Global Education Episode 24: Teaching for creativity across the curriculum

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Hello and thanks for downloading this podcast from Teacher ­– I’m Jo Earp. Last month saw the release of the first PISA data to look at student creativity. The OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment measures the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds.

Sharing the creative thinking assessment results, OECD Director for Education and Skills (and Teacher columnist) Andreas Schleicher, said: ‘Teachers can unlock student creativity by encouraging students to explore, generate and reflect upon ideas. …Yet, worryingly, only about half of students believe that their creativity is something that they can change. … By providing students with opportunities and support to explore their creative abilities, educators can help them realise that creativity is not an innate trait but a skill that can be honed and improved.’ Now, the report also highlighted more needs to be done in both initial teacher training and education, and ongoing professional development to support teachers in this area.

In episode 24 of our podcast series on Global Education I’ll be finding out more about the Creativity Collaboratives partnership in England that’s bringing together teachers and academics to explore how the teaching and learning of creativity is cultivated across the school curriculum. Joining me today are Sarah Childs, Lead Practitioner at Penryn College, and Associate Professor Kerry Chappell from the University of Exeter’s School of Education. They’ll be sharing what’s happened so far in this 3-year program, the important role of teachers as action researchers, and details of the resources that have been developed to support other educators, including a Toolkit. A couple of things to note – you’ll hear CPD mentioned a couple of times in the chat, that’s Continuing Professional Development, and as usual I’ll be putting links to the relevant websites, publications and resources in the transcript of this podcast over at Okay, let’s get started.

Jo Earp: Hi, Sarah and Kerry, thank you so much for joining us all the way from the UK today. So, I thought it would be good if we could start off with you both giving a bit of an introduction about yourselves and your role, and then also Sarah, just a little bit about some context for your school as well.

Sarah Childs: Hi, Jo, thanks for inviting us to join you for the podcast. My name's Sarah Childs and I'm a member of the senior leadership team here at Penryn College, as a Lead Practitioner. I guess my role is about leading aspects of teaching and learning, which includes CPD and coaching.

Penryn College is in Cornwall, down here in the South-West in the UK, and we are a secondary school which for us caters for students from the age of 11 to 16. We've got almost 1,200 students and around about 100 staff. So, for us, in Cornwall that's a quite a sizeable secondary school. And we serve the community that is Penryn, which is just outside of the town of Falmouth if your UK geography is quite good, and all its neighbouring villages. And since 2001 I've been leading on the Penryn Creativity Collaboratives programme for the Arts Council in England, working with Penryn College and our wider Penryn Partnership. And very pleased that Kerry can join us today as well.

Kerry Chappell: Hi, Jo. Hi again, Sarah. I'm Associate Professor Kerry Chappell.
I work at the University of Exeter in the School of Education. I'm a specialist researcher and lecturer in creativity and education, but I also have a background in the arts – my background is in dance education, so I'm very interested and have brought all of this into the project, the notion of embodied dialogue as the heart of creativity. So, it's that academic expertise, if you like, that I've been bringing to the project.

And I'd also just like to say that we don't have with us today, Ursula Crickmay, who is the Research Fellow on the project. She also works in the School of Education, and we certainly could not have done any of this without Ursula's amazing work as well. So it's just to acknowledge Ursula's presence on the team, even though she's not with us today.

JE: We'll definitely give Ursula a mention. And yeah, a shout out to everybody that's been involved in this, because we’re talking about really far-reaching partnerships, and we'll dig into that in a moment. Sarah, you're part of, as you said, the Creativity Collaboratives, so that's a national pilot programme over there in England. And you're in what's called the Penryn Partnership, which is one of, I understand, 8 clusters. Can you tell me a little bit about the focus of this pilot and what it's investigating and hoping to achieve?

SC: Yeah. So, the Creativity Collaboratives actually has 8 clusters across the whole of England, and the premise was about testing kind of innovative practices in the teaching for creativity, with the real challenge to then share and, you know, almost facilitate more system-wide change, which was quite exciting. You know, it's obviously funded by Arts Council England with some generous support from Freedland's Foundation, and was launched back in 2001 after the Durham Commission, their first report publication. The Penryn Creativity Collaborative over the course of the last 3 years, has had its own line of inquiry. So, each of the 8 collaboratives had their own question they wanted to follow and ours was around ‘How does teaching for creativity across the curriculum lead to young people who are better prepared for their future in a changing workforce?’

