How important is it to allow young people to explore their creative sides?

Dr Trevor Richards

At All Hallows, we have long endorsed the opinion of Sir Ken Robinson (leader of the government’s 1998 advisory committee on creative and cultural education) that “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”

Our children need to be allowed to explore their creative sides to enable them to go beyond straightforward regurgitation of rote learning and let them develop the confidence to produce their own ideas and solutions by thinking critically and using an innovative approach.

The element of risk-taking which comes with originality not only helps our young people learn as they make mistakes along the way but, by teaching them to embrace those mistakes, it can foster resilience and a mentally healthy mindset.

Creativity can be seen as the preserve of designers, artists and performers, but this should be far from the case.  We need to facilitate exploration and experimentation which, combined with natural curiosity, allows every child to be inventive.

How do you inspire creativity?
It’s difficult to teach creativity.  Instead, inventiveness and a creative approach to problem solving needs to be fostered and encouraged.  Teachers and parents alike have such fantastic an opportunity to inspire creativity in so many different ways.  

At All Hallows, creativity is championed and celebrated from the moment children arrive in the bustling courtyard in the morning wearing their bright cherry jumpers. Our Creative Centre was opened “to encourage children to take a creative approach to all that they do”.

We aim to foster diversity, critical thinking, imaginative insights and fresh ideas through ensuring children are in touch with things that inspire and excite them. We encourage children to express themselves, to collaborate, to exchange ideas and build collective solutions to complex problems.

Creativity is at the heart of our curriculum, with a particular emphasis on cross-curricular projects. With a design studio, workshop, two art studios, photography department, ceramic studio and display areas of inspirational work, we offer a fusion of traditional and modern approaches to creativity.

With a new Head of Art, the department leapt into a new creative direction for all children from nursery upwards. Projects were collaborative, innovative, cross-curricular, child-led, teacher-inspired and community focussed. Highlights of the vast amount of creative work during the year, included:

  • The Big Draw: taking inspiration from the magic of the zoetrope with students contributing by adding their own contribution to the bigger picture. The evolving installation was documented by a surveillance camera, turned into a video, edited and presented by our media scholar
  • All The Fun: an exceptional exhibition of art, design and photography held in a local gallery. Abuzz with visitors from far afield who were transfixed by the variety of art work on display: shoe lasts (a part of shoe design process) made in CDT, photographs, sculptures, drawings, masks, pupil-made videos, as well as poetry and singing. Every pupil had at least one piece of art on display (art was not chosen on merit but on a collaborative basis)
  • Mother Teresa matrix: a 2D portrait comprised of 32 abstract rectangles made by different students
  • Creative Showcase: an installation on school life and cranes (of the avian variety forming part of the school logo) – executed by students from all years, work included origami tape sculptures, 2D paper work and a looping video

Our Creative Design facilities encourage an exciting approach to design enabling pupils to immerse themselves in an increasingly technological world; a flexible scheme of learning, develops increasing knowledge, understanding and skills whilst embraces opportunities to work with outside artists and organisations.

The many and varied cross-curricular projects led by CDT (Creative Design and Technology) include making working trebuchets to destroy model castles in History; tessellation project using laser cut shapes in Maths; a travel project making passports; a collaborative project with Clarks shoes creating vacuum formed shoes.

Across the elaborately decorated and colourful fun-filled classrooms, creativity is continually harnessed, and departments work closely together to fuel ideas. For example the year three topic ‘Active Planet’ involved shelter building, water filters and foraging; year two ‘Transport’ included a bicycle made from nature items and boats they designed, made and then launched on school river; year three ‘Rivers’ saw the children making rafts, building mountains and adapting river flow. Many of these projects involve working closely with the Forest School team.  

Creativity of thought is also cultivated through skilled teachers using higher-level questioning, prompting debates as a regular part of pupils’ learning, prompting self-reflection through a variety of feedback methods – rather than the teacher grading every assignment.

On Saturdays, a voluntary Enrichment Programme (more than 95 per cent of children attend) is in place, giving us even more scope for creative projects including photography, cookery, journalism, bushcraft, animation, performing arts and school productions (most recently the Addams Family and Aladdin, involving students working behind and in front of the stage; scenery, props, music and lighting).

Inspired by the year of creative buzz throughout the school year, the theme of the annual Speech Day was Carnival. For the first time the marquee was decorated entirely by works of art by every pupil (in various medium) and the key speech was given by the world-class ballet dancer Carlos Acosta.

Although creativity is difficult to measure, we are very proud of the number of creative scholarships our pupils achieved to senior schools in 2018: four CDT (including the only two CDT awards given by Marlborough College), three Art and two All Rounder (encompassing music & art) (20 per cent of awards given to the year group). Further, the 2018 ISI report stated “ICT is fully embedded across the curriculum and very successfully employed by pupils to further their academic work and greatly enhances independent learning. Art and DT examples of pupil work are excellent”.

