The next chapter in the story of creation

By Alice McNeill, Teacher of Philosophy

Too often, when we think of creativity, we think of coloured pencils or a mind-boggling array of Post-it notes; we mentally interchange creativity and originality, or creativity and innovation. But creativity should be better defined in education – because I do believe that it’s the missing ingredient. I also think a creative education is the remedy to a great number of problems with our system, but creativity’s proper definition, “the ability or power to create, to make something”, has to be at its heart.

The only way to futureproof education is to place more value on creativity. It is a truth almost universally acknowledged among educators, especially since educationalist Sir Ken Robinson’s famous TED Talk on the subject in 2006, that creativity should be as important as literacy and numeracy in schools. “It is education that is supposed to take us into this future which we cannot yet grasp,” he said.

Back in 2006, Sir Ken’s argument was fuelled by problems apparent at that time – most probably the stifling emphasis on assessment, especially literacy and numeracy targets in primary schools, and the explosion in global tertiary education graduation rates. But a seismic shift in the educational debate has taken place in the decade following his talk. Michael Gove, in his time as education secretary, transformed the curriculum; testing has reached unprecedented levels; EBacc, Progress 8 and GCSE and A-level reform has narrowed the curriculum; and academisation has led to schools becoming larger than ever, and hence heavily reliant on data generated in specific areas of school life.

There has also been an acceleration in the pace of technological change. University of Buckingham vice-chancellor Sir Anthony Seldon, a former head of Wellington College, has made much of the problems that artificial intelligence will cause for the educational status quo in his book The Fourth Education Revolution. Creativity is becoming more important than ever if we are to avoid an educational cliff edge.

Many have written, myself included, in Tes about the urgent need for more creativity in education. After my latest article, many people approached me to ask: “So what next?” One colleague commented that the need to foster creativity was an oft-repeated mantra, but little advice existed about how the creativity gap could be filled. The comment led me to think more on the subject and to create something akin to a manifesto for creative education; this amounts to four main principles and 10 practical steps for school leaders and teachers to ensure creativity is given its place on the curriculum, both explicit and hidden.

So here is my take on what creative education should be:

  • Playful: We learn through play. Creative education must have intrinsic value – it should be fun – and we ought to learn it from the earliest years in education onward. Through play, we learn the importance of taking risks and making mistakes, as well as resilience and teamwork. Play is also the antithesis of the prevalent utilitarian, results-focused culture, which celebrates the tick above all else.
  • Problem-solving: We create to solve problems, to make things better. We do not create to destroy or diminish. So creativity should have a clear sense of purpose. If this begins at a very early age and continues all the way through school, it will equip learners to contribute positively to society in future.
  • Project-based: Working on long-term projects engenders commitment, collaboration and a more meaningful outcome than something shorter term. Where possible, people should be given the opportunity to work for a longer period of time on a project.
  • Future-focused: This involves ensuring there are clear pathways and opportunities to develop, to go forward. Links with industry are vital to demonstrate how one might take the learned skills, ideas and knowledge into a meaningful career.

Which brings me to my plan of action…

  1. Understand the importance of creativity and shout about it

Make it part of your mission statement; make sure educators understand its importance. There should be visual signs throughout the school suggesting the importance of creativity. Wherever possible, the school should be an ever-evolving display of creativity, from use of student voice to celebrations of work. It is always impressive to visit schools with a real sense of ownership of the environment that has come about through co-construction. For example, the student-led green initiatives at Ampleforth College, or the students’ input into the architectural design of London Oratory School and David Young Community Academy.

  1. Focus on building skills

Every subject can nurture and celebrate creativity if there is a good understanding of what creativity is. The word “creativity” has been used synonymously with innovation, but actually a better definition is “the power to make something, tangible or intangible”. In all subjects, we need to empower students to make things, whether it is a solution to a problem, a strategy for teamwork or an original piece of artwork, a project or an idea. It is only by doing this that students can find their inner motivation to succeed.

  1. Find creative role models and celebrate creative success

Every student wants to create something. And many do. We are often looking in the wrong places for things to celebrate. We should find time to praise creativity. A good way of doing this is to have a specific language to talk about creativity. For example, if there is a former student of the school who works in a creative industry, or someone of particular inspiration to the school, then their name can be given as shorthand for recognition of achievement in this area. A part of assembly each month could be given to recognise people in creative pursuits in the same way that sporting achievements is often be recognised.

  1. Imitate early years education

We have so much to learn from the joy, excitement and creativity that imbues the earliest years in education. Let’s find ever-more ways of getting back to the excitement of discovery and invention that is an everyday sight in Reception classes.