Our ambition really was to inspire teaching and learning for a future curriculum and almost develop our thinking and be ahead and future-proofed in lots of ways. We wanted to make sure that creativity was also fostered, not just in some subjects, but actually across the whole curriculum for our young people, and actually that they then could enter the world of work, able to apply that really passionately and using their knowledge and skills in whatever, you know, school experience they take with them into their future careers.

Obviously, we knew along the way, we'd got to do some work with developing leaders and teachers, so they were really confident in what this looked like. And that's where, you know, we've worked with a host of partners over the last 3 years, which has been really exciting. The Penryn Partnership actually is really quite a well-established partnership, we've been working together for 20 years. So, whilst we are a secondary school here at Penryn College, actually our partnership also includes 8 primary schools – some of those are really small and very rural primary schools, but they cater for children from the age of 4 to 11. So, they tend to be our kind of feeder schools that eventually their children will come join us here at Penryn College.

JE: So, there are a lot more schools involved, not just yourselves, although you're leading it. But who else is involved on sort of the academic side of things then or maybe other forms of support?

SC: Yes, so there was no way we were going to manage this without having a really ‘Wider Learning Community’, which is what we called everybody, and then that creates that kind of sustainable model. And we've worked with partners for a really long time in really believing that it just enriches the opportunities for young people.

So, we've been really fortunate to work with Kerry and Ursula Crickmay at the School of Education and we've managed to utilise their expertise and their knowledge but, also, they've worked with our teachers, developing action research. It's meant that also our research is of really high quality, and it's given us this great platform that we can obviously now share with you all. And you know, I won't take words from Kerry, but I know Kerry would say it's really the premise is around researching with teachers rather than researching on teachers, and that's empowered our teachers through the research process, and it's allowed them to develop their own creative skills and pedagogies, which is great.

I think the team at Exeter have also really shone a light on our teachers as being reflective practitioners and really appreciate that craft that is teaching, which has been wonderful. Along with all that big job, Exeter has also been collating all the overarching findings. You know they've done that with real rigour, which is great, which meant now we can disseminate and share that to hopefully support others that fall outside the Creativity Collaboratives pilot.

We also, partly because it was linked to workforce readiness, had a kind of a wider network of industry and cultural partners as well. So, we've lent quite closely to our local companies and industries that we had worked with before that they were the ones that were holding us to count around, you know, ‘What would a Cornish workforce look like in the future?’, ‘What skills are important now and and what skills, importantly are going to be needed in 10 years or 15 or 20 years’ time as well?’

JE: Yeah, there are so many moving parts on this one, isn't there? And there's a lot to keep across. But it certainly sounds like it's been a great success so far. Kerry, then, I wanted to get you to do quite a difficult job actually, because I've read a lot of the publications that you've already done. And as usual, as I mentioned in the intro I'll pop a link to those in the transcript of this podcast so people can read all of that information that you’ve put out there. And there’s tonnes and tonnes of details, so I'd recommend you all go there. But what I want you to do is sort of give me a bit of an overview of what's happened during this 3-year project. So, I understand there's been a different focus then for each year. Can you sort of briefly recap the first 2 years and then what the focus is for the third?

KC: Absolutely. So, the first year was really about trying to create a model that we could use in the following years across the project. So, that involved our university team doing a literature review, but also focus groups and interviews with staff, different stakeholders within the whole setup so that we could develop a kind of bespoke definition, if you like, of creativity and the creative skills, but also a framework for creative pedagogies.

Sarah mentioned earlier that the whole project focuses on Cornwall, and that's really important that the definitions, the skills and pedagogies frameworks that we've developed are bespoke to the context that we're working in. And it also comes out, as I mentioned at the beginning, my particular expertise is in thinking of creativity as a dialogic process; so it's not an individualised process. So the creative skills … the framework is driven by this focus on dialogue and collaboration – the idea that you're working with questions which lead to answers which lead to more questions as the driver of creativity. So that's a really important thing I think that sets our version of the pilot aside from some of the other pilots which have used sort of off the shelf definitions. So, it's been really lovely to have that bespoke definition for us.

