Monday, 7 November 2005


this was written as a piece for the Guardian, published in early 2006

Creativity is tough to define, but every teacher knows it when they see it. In the 1950s we sought conformingly uniform children, for the conformingly uniform jobs of late industrial Britain. Any creativity was strictly extra-curricular. But as the mundane tasks have moved overseas, or become tasks for robots, creativity has replaced conformity. Schools have noticed. Children are designing the robots!

Type "creativity" into Google and you find an unsurprising 90 million or so hits. About a third mention schools. Almost every policy paper from progressive (and progressing) countries around the world mentions creativity in learning. Some, like Japan, have whole policy documents dedicated to it. So, how many mentions does the word get in the "Higher Standards, Better Schools for All" White Paper? "Standard" is mentioned 144 times, "fail" appears 53 times. Rather surprisingly, the words "creativity" and "creative" are not mentioned at all, probably uniquely for an education policy paper in the 21st century. Someone has taken their eye off the ball, haven't they?

But where the White Paper has failed spectacularly to notice creativity, our teachers, students and parents are embracing it, armed with some very useful new tools. All around the UK schools are seeing remarkable levels of engagement and effort resulting from a quite specific focus on creative activity. Now that computer connected cameras are so affordable a mass of really imaginative video is pouring from our schools, and has been for some years. The BBC has a TV programme, Blast! dedicated to video work by children for children. In Blackpool they fill a huge seaside cinema with primary children who show each other their short movies on the BIG screen, before voting for their favourites; the quality is remarkable. Annually BAFTA celebrates the breadth and diversity of children's creativity with the annual DfES supported "Be Very Afraid" event which this year included a kinetic "garden" of optic rods representing a student's communications with friends and family, and a primary school adventure spanning mobile txting, books and web-site.

Apple did some really useful pioneering work in the early 90s where they paired school children with cinema icons like Ken Russell and music stars like Brian Adams. The results were stunning and since then they have supported a regular showcase for creativity annually at BETT. and much teacher development. With software tools like iStopMotion or FrameThief on the Macintosh or Anasazi Stop Motion Animator, TePee Animator or MonkeyJam on the PC the fun of animation is wonderfully accessible too. To see a group of 12 or more children, each animating their own plasticise character or object, on a complex stage in line with their storyboard, it to witness the power of creativity to engage and delight. And the end products are eye-swivellingly complex to watch. You can see why Apple are majoring on their iLife studio, to make easy movie, photo, DVD, music and web-site integration.

And with the whole BSF agenda challenging our ideas about what creative school might be like, there is no better way to hear the learners' authentic voice than to arm them with the wonderful (and cheap) cross platform "SketchUp" 3D architectural tool - used by professional architects too - to let them model and then "fly through" their own view of future schools. You can also see why Microsoft's web-site lists over 13,769 references to "creativity". This is a major battleground for the big companies and as users we gain from the competition.

So, schools are innovating, the tools are affordable, professional and easy to use, the children are terrifyingly confident and ingenious. Creativity matters. Maybe the next White Paper due soon, on Further Education, will notice? Don't hold your breath.