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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 June, 2003, 18:11 GMT 19:11 UK
The dawn of creativity?
By Justin Parkinson
BBC News Online education staff

Creativity is the current buzzword in education.

What, apart from building a wall, could you use a brick for?
One of the tests for would-be creativity scholars in Hackney

Teachers are complaining about an over-emphasis on numeracy and literacy in the classroom, restricting outlets for children's other talents.

Testing, targets and (league) tables have become the terrible Three Ts.

Studies suggest children suffer psychological damage from the effects of pressure to achieve.

Meanwhile the creative industries, worth an estimated 60bn a year to the UK economy and employing 1.4 million people, are always on the lookout for another T: talent.

In vogue

They need people with more than the usually recognised basic educational skills.

So creativity - the freedom of ideas, lateral thinking, self-expression, or however you want to define it - is in vogue.

One project in Hackney, east London, is trying to find the most talented young people of or just below school-leaving age, to prepare them for a career.

The newly established Ideas Foundation (IF) is offering 50 "creativity scholarships" to secondary school pupils aged 14 to 19 in the borough.

Around 200 people will undergo "creative profiling", an assessment of their potential.

One question asks children what they could use a brick for, other than building a wall.

The most successful of those profiled will get up to a month's mentoring by an "established creative professional".

Youth orchestra
Creative activities can be squeezed in the national curriculum

Among these, there are some famous names: film producer David Puttnam, television executives Alan Yentob and Michael Grade, newspaper editor Alan Rusbridger, fashion designer Zandra Rhodes.

IF's founder, Robin Wight, said: "It's now broadly accepted by psychologists that there are between seven and 12 different types of intelligence.

"Probably only two or three are taught in schools. The fundamental problem of schooling is dealing with numeracy and the sort of intelligence which is academic.

'Something different'

"There is very little in the area of creativity. We need more balance in the system, which is quite hard to achieve.

"The American system is ahead of us. For instance, they teach a lot of creative writing. You get it a bit here, but it's on the side. This happens despite the best intention of those in the system."

A study for the National Union of Teachers (NUT) last year found English and maths lessons were taking up half the teaching week in primary schools.

Art got 65 minutes and music just 45.

The NUT says this damages children's development, denying them an outlet for their energy and imagination.

But the IF's focus is far narrower than reforming the entire curriculum.

'Focus on ideas'

It wants to set up links between young people and creative businesses, like the media, advertising, the arts, drama and music.

We are launching a small programme that will hopefully grow to a significant movement designed to ensure that Britain uses all the creative talent it has at its disposal
Robin Wight, Ideas Foundation

Mr Wight, who also founded the advertising agency WCRS, added: "It doesn't replace teachers, it provides something different.

"Often, creative young people will not have been identified by themselves, let alone others. Maybe they have not been helped by parents to develop their skills or have no means of practising them.

"We are launching a small programme that will hopefully grow to a significant movement designed to ensure that Britain uses all the creative talent it has at its disposal."

The IF hopes to offer its mentoring scholarships to 2,000 people eventually.

Jane Button, head of arts and business at Brooke House Sixth Form College in Hackney, where the scheme is being piloted this summer, said: "You cannot switch creativity on between nine and five, switch it off and go to bed afterwards.

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"What makes the students creative is the focus being on their ideas. We cannot say here's a list of our ideas. They should be theirs."

However, the focus is on making those ideas useful and adaptable enough for employers.

Miss Button aded: "Recently a group of media students were looking at music videos. They wanted to make some of their own.

"But we said, instead of choosing their own sort of bands, we would do it for them.

"They had to look at how to make stuff they hadn't liked before, interesting. It gave them a hook to explore their own ideas, while giving them ownership of the project.

"This makes them more comfortable and confident with what they are doing."

Professional qualities

Ms Button is fully supportive of mentoring, while acknowledging it is only a pilot scheme.

"You have to fulfil creative qualities in professional ways, such as keeping to deadlines and selling ideas.

"Students have got a grasp of a focus or dream creative job. They won't get into something and realise they have already blown it.

"They will be aware of their opportunities. The students are really into the whole idea."

How do we define creativity, though?

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), which monitors exams, has just published guidelines for teachers.

On its Creativity: Find It, Promote It website it says:

  • First, the characteristics of creativity always involve thinking or behaving imaginatively.
  • Second, overall this imaginative activity is purposeful: that is, it is directed to achieving an objective.
  • Third, these processes must generate something original.
  • Fourth, the outcome must be of value in relation to the objective.

Teachers must restrict time set for tasks to promote improvisation, set open-ended questions and encourage group work.

The examples gathered so far are interesting. One class of 13 and 14 year olds was asked to imagine starting a war and describe the consequences.

A group aged six and seven had to imagine what a polar bear sounded like and compose music to mimic it. Another in the same year had to see Jack and the Beanstalk from the Giant's point of view and write about it.

Margaret Talboys, director of the initiative, said: "We hope that teachers, whatever the year group or subject they teach, will give time to consider the examples we have collected.

"If they generate debate with colleagues about how we recognise pupils' creativity, they will have met one of our aims.

"But until we can actually show that they have helped to promote pupils' creative thinking and behaviour across the curriculum, they will not have served their prime purpose".

So, even at primary school level, creativity is about more than having ideas.

It is about making them into something. In other words, creating - producing something.

Ms Button's work with the students at Brooke House and the mentoring scholarship scheme are the logical conclusions - especially as young people with talents have to earn a living at some stage.

Creativity - like happiness and productivity - remains an intangible idea.

But, for the sake of children's happiness and their future prospects, it cannot be ignored.

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