Pedagogies that go with it in the first year, but then really being able to use that framework as a strong structure to go into the action research work in the second year. Really proud to have developed the 13 action research reports, which all stand as stand-alone publications on our website for the project. But, as Sarah said, we also do the synthesis report in year 2 as well, which really pulled together the answers to the sort of big questions about how creativity and the pedagogies were manifesting in year 2. And really excitingly, and we’ll come on to this at the end as well I think, we also developed a toolkit in year 2 which drew off all of that action research and the synthesis work, so that, as Sarah was saying, we can really make this palatable and accessible to other people across the UK and internationally if they want to use it.

So, as we now go into year 3, it's the embed and grow phase. So there's been a little bit more action research, but really trying to drill down and embed all of this work into all of the schools that are part of the Penryn Partnership and to take that impact through to students in the classroom.

JE: It's great to hear that there's been a such a central focus on the action research way of working, because I always find it interesting when we're developing pedagogies or continuums, progression of skills, trying to unpack actually what it means – and that's really what a lot of countries and systems are doing in terms of creativity and critical thinking and those things that you know you really need – it's a great chance, isn't it, to get teachers involved at that early level. So, that’s great to hear. I’m interested from both of you how you came to work together on this. Why was this a particular priority for you as a school, Sarah? And also, why was this a focus for the School of Education there at the Uni?

SC: Yeah, that's a great question. And it’s funny, we were thinking about this only the other day and and where this all began because 3 years has just flown by, you know. I guess as a school we'd always been quite outward looking, and we were always really keen to have opportunities for research and development. And I can remember when the first report for the Durham Commission got published, it was just something about it that really resonated with us. It just felt not just timely, but really on point with what we were feeling in school.

As a partnership we'd already started linking curriculums, we wanted to make sure there was progression for young people from primary into secondary phase, you know, really to maximise their learning, but also their experience. But we'd even started co-designing curriculums with industry partners because we have a STEAM faculty here at Penryn, which was great. We have a Creative Arts department, who’d started to look at how you develop creative skills to prepare children for [the kind of] end phase here of their learning in secondary school. And in many ways, we've always said that the creativity pilot has allowed us to really flourish at a speed – it’s accelerated us at a speed we probably wouldn't have managed to do without it – but the ambition had already been there.

And the interesting twist for Kerry and I is, actually, we hadn't worked together beforehand, and it was one of those moments where you send a really wishful email, which we all do from time to time, don't we? And I sent a hopeful email to Kerry going ‘oh, I've just read some of your stuff and it's really interesting and we're thinking about this …’ I'll let Kerry fill in the next bit of that, but that was essentially how we came to be working together, Kerry, isn't it?

KC: Yeah, absolutely, Sarah. And I think almost from the minute the email landed in my inbox, you know when you sort of realise that there's a kindred spirit on the other side of the email, it's very much been like that, the relationship with Ursula and Sarah in their project. We are the sort of people that work very kind of well together and very speedily, I think. Sarah used the term accelerate; we do work at quite high speed together, but I think it's because we're all passionate about what we're doing. And certainly, in the School of Education at Exeter we've had a research centre that focuses on creativity since around 2008, which was established by Anna Craft [Professor of Creativity in Education]. So, we have a really strong heritage of creativity and education work at the university, and I've been leading that centre for the past 7 to 10 years I suppose. And whilst obviously we have a remit to be doing academic work within creativity and education, that only happens when you get into really strong, good partnerships with practice and the theory-practice dimension can really start to vibe in that relationship that Sarah described earlier as researching with rather than on. Theory feeds practice, practice feeds theory and you get into a really healthy kind of debate and conversation about what it actually means to do creativity in education. So, yeah, I think, yeah, and long may this continue I say as well because, you know, it's been a great 3 years working together. So, yeah, that's how it all came about.

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JE: The second year of the pilot, as we've mentioned, that was all about action research in the schools, and specifically that was focused on what was happening around creative pedagogies and then how the students skills progress – which is a really difficult one to map out. What are the main findings to come out of that year 2 action research? And I’m interested if your experience at Penryn was slightly different to what was happening at the other schools in your cluster, because there are some primaries in there as well, aren’t there?

