Senior Producer, Nicky Crabb, discusses the importance, and struggle, of keeping creativity in our schools as pressures on exam results forever increase…

When did it become curriculum versus creativity, rather than a creative curriculum?  

Apples and Snakes’ patron and  former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen recently wrote in one of his brilliant blogs:

‘our school system is skewed as never before to testing and exams’

As a parent of two secondary school aged children, I am in the position to sadly agree. Right from entry to primary school at the age of four, our children are being prepared for a variety of tests. Rosen argues that all four-year-olds are essentially ‘GSCE apprentices’ – already preparing for the bigger tests to come, and taught in exam question related chunks of knowledge called attainment targets.

Our schools are data driven, fearful of league tables based on exam results and OFSTED reports and the endless capturing of data about student attainment at every level. As an ex-governor at my children’s primary school, I have seen the impact of the ongoing stress of this on the school’s leadership. It is constantly creating oppositions:

  • Competition between schools, rather than collaboration
  • The individual student, rather than the group/team/community
  • Doing as you are told/accepting the knowledge rather than questioning/inventing/imagining
  • Facts instead of exploration
  • Being right rather than being wrong

Is this really the way to create ‘educated’ children? And if it is, then what do we mean by educated? As Sir Ken Robinson said in his famous 2006 TED talk entitled Do schools kill creativity? (the most viewed TED talk ever at over 53 million views):

if you are not prepared to be wrong, you will not come up with anything original’

He went on to argue that through our government’s desire to constantly seek out better results and improve league tables, we are actually ‘educating people out of their creative capacities’, something we are all born with.  We are not looking at or nurturing the whole child, but just a very small part of their incredible capabilities, the parts that can be tested. How do you test kindness, or compassion or self-esteem? Surely these are values we should be encouraging too, as well as knowing what a fronted adverbial is?

At Apples and Snakes one of our strategic aims is to challenge expectations of what poetry is and can be’. We encourage the artists we work with and our staff to think outside of the box; when things go wrong, we talk about it and how to make it better next time. Our Book a Poet scheme places poets, rappers and storytellers in schools and community settings across the country – again and again the feedback we receive from teachers and bookers is that the children who do not normally participate, or who may struggle with traditional literacy based lessons, flourish and thrive in our workshops.

‘It was fascinating to watch the students engaged and succeeding beyond their usual levels of achievement’ – teacher feedback

The students were shown their own potential’ – teacher feedback

‘I really enjoyed this, it made me think about poetry in a completely different way’ – student feedback

Why is this? Partly it’s the fact that all the poets we work with are inspiring role models leading creative lives and they bring a fresh perspective into students’ everyday lives. It’s more than this though, it’s a different way of looking at language, encouraging playfulness with words, moving around the classroom or the space rather than sitting at desks, opportunities to perform often as a group rather than just as an individual. I know some great teachers and I know many will use different strategies to involve their students, but at the end of the day they have to teach the curriculum and get their class through the tests – they are restricted where poets are not. Poets see no limits to words, grammar or punctuation, and no right word for one thing; part of the joy of poetry is the exploration and creativity of finding the sounds and the rhythms that resonate deep down.

On 28 September 2018 over a 1000 headteachers marched on parliament over ongoing budget cuts. I can only hope that they will continue to find the funds to allow artists from all creative disciplines to visit schools regularly and for trips out to arts events, so that students are still able to express themselves creatively, rather than be confined by the increasing demands and straight-jacket of the curriculum.

Photo by Suzi Corker


First Published October 2018