Creativity and learning

The report ‘All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education’ (1999) from the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education (NACCCE) sets out a definition of ‘democratic creativity’ which ‘recognises the potential for creative achievement in all fields of human activity; and the capacity for such achievements in the many and not the few’ (p30). This is in direct contrast to the ‘sectoral definition’ which is directly linked to ‘creative arts’ and ‘creative industries’ (p28) and the ‘élite definition’ which ‘focuses on the great men and women who have produced or made path-breaking compositions, paintings, inventions or theories’ (p28). Creativity can therefore be seen as relevant across the full range of disciplines and scales of activity. This is particularly important considering the significance it can hold for learners. As the NACCCE write, ‘[w]hen individuals find their creative strengths, it can have an enormous impact on self-esteem and on overall achievement’ (p6). Democratic creativity can therefore provide one useful way into the kind of investment in learning outlined above.


Creativity cannot be reduced to just “using your imagination”. The NACCCE (1999) write:


‘Creativity is not simply a matter of letting go. Serious creative achievement relies on knowledge, control of materials and command of ideas. Creative education involves a balance between teaching knowledge and skills, and encouraging innovation.’ (p6)


They identify four key characteristics behind creative activity:

i.             imagination

ii.            purpose

iii.           originality

iv.           value


Creativity is therefore defined as: ‘Imaginative activity fashioned so as to produce outcomes that are both original and of value.’ (p30, original emphasis)


Central to this type of endeavour is a temporary muting of critical voices. The NACCCE write:


‘Deferment of judgment is an invaluable element as we produce ideas and then stretch them and connect them imaginatively as far as they can go. Although there is always a stage, maybe many stages, where critical appraisal is necessary, if only to assess coherence and relate ideas to evidence, practicability, utility and audience response, generative thinking has to be given time to flower. At the right time and in the right way, rigorous critical appraisal is essential. At the wrong point, criticism and the cold hand of realism can kill an emerging idea.’ (p34)


Appropriate time and space are therefore required in order to foster creativity. The pressures of a “language immersion” environment could work against this if they inhibit expression. Craft (2001) writes that ‘creativity may be impeded where there is undue time pressure, over-supervision, competition, or where choices are restricted and evaluation is expected’ (p25). She warns of the negative impact that the ‘tightening of control around both curriculum and pedagogy’ (2003, p118) is having in this area. The organisation of learning is also key, and Craft raises the concern that ‘where the curriculum is taught as discrete subjects, this may constrain learner and teacher creativity, in discouraging thinking about themes which cross the subject boundaries’ (p119). The cross-curricular nature of the Languages Challenge is particularly useful then in promoting creativity, but this approach is not easy to replicate within the restrictions of the curriculum. This then poses a challenge for schools and other organisations working in this area. Jeffrey & Craft (2004) highlight the central role of practitioner expertise, writing that ‘the relationship between teaching creatively and teaching for creativity is an integral one. The former is inherent in the latter and the former often leads directly to the latter’ (p90, original emphases). Attempting to pin down and package creative approaches for the benefit of teachers and other practitioners could therefore be something of a contradiction in terms, reducing the space for their own creative input.