Putting Creative Thinking at the core of the English School Curriculum. What would it take?

Rethinking Assesment and ACER UK launch exploratory study looking at the feasibility and benefits of integrating creative thinking into the English national curriculum

Across much of the world, in more than 20 educational jurisdictions, the ability to think creatively is seen as a core aspect of what it is to be a successful learner today and, consequently, it has been included within various national curricula (Taylor et al., 2020). In England this is not yet the case, despite strong arguments being made for creative thinking being a core part of the curriculum in the Durham Commission on Creativity and Education (2019). In 2023 Rethinking Assessment and ACER UK conducted an exploratory study to examine the feasibility of integrating creative thinking into five subjects at Key Stages 2 and 3 – Science, English, History, Design & Technology and Art – and the benefits of doing this for teachers and for learners.

This week, we publish the final evaluation report Putting Creative Thinking at the core of the English School Curriculum: An Exploratory Study

About the Study and Key Findings

The ACER / Rethinking Assessment research team designed a prototype assessment framework for creative thinking, in consultation with an Academic Advisory Group of global experts. Schools were recruited and participating teachers were supported through a programme of online CPDL sessions, firstly, to understand how to use the language model from the assessment framework in order to embed creative thinking into their curriculum planning; and secondly, to use three assessment methods – teacher assessment, student self-report and portfolio – to capture and evidence the impact in their classrooms.

Headline findings from the study include:

1. That it is possible to support, foster and evidence the creative thinking skills of pupils in five different subject disciplines across Key Stages 2 and 3, where there is active support from school leaders and where teachers believe that it is in the best interest of their pupils.

Participating schools strongly endorsed the Rethinking Assessment model of creative thinking and found that its clarity enabled them to develop an accessible common language of creativity across their schools, as well as being able better to integrate creative thinking within the programmes of study of their chosen subjects.

2. There was strong support from participating teachers on the importance of embedding and evidencing creative thinking, with a majority reporting several benefits to pupils, their own teaching, and their own professional development.

Benefits for pupils included: increased engagement in subjects, more teamwork and collaboration happening in the classroom as a result of these activities and a noticeable increase in some pupils’ self-esteem and confidence. Furthermore, the study found that the integration of creative thinking into programmes of study may help develop skills that enhance confidence, intrinsic motivation, and engagement – all valuable tools to aid pupils and teachers to thrive and excel.

3. Teachers reported that participation in the study provided a positive professional experience that they shared with others in their schools, and it encouraged them to continue developing their own creative growth. Moreover, some reported that participation in this study enhanced their relationships with their pupils.

4. In terms of assessment methods, teachers liked the idea of using portfolios of evidence and were able to encourage pupils to gather these.

5. Teachers were also realistic about the challenges of embedding and assessing creative thinking within the current national curriculum, and education system, in England. With existing workload cited as a significant limitation. Further improved materials, more and better training, more time to plan and moderate, were all highlighted.

Towards a national support structure for Creative Thinking

At Rethinking Assessment, we have been making the case for the 3Cs – creative thinking, collaboration, communication/oracy – to be a core part of a broad and balanced education. And, over time, a more balanced assessment system that recognises and gives credit to the full breadth of strengths and achievements of every young person.

In terms of the wider national context, public opinion is strongly in favour of the importance and relevance of skills across the curriculum. Recent polling by the Edge Foundation and Public First showed high levels of support for teaching young people skills that will be useful for the workplace (88%) or for everyday life (90%). Teaching essential skills in education is popular with teaching professionals themselves, and Artificial Intelligence is driving new debates about the necessity of knowledge, skills and capabilities – of the centrality of human creativity and critical thinking as our societies experience rapid technological advancements (e.g see Charles Fadel, Education for the Age of AI).

Looking ahead, it is possible to begin to see the core elements of a national support structure for creative thinking in schools and colleges – including :

  • A clear language model of creative thinking.
  • Guidance materials and resources mapping creative thinking against each subject discipline and showing progressions from Key Stage 1 through to the end of formal schooling.
  • Systematically developing the assessment literacy of teachers through embedding the use of multi-modal assessment methods in ITT and CPDL programs.
  • Having an evidence-based model of creative thinking / creativity a part of all ITT and all NPQs in pedagogy and leadership.
  • The development of a digital learner profile and portfolio for all pupils into which the evidence of their knowledge, skills and experiences of creative thinking could be fed.
  • Cultivating school cultures and leadership practices that are conducive to embedding creative thinking as a ‘whole school approach’ – for example through the expansion of the national network of Creativity Collaboratives, and embedding the Creativity Collaboratives within the wider hub programme.
  • Looking at how the Higher Project Qualification, Extended Project Qualification and other qualifications can support creative thinking.
  • Modification of accountability metrics, for example the inclusion of a creative arts subject in school performance measures.

As stated in the report conclusions, from the experiences of the leaders of individual schools, it is possible to infer lessons for the leadership of change in policy and practice nationally. That Ministers, the Department for Education, Ofsted officials and all those in a position to influence need, systematically, to advocate for the value of creative thinking, while at the same time developing the infrastructure in which it can thrive.

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