SC: You know, we'd learnt so much in year 1 and in our model where it's scalable, you know, year 2 is essentially about doing something with what we'd learned in year one and it had to be in the classroom and it needed to be at the point where we were allowing teachers to unravel that, you know, through their practice. So that, ultimately, where we are now in year 3, that has wider spread.

So, you know, we used as Kerry's already talked about, we got to the end of year 1, we'd created the model of creative skills for the partnership. So, we had a shared language and that's just been so essential. And that was obviously created with Exeter, but it reflected a lot of that literature review. It reflected a lot of the voices that we were hearing locally in Cornwall from our partners, so we knew we were really well placed. So, you know, as Kerry said, to then have 13 teachers – we had one in every school and a slightly bigger team here at Penryn College, a slightly bigger setting – you know, who just were ultimately inspired to take part in action research.

And I think when you start from that place, you know you're on something quite exciting.

Ultimately, each teacher had their own research questions. Some explored some elements of creative skills. Some explored creative pedagogies. And they were particularly looking about how those manifested in their specific classroom. Now, for us, that meant we published one action research report that was with 4-year-olds in our EYFS (so our early years provision); you know we had some teachers talking about year 10s, which is our 14–15-year-olds here in the UK. And they were after, obviously the teachers were after, evidence, the impact of that over time. And with the training and the mentoring from Exeter, they really then became this cohesive group of almost like evidence-based teachers who were just really confident to talk about it. Some of our teachers even actually partnered with some industry and cultural partners so that they could really enrich that learning in the classroom.

In terms of overarching messages for year 2 – gosh, you know, teachers felt really energised and invigorated and their passion now to keep sharing their learning I think is a real testament to that. You know, they often talked about this kind of almost new freedom and time and space that they've put within their classroom, and they felt very empowered that this was clearly going to impact young people for preparing them for their future. You know, lots of the teachers talked about how students felt more empowered in their own learning, they were more motivated, they were more engaged in terms of what they were seeing in the classroom. And if, you know, when we started to really burrow down into that, you know, often the lessons used problem-solving approaches, they had real world problems as context, for example, they were across subjects and they drew on that knowledge from the different subjects into different pockets in their classrooms, which was quite an interesting change for us, particularly here at secondary school.

You know, the teachers are always still very keen, however, to say that you know it wasn't just about enriching an experience in the classroom. Actually, what they started to see was it was making knowledge ‘stickier’. That's the way we like to describe it. You know, learning was more memorable because of the changes and the approaches they were making in their classroom. And then ultimately, the children can retrieve and recall their knowledge, and therefore that was helping them progress over time as well. You know, students kept telling us how much they valued having more dialogue, more talk in their classrooms, more opportunities for collaboration and that they really valued, you know, leading their own learning.

So, you know, there is so much to share and each of the action research research reports that Kerry talked about actually have summaries of each of their findings on their publications, which is great.

JE: You’ve done a great job of pulling all that together and making sure that that gets out there as well. Kerry, we've mentioned a couple of times now a key aspect of this is obviously the teachers. They're the ones on the frontline, aren’t they, doing the practice, so they've got to be heavily involved and as teachers as well driving that research side of things. But I'm interested what support that requires from you on your side as well.

KC: Yeah, we actually were using (Ursula and I), a model that I've been developing over the last 10 years or so that originally came out of – many people, even in Australia, might remember this scheme in the UK – the Creative Partnership scheme, there was a project within that called CARA 2, which was the Creativity Action Research Awards and that put this kind of action research at the heart of creativity and education development. I was a young researcher at that time and sort of learnt my trade within that project and since then have gone on to continue to use that model and to work with it in all sorts of settings in EU projects, arts-based projects. So when Sarah did send me that email, I was going ‘I’ve got the perfect model we can use to make this work’.

So, it's based on a kind of training and mentoring model. So, we have 3 really intensive days spread across the year – kind of beginning, middle and end of the year – and then in between we mentor each of the teachers. And we did that in groups, sort of thematic clustered groups so that they could almost kind of buddy up and be learning from each other within that mentoring setup as well. But within the training days, it's very much things like ‘what makes a good research question?’

