, can be improved by fostering creativity. Welbeck’s network includes a hospital school, a special educational needs school and a referral unit for unaccompanied asylum seekers and refugees, as well as more usual primary schools. It will use this diverse experience to investigate how to stimulate a child’s innate creativity and curiosity within the curriculum.

ACE states that, ‘This programme will build networks of schools to test innovative practices in teaching for creativity, sharing learnings to facilitate system-wide change. Working alongside existing school structures, teachers and educators will co-develop creative strategy and pedagogy, test out approaches to teaching and learning, and evaluate their impact on pupils, schools and communities.’

The Durham Commission was established on the premise that, ‘Teaching for creativity should be practised across the curriculum and accessed by all.  It should not be confined to certain subjects; creativity in science is different to creativity in drama but is valuable in both.’

Its first report was published in 2019 before the pandemic, suggesting ten key recommendations for a shift in the way schools teach. But the pandemic changed its perspective and it revised its original report into one that drew on the experience of teachers and students during the lockdowns. This had three key findings:

  1. Covid-19 has shown that creativity and cultural experiences are fundamental to the lives of young people and school culture and should be an essential part of the return to in-school education.
  2. The rapid adoption of digital platforms by schools is an opportunity to increase the understanding and practice of teaching for creativity in schools. The shift to remote working and digital tools has reshaped society and the economy; as such, digital literacy and the creative use of technology are essential skills for young people.
  3. Universal access to teaching for creativity is not possible without addressing the current inequity in digital access which currently only reinforces existing inequalities. Digital skills and access to quality digital devices confer considerable advantage.

As a consequence, the Commission has honed down its focus to six of the original ten points:

  • Development of a national network of Creativity Collaboratives to model school-led development underpinned by teaching for creativity.
  • Better support for young people to engage creatively and critically with the digital technology that has become a significant part of their everyday lives.
  • That arts and culture should be an essential part of the education of every child.
  • The purpose and place of creativity and teaching for creativity should be recognised and encouraged in the early years (0-4).
  • In-school opportunities to develop creativity should be complemented by diverse routes to take part in creative activities outside of school hours.
  • Young people should be better prepared for the changing world of work with the creative capacities that employers are looking for, which will enable them to be resilient and adaptable.

The first of these is now in practice through the project that started in October, and will run till June 2024. Rather than waiting for the finished report, findings and new ideas will be published throughout the process. 

Schools and teachers can sign up for these updates through the Creativity Exchange where teachers can share ideas and information to improve methods and creativity in their work.

These projects are part of ACE’s decade-long Let’s Create strategy to transform the way education handles the concept and funding of nurturing curiosity, creativity and innovation.

Photo: From Arts Council England’s Let’s Create strategy: ‘Music that makes our hearts sing’

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