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have”. (Maya Angelou)

How important is creativity in the development of well-rounded young people?
In the world beyond schools, there is an escalating emphasis on innovation, creativity, problem-solving, flexibility, mindsets, values and collaborative skills is beginning to permeate forward-thinking universities from employers who are beginning to include these elements in their selection processes.

We are increasingly being given the message from businesses and universities that, as Dr Ruth Graham whose work focuses on helping to equip engineering graduates to solve the problems of the 21st century states: “Students with purely theoretical backgrounds, however good they may be, are struggling with the need to be innovative and processes of development that are not necessarily linear, may not have a defined end point, may start with a blank slate and may have a good chance of failure, or at least several failures along the way.” 

What does this mean for us and our children in this time of rapid change? To me, at All Hallows, it is not about demoting the importance of academic disciplines, we must recognise that if we are to give our children the best chance of flourishing in the world they will inhabit, we must simultaneously work to develop healthy mindsets, creativity, communication skills, the willingness to take risks and think innovatively, their collaborative skills, their ability to reframe problems and their ethics and values across every aspect of school life.

The element of risk-taking which comes with a creative approach and originality of thought not only helps our young people learn as they make mistakes along the way but, by teaching them to embrace those mistakes, it can foster resilience and a mentally healthy mindset which are so important in today’s landscape.

What role do teachers play in inspiring and nurturing creativity?
Typically, young people are natural risk takers, problem-solvers, and uninhibited visionaries, but this can be suppressed by our education system if we are not vigilant. It is therefore our responsibility and privilege as teachers to work in partnership with parents to encourage their imagination and self-expression and make our schools a cauldron of creativity.

Parents and teachers can fall into the trap of thinking creativity is linked solely to artistic skills, but it’s not. Creativity is also about being able to look at a problem, research ideas, and develop solutions. Daily life is full of opportunities to problem-solve, but too often we might opt for the quick and easy solution instead to save time.

Some of the ways in which teachers promote creativity in our children at All Hallows include:

Promoting curiosity
Introducing our children to new situations or unique experiences, which give them opportunities to wonder and explore and discover. Throughout the curriculum, we have shifted some of our focus from the “right answer” to “I wonder…” and “What if…”. We are also empowering our pupils to feel a sense of freedom in their learning to take risks and have some choice in how they go about demonstrating their understanding

Creating time and space in the curriculum for creativity
If we want kids to be creative, we have to give them the time and space to be creative. If our curriculum is full of rote learning knowledge, when do children learn to think creatively, to be innovative and to make things?

Encouraging children to embrace mistakes as part of their learning and development
As Sir Ken Robinson articulated: “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” We need to facilitate the curiosity and exploration and experimentation that enable kids to produce their own ideas and solutions. Embracing the mistakes they make along the way can help young people learn from the process, as well as develop a mentally healthy mindset.

Being role models
“The most powerful way to develop creativity in your students is to be a role model. Children develop creativity not when you tell them to, but when you show them how.” (Robert J. Sternberg). We also have Art classes for parents one afternoon a week!

Let them get messy
Providing opportunities for open-ended play, creation, and discovery. As a school of children who often have muddy knees and dirty hands, I know that what looks like chaos and disorder may be creative genius in the making. When young people are engaged and stimulated, children are more likely to make an emotional connection with what they know, see, and do.

Do some physical activity!
Research from the University of Hertfordshire, coupled with research from Stanford University, has shown that by ‘letting yourself go’ through exercise, sport, dance, drama and music can allow you to boost your creativity. These are key parts of our curriculum at All Hallows, as is time to play.

Collaborate!
Researchers have found that children were more likely to formulate a creative argument whilst in a team setting vs working alone to win a task. By developing a team around you that adds to your skill-set, you can create an environment where creativity is encouraged and welcomed.

For too long, the whole school debate in the UK has been driven by the need to deliver and demonstrate headline results and measurable data, so that both schools and successive governments of all political persuasions can clearly exhibit improvement over time. Whilst it is clear that additional accountability has been part of a development of teaching standards over the past 25 years, I believe that the need to produce such quantitative data is now impacting too greatly on our thinking and decision-making at the expense of creativity and the best interests and well-being of our young people.

At All Hallows I hope that, in addition to the quality of academic results, parents and teachers are also working together to promote more ethereal outcomes of schooling such as long-term well-being, a sense of self, a moral compass, a degree of resilience, preparation for some aspects of work and an appreciation for philosophy, culture, creativity and civilisation perhaps? These products of schooling are no less valuable because they are difficult to quantify!