The Durham Commission on Creativity and Education: A response from IVE

24th October 2019 - Drew Rowlands

Rosi Lister and Drew Rowlands respond to the Durham Commission Report on Creativity and Education

Having attended the launch of the Durham Commission Report on Creativity and Education in Westminster, which can be found here, we have to say that the findings resonate strongly with our beliefs, and with what IVE have been promoting for a number of years. Firstly, that creativity is not solely the preserve of the arts. Secondly, that in order to establish truly sustainable development in school standards as well as prepare our young people for the VUCA (Volatile, Unpredictable, Complex and Ambiguous) landscape that is the 21st century, we need to focus on teaching for creativity. Thirdly, that the development of creativity and creative thinking need to be a golden thread that weaves across education through all subjects and at all levels; in school, outside of school, in further and Higher Education as well as in Apprenticeships and Technical Training.

Creativity Collaboratives

Where global education systems are exploring innovative approaches to teaching, learning and curriculum design, they are often focused on a strong commitment to developing deep learning experiences that help students develop the capacity to learn. The Teaching and Learning Toolkit produced by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) places metacognition (learning to learn) at the top of its meta-analysis of interventions that impact on pupil progress (8-9 month impact). For us, Teaching for Creativity and Metacognition go hand in hand. They share ingredients such as;

This offers a significant opportunity to focus on teaching for creativity. It gives clarity of purpose and a mechanism for ensuring development in schools as, fundamentally, teaching for creativity builds the independent learning capacity of pupils. In our experience, the only truly sustainable way to improve standards, as well as equip our young with the capacities that will make them employable and well rounded, is by instilling in them a love of learning and the tools to be able to think for themselves and apply knowledge to wide ranging contexts.

The role of examinations and how scholarship and craftsmanship are recognised and rewarded in assessment frameworks.

In bringing this to fruition we would urge stakeholders such as DfE; Awarding Bodies and Ofqual to revisit the language used to describe learning. The education system has become pre-occupied with the terms ‘Academic’ and ‘Vocational’, with vocational learning being seen as something less than academic, and yet both words are fundamentally flawed when used to describe learning. ‘Academic’ – dictionary definition – purely theoretical, nothing to do with practical application – therefore music, drama and dance have no theory that needs to be learned?! Science and Maths have no practical application?! We need to be using a different language that blurs learning; for example– theoretical learning and applied learning. This simple change would, we believe have a dramatic effect. If a prerequisite of curriculum implementation was that pupils were required to respond to challenges by incorporating both types of learning, and outcomes, assessments and examinations were gauged in relation to how successfully both types of learning were articulated in the pupil response, then there would no longer be the divide that currently exists and the hierarchical system in which the misinterpreted ‘academic’ is seen as being better that other types of learner. It would also fundamentally focus educators’ minds on both scholarship and craftsmanship.

How Ofsted views schools’ creativity

In relation to the point above, it would also mean that if the curriculum that is judged by Ofsted has to reflect a coherent vision of intent and clear models of implementation, then in gauging impact, it seems logical that the way to evaluate success would be by drawing evidence from the whole life of the child and not purely on what a child exhibits during a school day. We believe impact of the curriculum should be triangulated between evidence drawn from activity within school, activity out of school and of course, through assessment data. In addition, this shift would put the pupil at the very heart of the learning process and ultimately lead to improved standards.

Engaging in Pisa Evaluation of Creative Thinking

Pisa is looking to introduce an assessment focused on creative thinking from 2021. For us, ensuring that schools are part of this is crucial in relation to developing research and evidence informed practice. It is also imperative given what the latest evidence is telling us. For example, the World Economic Report around Future Jobs (see fig 1 below) places creativity and innovation in the top 3 desirable skills by 2022. A Linked In survey of business leaders in August 2019 placed creativity as the number one skill needed in the workforce. The DfE has recently launched a £100m scheme called the National Re-training Scheme that is focused on equipping post 24 year olds with transferable skills as they are in danger of losing employment through automation.

Fig1: World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report 2018

Opportunities for the Arts and Cultural Sector

We believe the recommendations within the report offer significant opportunities to the Arts and Cultural Sector that goes beyond the opportunities that arose through previous initiatives such as Creative Partnerships (CP). Whilst there are wide ranging examples of fantastic practice that arose between 2002 and 2011, in many cases Creative Partnerships involved creative practitioners (mostly from the arts sector) sharing their work in the classroom with teachers and pupils. In doing so the aim was for a kind of osmosis to happen between practitioner and teacher so the teacher became equipped to take on the practice once the practitioner left. Where this was successful it led to deep rooted change in pedagogy and a default way of teaching that is still paying dividends many years later. However, CP was very much a test bed for developing understanding and practice. Thinking evolved over the period, and in many ways the programme was pulled just at the moment when the learning was at its ripest and most likely to lead to system change. Part of that learning was that too often once the practitioner was removed from the equation, the teacher reverted back to earlier defaults as the practice had not become part of their ‘DNA’. It was also a very costly model with over £380m of investment from government. By focusing on teaching for creativity across the curriculum, the emphasis will be on building classroom practice, in a sense, from where Creative Partnerships ended, which will be a significant step forward. For the Arts and Cultural Sector to take advantage of this development it will mean thinking less about the actual art form, and instead garner a deep understanding of the creative process on which their practice is built and be able to support teachers to apply that transferable creative process when structuring all learning. In doing so, we believe that not only will there be greater scope for working with schools, but also the world of business as well as adding new dimensions to their own work as artists.

The skills pipeline and employability

As already alluded to, there are now numerous research papers that either identify creativity as the number one skill needed for future employment or as the greatest skill lacking in new recruits entering the world of work. This research has been driven by the need to grow world economies through productivity and innovation in the face of rapidly marching developments in artificial intelligence and other major societal challenges including climate change and the impact these will have on employment. Whilst we remain sadly sceptical of the Commission receiving the required support from the DfE, we welcome all ten of the Commission’s recommendations. We believe they go some way toward furthering what we think needs to be a core creativity curriculum that sits within the range of what is considered by many educationalists and traditional training providers as ‘soft’ employability skills. Whilst this offers a familiar framework within which we see a space to work, we are not sure the definition of ‘soft skills’ is still appropriate. We are told by many of our business clients to whom we provide Creative Leadership Training, that the skills we speak of are anything but soft. They tell us that they are the core skills that regardless of technical knowledge (which will constantly change), they are the skills that ensure someone is work ready, effective and resilient. Our clients tell us that creativity for them is about the embodiment of a set of characteristic skills, attitudes and behaviours that enable an individual to think for themselves and lead people effectively and productively through change. It was from these board room and shop floor conversations we developed our own definition of human creativity as the catalyst generating the ideas that drive innovation. The Durham Commission attempts something slightly different but it is useful and encouraging to see where the similarities lie.


What is undoubtable about the findings and recommendations of the Durham Commission is the fact that they reinforce the growing evidence base that identifies the development of creativity as an absolute imperative to our future economic success; to our ability to address a variety of social concerns and even going so far as to say, our very survival as a species.

Rosi Lister and Drew Rowlands

October 2019

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