If you look in our year 2 report, you'll see there's a page which has got all the research questions on it, and they're all ‘how’ questions, most of them are ‘how’ questions. It's about trying to get to the root of how things are happening. So, it's not always actually in our pilot about measuring. Because creativity is conceived dialogically, something that happens between people, between ideas, between disciplines it's not something you can measure within the individual, but it is something you can understand the ‘how’ of; so, really encouraging teachers to ask those ‘how?’ [questions]. So, for example: ‘How do you develop children's independence?’, ‘How do you encourage creativity through outdoor learning?’. Those sorts of questions, so that once you've got a strong research question, you understand what that means you can then go on to sort of go into the training of data collection, all the usual suspects that were all familiar with from data collection methods.

One of the sticky points I think Sarah would probably agree with me is analysis. What does it mean to analyse your data when you've got that big pile of data? So, helping teachers, training them in how to do qualitative and a small amount of quantitative analysis. And then the bit that I think was probably the most unpopular, but I do think is the most potent is the writing – getting teachers to write those reports. Because the process of thinking and writing, you can see on the website the quality of those action research reports and the rigour with which the teachers have been able to make the claims of what they've learned and what they can demonstrate about their research really comes through in those action research reports. So, I think Sarah used the word ‘rigour’ earlier on. It's been really important to us to understand what it means to be rigorous, particularly in qualitative research, and to make the case for that, that it's not just anecdotal snapshots of things, it's really been interrogated, triangulated and understood rigorously so that the teachers can put that work out with confidence into the world.

So, I think that support job, it's been kind of quite hands-on in terms of interacting with what they're doing, what they've been producing, but in a way that ultimately allows them to put their research out into the world independently, I think.

JE: So, the first 2 years and the action research side we've mentioned there. I’m interested then what’s happened into this year, and that’s been much more about embedding and growing what’s happening. What has that looked like?

SC: So, I can't believe really this is year 3 and time’s flown as it does so quickly, doesn't it? Ultimately year 3, as I said, is about scaling up and moving from that individual classroom practice with the teachers and their action research to actually how they and how the leaders within the school make that more of a broader practice across. And how we share that also outside our partnerships, so that others can learn from what we've been doing. Ultimately, we're considering where teaching for creativity is finding its place, you know. Is it in a school development plan? Is it that it becomes embed within curriculums? Is it through whole school training?

And it's really important for us as a partnership that each school did that in the way that was purposeful for them, and the path that they're on at the moment. You know, so actually each school's done it quite differently, which is exciting. It's challenging sometimes to capture all the learning because it's so vast and brilliant at the same time.

We obviously launched our Toolkit, that Kerry was talking about earlier, back in March and the exciting part about that was the majority of the Toolkit was written by those action research teachers. It became like their next part of what they were contributing, so they could share with others. And the important part of the Toolkit was it's about helping others, you know, develop what they think teaching for creativity might look like in their curriculum. It includes ideas to develop practice in schools and offers actually some ideas to try. There's even little lesson plans and ideas for just having a 10 minute, you know, give it a go kind of approach in a teacher's classroom, which I think is really exciting.

For us, you know, it is now about how this becomes sustainable moving forward, which is a great place to be.

KC: And I think as well, I mean I'd add to that in terms of the sort of dissemination that we've been able to do this year, that's been really exciting, the opportunities that have come up. Obviously doing podcasts on the other side of the world is an amazing way to disseminate what we've been up to! But we've also, we're sharing the work at the Possibility Studies Network conference in Cambridge, we've really excitingly got a slot at the British Educational Research Association Conference in September and there will be a special issue of the journal Thinking Skills and Creativity coming off the back of that. And that's all because not only within our pilot, but in the other pilots as well where these partnerships have existed, the rigour of the work, and that's been really … because sometimes it can be really risky doing this work in terms of whether you can keep the rigour in there. But I think this pilot has been able to do that. So, we've got those opportunities to publish academically as well as to disseminate to teacher communities. And I think that really helps to strengthen the work and make the case for the impact that we're having as well. Speaking of which we've also got an article being published in the Teacher's Chartered College Impact Journal, which is again talking. So, it's facing the work to different audiences, and we've had a really good range of opportunities to do that so that it can have an impact as many different levels as possible really. So that's been a really healthy part of this last year as well.

