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Top tips for Building a creative education environment

05 February 2014

Start at the end
“We plan the outcomes we want to achieve from the outset” says Doug Brawley, headteacher of Copnor Junior School in Portsmouth “the skills we want the children to learn are identified at the outset and we never take our eye off that.”

“Just 3% of students leave us without further training, education or a job to go on to” says Stuart Worden, Principal of The BRIT School. “Our music students had to put on events in four pubs and clubs across London. They had to find the venue, budget, book equipment, get the license, do the publicity and arrange the van to get everything there too. These are deep employment skills. Employment is an important outcome.” 

Staff are vital for success
“If the staff aren’t behind it and don’t implement creativity in their teaching it has limited impact.” Says Mark Cadwallader, Headteacher of Yenton Primary School.

Creative education is good for teachers too: “allowing teachers to be creative, decide the subject matters they teach based on what is relevant and engaging for the pupils is much more rewarding for the teachers too.” Angela Mander, Headteacher of Newfield Park Primary School.

“Almost every one of our creative arts teachers comes from the industry. We have a former costume maker for Eastenders, film makers, radio producers, choreographers, West End producers and set designers and so on.” Says Stuart “Even our academic staff have a passion for the creative arts; a history teacher who is in a rock band. The school provides professional practise and our teachers, as practitioners, provide the best advice possible.” 

Involve your pupils/ students too
“We ask the children for feedback; we asked “what would you like to learn about?” and also the types of learning they enjoyed. They said they liked working in groups on open ended tasks so our focus groups have allowed them to do that.” Says Jo Malcolm, Deputy Headteacher of Newfield Park Primary School. 

Make creativity cross curricular
“A knowledge based curriculum doesn’t preclude creativity” says Doug. “Our curriculum is skills based, investigational, encourages experimentation, uses practical tasks and extends through subjects.”

A thematic curriculum allows creativity to be spread across topics says Angela: “In the afternoons pupils focus on topics and work across the curriculum.”

“At our recent staff conference, colleagues were set the challenge of creating a two hour, cross-circular lesson inspired by Helen Storey's Catalytic Clothing project. In April, normal lessons will be suspended for the day and the learning opportunities created at the conference will be taught,” says Jon Nicholls, Director of Arts, Creativity and Communications at Thomas Tallis School. 
And don’t neglect extra-curricular activities too. “It’s not just our compulsory lessons that are creative; our free extra-curricular activities provide our pupils with additional ways to learn skills and express themselves.” Says Mark. 

“Our pupils are invited to apply for jobs at the school, such as helping in the office during lunchtime or being on school council.” says Doug “Those who want the jobs have to complete an application form and attend an interview with members of the local rotary club who are all ex-business people and help us select who should get the jobs. It’s a competitive system but we do also give consideration to ensuring all pupils can participate.”

“We are fortunate to have lots of parents who work in the creative industries with whom we collaborate for the benefit of all our students. We also work with organisations such as the Helen Storey Foundation and A New Direction as well as researchers at the Centre for Real World Learning at the University of Winchester. We encourage colleagues in all faculties to collaborate then publish their work on our website, which is open.” 

Physical environment
Mark’s school recently improved their outdoor environment with a new playground which the pupils helped design. “Since we improved our outdoor space we have seen a huge improvement in behaviour” says Mark.

Angela said “Our Year 5 pupils are currently learning about space and so we have constructed a space station in their classroom which is used for role play and at other times as a quiet area”.

Doug’s school also make use of display boards to inspire pupils. “We have interactive boards which pose questions and invite the pupils to answer using microphones which are implanted in the boards. We also change our boards regularly so they are not just wallpaper. As our environment has improved so have our pupils’ results.”

Students at the BRIT school benefit from industry standard facilities “but you don’t need all the money to make a creative environment. We also have some down at heel drama studios too; just a room painted black” says Stuart.

“What’s on the walls conveys a subliminal message about what the school values” says Jon. 

Don’t go it alone
“Being a part of a community of creative education is important” says Jon. “Sometimes it can be tempting to think that you’re the only school doing these things but it’s relatively easy to find likeminded colleagues from attending conferences and reading research. Engaging in conversations online, particularly through Twitter, has been vital in collaborating with others and supporting what we are doing at Thomas Tallis.” 

Community counts
Work closely with your local community to “enrich and broaden cultural entitlement” as Jon puts it. Stuart explained a recent project in which local primary schools wrote their own fairytales which were then performed to audiences of more than 1000. “As I left, I overheard two young lads, around Year 4 age. One said to the other ‘that was the best show I’ve ever seen’ the other replied ‘that’s the only show you’ve ever seen’. That sums it up, really. We now require our students to complete community projects whilst at school, whether it’s working with teenagers to use the arts to deal with their terminal illnesses, local police, teen parents or students at PRUs.” 

Make time
“You have to make time to be creative.” Says Doug. “We are not frightened of tasks which will last a few days.” 

Try new things
“Keep changing, keep questioning” says Jon. “Constant play keeps inspiring you” says Stuart “the kids keep coming up with new ideas and never fail to surprise me.”

With thanks to:
Doug Brawley, Headteacher of Copnor Junior School
Mark Cadwallader, Headteacher of Yenton Primary School
Jo Malcolm, Deputy Headteacher of Newfield Park Primary School
Angela Mander, Headteacher of Newfield Park Primary School
Jon Nicholls, Director of Arts, Creativity and Communications at Thomas Tallis School
Stuart Worden, Principal of The BRIT School

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