Are we educating children out of creativity?

Sue WilliamsonFollowing a series of school visits across the country, Sue Williamson, Chief Executive SSAT, writes…

I am an avid watcher of TED talks and always enjoy Sir Ken Robinson’s contributions. ‘We don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out of it.’ he said in his 2006 talk.

I often think of this assertion when I’m visiting schools. In some schools creativity is seen as a luxury that teachers and students do not have time for – the important job is that they pass their examinations. In other schools I come away thinking creativity is alive and well. It’s not just that the school has thriving performing and creative arts, but across the whole curriculum young people are being given the opportunity to be creative. In the best schools, students are being set problems and tasks that demand creative solutions. I believe that such an approach is better preparation for passing examinations and being successful in the world of work.

Our schools have to be places where students are challenged, given the opportunity to solve problems and to come up with creative solutions

In his usual witty way, Sir Ken argues, ‘Shakespeare was in someone’s English class’. Sir Ken was joking, but I believe that it is a teacher’s duty and mission to encourage and develop talent. There must be the next Alan Bennett, the next Einstein, the next Richard Branson, the next James Dyson, as well as a cadre of less famous business people, scientists, entrepreneurs, teachers, etc. Our schools have to be places where students are challenged, given the opportunity to solve problems and to come up with creative solutions.

On a recent visit to Cranford Community College, I met a group of students including Surya Varatharajan, Head Boy. All the students spoke of the activities they were engaged in that contributed to their personal growth and supported Cranford’s development – Duke of Edinburgh Award, targeted intervention days, RE day, World Challenge, National Orchestra for All, fundraising and many other activities. Surya articulated brilliantly his role as head boy and the thinking involved in designing RE day. He linked together the contributions of the other students and spoke passionately about the school. Surya’s ambition is to read Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford University and then a career in diplomacy or politics. My money is on him becoming prime minister. Cranford, like all outstanding schools, provides a rich variety of activities to engage young people and empowers them to design and deliver even more opportunities.

At Madeley Academy in Telford, I learnt about the real world problems that the A-level design technology students were working on, and saw a solar-powered tumble drier in action. All the corridors are lined with outstanding art work. In both schools the creativity of the staff across the curriculum shone through.

My conclusion is that you can have creativity and good examination results – they are not mutually exclusive. As you will hear from Heathfield Community School at our National Conference:

There is no doubt that creativity exists in different spheres. We feel that creativity is very important, both for teachers and students. The more creative we can be, the better

You can read more from Heathfield’s students on creativity in our National Conference pre-reading supplement.

Do not despair Sir Ken – creativity is thriving in a large number of schools – our challenge is to see it embedded in all schools.

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