JE: Just before we go then, let’s have a quick chat about what might be happening in the future then. Sarah from your side of things in the school I’m really interested in where you go to from here in terms of continuing to evaluate and monitor and see what kind of impact this is having.

SC: You know, we've always said it was about weaving through our existing systems. So, for most of our schools, our structures are relatively similar around how we develop teaching and learning. And so, I'm really positive that we've found the place for teaching for creativity within our existing systems.

I guess the bit that's really important if you think from a simple point that every school has a new teacher join, you know each year, and the message needs to keep growing; you know CPD and how we continue to train staff to really know what this looks like is so important in all of our schools. Because if we've managed for it to find its place, it's growing through curriculums we want to make the teachers and leaders feel really confident to keep this with real energy moving into the future.

You know, ultimately that's going to be our kind of next sustainable model, is how we keep that going. The resources on the Toolkit, for example, will keep growing. We’re particularly keen to make sure we capture lots of different voices in that and enable others to just find that kind of nugget of gold that's gonna help them to find their way in. And you know you mentioned about measuring impact, it is a really tricky one, you know, and Kerry and I have discussed this much over the last 3 years.

I think what we've managed to do through the relationship with Exeter actually is become better (not sure we’re there yet) but become better at actually managing to articulate for teachers and for students what the impact is. And therefore, being able to narrate that has been really powerful and we'd love to keep doing that moving forward, obviously.

JE: So, Kerry finally then as, as we were saying, this is a pilot initiative. Just a note on the resources – we always say if you've got a way of working or resources or whatever it is a programme, it's very rare that you're able to pick that up and just plonk it in your own school and it will work because it's all about context. And you've both talked a lot about that today about really having a think about what your local context is, what your school needs and what your community needs and what the requirements for your teachers are and so on, and students. So, I'm interested to hear a bit about what you’d like to see happen next. And also in terms of the resources that you produced and the Toolkit and so on, I guess anybody can access those, there’s some generic stuff in there as you were saying Sarah.

KC: Yeah, absolutely. The Toolkit is fully available online, free to download, as are the action research reports. I think it's really interesting to be asked this question at the moment, because we're just grappling with what might be the next stages of the project, and I think there's a trying to understand the relationship between the action research and the practice and how we move forward with that, I think. There's all sorts of exciting possibilities for what that might look like going forward.

So, one of the possible models which might work is something like a training the trainer model where we actually hand over the training of the teachers, to teachers themselves. So, as we move forward, we might think about how we hand over that skillset to teachers. And I think one of the things we've also learned across the years that we've been working and certainly in my experience running this model elsewhere is that you can't do this on no resource. And I think that's really important, to value action research you have to in some way actually probably see it as part of the ongoing Continuing Professional Development offer in schools.

Even if it's not having researchers in schools with you all the time as we've had the luxury of this year (these last 3 years) really looking forward to say ‘okay well, how can there be a background support that perhaps starts off with something more intensive, a training the trainer type model, but then sort of steps away but with a very light hand holding to sort of support things going forward.’

There's also exciting possibilities in shifting the whole model to work with students as researchers. That's another really exciting activity that I've done in the past that could well work in this kind of creativity and education pilot across the UK. So, thinking about what it means for students to work as action researchers. So, all sorts of possibilities in the mix at the moment as we're looking forward to the future and trying to figure out what will settle and work best in our situation, but also I think for the national pilot as well.

JE: Well, whatever happens in the future we wish you the best of luck with that. Also congratulations on what you've both managed to achieve so far and again a shout out to everybody that's been involved in that. I know you 2 are sort of representing an awful lot of people here today on the podcast, so well done to everybody there. But we'd definitely love to keep in touch in the future so that we can report on what's happening next. But, for now, Sarah Childs and Associate Professor Kerry Chappell thanks so much for sharing your experiences and expertise with Teacher.

SC: Thank you.

KC: Thanks so much for having us. Cheers.

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