Bolton School has embarked on an innovative journey to harness the power of creative thinking pedagogies to create a vertically connected experience for its learners by age from EYFS through to Sixth Form and lateral learning experiences that connect curricular, co-curricular and community-based activity to make education holistic and expansive for its pupils.
Vertical learning: an all-through pathway from EYFS to Sixth Form
Recognising the importance of academic metacognition and acknowledging that creative thinking and characterful habits can be fostered in many contexts, the School is integrating signature creative thinking projects as thresholds of creative and cultural learning that promote critical thinking and self-reflection. The School will support learners to develop a deep understanding of their own applied cognitive abilities and to exercise these skills in live opportunities within the school community and in the school’s locality throughout their school career.
The signature projects act as a scaffold, providing a narrative and immersive opportunities to enable learners' to take ownership of their skills progression by deepening their creative thinking abilities. Allied to subject domains and implemented through real world learning opportunities, these projects straddle curricular, co-curricular and civic experiences, while creative thinking practices are also encouraged in classroom and extracurricular activities.
Intellectual Curiosity, Imagination and Real World Learning
The journey begins in Infants via the Philosophy for Children programme.(1) A Year 2 transition project serves as a stepping stone to the Junior Schools’ intellectual curiosity practices inspired by Bill Lucas and Ellen Spencer’s 5 Dimensional Model of Creativity.(2) The transition projects are facilitated by colleagues from the relevant key stages clustered around each transitional point and also act as a form of practical staff professional development due to collaborative planning, moderation and engagement with learners’ projects. The vertical pathways should also finesse colleagues’ understanding of learners’ capabilities: a ‘baton-passing’ arrangement that introduces appropriate levels of support and challenge across age and stage.
At Year 6, learners accustomed to creative habits will participate in an end of Key Stage 2 creative thinking transition project. Drawing from Science, English, Oracy, Geography and Art lessons, inspired by the Forest of the Imagination project(3), Year 6 work has an ecology theme and is connected to the design of creative outdoor learning in the School’s woodland. Assessment for this project includes portfolios and a gallery review, with parents and Senior School colleagues invited to participate in the assessment and celebration of the children's achievements.
In Year 7, the emphasis is on a local socio-cultural ecology project, providing students with hands-on experiences and encouraging group collaboration. Learners’ gradually explore one square mile around the school campus, using Human Geography approaches alongside artistic and literary psychogeography activities to observe and reflect upon the School’s locality. Learners will employ oracy skills to activate community conversation and design skills to produce an event, inviting the local community to participate in the event as a gallery-review assessment and celebration.
Assessment for Learning for KS1-3 projects incorporate rubrics and signature AfL pedagogies from the School’s ongoing engagement with Rethinking Assessment action research. Following the embed of signature projects in transitional years, the School will turn it’s attention to the intervening year groups. ‘A Field Guide to Assessing Creative Thinking in Schools’ (Lucas, 2022) has been invaluable here.
Independent Project-based Learning
Learners’ early school careers provide ample opportunity to hone independent enquiry, iterative design thinking and presentational capabilities.
At KS4, the discipline and persistence required in this form of learning is encouraged further via Higher Project Qualification (HPQ), while in KS5, learners tackle the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ). Both of these projects traditionally aim to develop academic skills necessary for higher education. It is highly useful, given the context of the foundational creative learning discussed here, to understand these qualifications as a means to develop real world capabilities and practical application of learning that is practicable in higher education settings, apprenticeships and life-long learning.
HPQ and EPQ anticipate high order referencing, essay writing, bibliography creation, presentation skills, and research using secondary and primary sources. Both projects qualifications can result in either an extended essay or a product accompanied by a shorter essay. Learners reflect and evaluate their process through a logbook. It is quite easy to see how Junior School use of learning reflection journals and live application of learning not only prepares learners for these KS4 and 5 qualifications but will eventually challenge the voracity and scope of them.
Three Pillars: a lateral approach of curriculum, co-curriculum and community
The School's enrichment and pastoral programmes play a vital role in fostering personal skills growth, particularly in the areas of mastery and leadership.
The creative thinking signature projects will act as an umbrella structure across the three pillars of holistic learning. Within broader initiatives, there is a wealth of creative and character competencies that are emphasised through various activities. Learners are exposed to diverse opportunities in careers and enrichment pathways (such as engaging in masterclasses and lectures delivered by alumni and MOOCs), life skills training (such as car maintenance and personal finance), and participating in well-being and health-related endeavours. Notably, collaborations with organisations like #BeeWell and the Royal Society for Public Health with Artsmark are currently engaging learners to design micro-commissions for the School and to undertake neighbourhood projects for the local community, promoting creative expression and well-being as part of a wider Greater Manchester Creative Health Strategy drive.
Additionally, the school connects learners to initiatives like the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, the John Muir Award and habits-themed House Days.
The School also facilitates a creative youth collaborative in partnership with Bolton at Home, aimed at young people aged 12 to 18 who live or go to school in Bolton, focusing on art for social change. Through this endeavour, young people actively contribute to the Local Cultural Education Partnership’s work and Bolton's cultural development plan, becoming consultants in shaping the plan and fostering a ‘golden thread’ of cultural participation offering arts and culture access, participation and mastery and leadership opportunities. The design of the School’s creative thinking and character programming is directly linked to the language and objectives of the Department for Education's new Cultural Education Plan and Bolton’s ‘Golden Thread’ which both emphasise access, participation, progress in local partnership for all children and young people.
The long-view intention is to develop digital portfolios that capture the holistic rise of learner capabilities across the three pillars of curriculum, co-curricular and community.
Rethinking Assessment – Future-proofing
Employing an exoskeletal creative thinking structure to guide the learning principles of an educational setting can also effectively foster creative thinking across various levels of traditional education forms, including GCSE and A-Level learning, as well as mitigating focus on end-of-unit tests and external examinations across all year groups.
There are already a number of schools that have elected to drop or partially-drop GCSEs in favour of implementing a progressive approach in the KS4 years. Bolton School’s approach exemplifies the potential of an all-through model. This approach anticipates the changing landscape of assessment and learning methods, blending traditional approaches with a programme of creative learning. As assessment formats evolve, this form of framework also has the potential to become the predominant mode of approach for learning and assessment in the future, offering a comprehensive and innovative educational experience.
(1) Philosophy for Children: https://p4c.com/
(2) 5 Dimensional Model of Creativity: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/The-Centre-for-Real-World-Learnings-five-dimensional-model-of-creativity_fig4_326949274
(3) Forest of the Imagination: https://www.forestofimagination.org.uk/