  1. Encourage invention

Much has been made of the four stages of investigative questioning: detective (what, when, who?); scientist (how? why?); judge (would you agree?); and inventor (what if?). By continually encouraging the fourth type of questioning, we can nurture lateral, outside-the-box thinking.

This approach is a brilliant remedy for the kind of thinking that is characterised by the refrain, “Is this in the exam?”

  1. Scan the horizon

Make sure the information that you have about how an industry is evolving is up to date. Students find it so much easier to be creative when they know why they are doing what they are doing. Are they writing about the latest antibiotic research for a medical application? Are they building a portfolio to showcase their fashion design? Are they researching a new genre in theatre to build a specific skill that they’re currently lacking? What will the working environment be like? It may be a single teacher’s responsibility to be aware of the market and the skills required for different pathways. But even better, make it every teacher’s responsibility.

  1. Build relationships

Many schools actively seek relationships with local companies to offer work experience or volunteering opportunities for students. It might take the form of a formal partnership or even sponsorship. These relationships can build slowly over time, but they can be immensely rewarding and give students a brilliant insight into how they might become agents for positive change in the future.

  1. Find opportunities for long-term projects

When a student works for a significant length of time on a project, they feel boredom, frustration, doubt, and often want to give up. These are all essential parts of the creative process that students must be facilitated to experience and to cope with. Nothing could be a better lesson to learn at school.

  1. Ensure students are able to leave school or university with a portfolio of projects

If you asked anyone which piece of work they were most proud of from their school days, it would most likely be a self-driven, creative project. In an ideal world, there should be an opportunity each year to do, and to showcase, a significant piece of work such as this. There are more and more opportunities to do this as part of the formal curriculum, from the International Baccalaureate to the Extended Project Qualification. Such tasks are demanding, time-consuming and challenging, but the effort and creative energy put in is directly proportional to the sense of pride and lasting effect that students will feel in their lives.

  1. Creativity should always be constructive

Obvious, perhaps, but it underpins everything a creative education should be. Ultimately, creative education builds, edifies, emboldens and serves others; students transform from passive recipients of information to active participants – a process that both shapes their futures and enriches society. The easiest way to ensure that education is creative is to continually ask ourselves the purpose of the curriculum. If we can be assured of the constructive nature of an activity, we can be assured that what we are doing is worthwhile.

Taken together, these ideas, I hope, will give readers something of a roadmap to building more creativity into the curriculum. Or at least a little optimism.

This article was originally published in TES magazine on 21 December 2018.

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Questioning GCSE

By Magnus Bashaarat, Head of Bedales

In a recent article by Haroon Siddique in The Guardian, Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner expressed concern that Tory education reforms are putting state school pupils at a disadvantage compared to those educated in independent schools. More specifically, the Labour party is demanding an inquiry on the basis that state school pupils are obliged to sit GCSEs whilst many independent schools favour IGCSEs. The former are harder, claims Labour, with MP Lucy Powell arguing that independent schools are gaming the system by offering their students easy options, and insulating them against the effects of reforms whilst they are bedding in.

Labour is quite right to want an inquiry, but not on this premise which is shaky to say the least and misses the mark by some distance. One key question concerns the relevance of GCSE level qualifications in an age when education to age 18 is compulsory. Another is about assessment orthodoxies and, in turn, the relationship between these and issues of wellbeing amongst young people that have caused such concern in recent times.

In 2016 former Education Secretary, Lord Baker decried the squeezing out of creative and technical subjects in our schools. I share Lord Baker’s views on the inadequacy of the GCSE curriculum in preparing young people for the 21st century labour market, and indeed would not be unhappy to see them go. If we must have them, however, an inquiry should then ask what the curriculum and assessment should look like. I would argue, and many in education and industry would agree, that GCSEs are narrow and dull, and do little to prepare students for what awaits them at A level, higher education and in the workplace.

When Education Secretary, Michael Gove introduced the ‘new’ GCSEs, he lit the fuse, then withdrew a safe distance, and ultimately reappeared at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. His ‘new’ GCSEs were all about ‘rigour’, which essentially meant doing away with coursework, and placing all the assessment in a terminal exam at the end of Year 11, with little or no scope for ‘re-takes’. But the acquisition of knowledge replaced the learning and application of skills, and inconsistent, unaccountable and sloppy marking remained the norm.

This is why so many schools, including Bedales, favour IGCSE as the richer option, whilst at Bedales we went one step further in also creating Bedales Assessed Courses (BAC) for 13 non-core subjects including Classical Music, Design, History, Philosophy, Religion & Ethics and Outdoor Work. In the summer of 2018 our first cohort completed the new BAC in Global Awareness, which requires students to conduct their own research on a global issue – eg. food poverty, housing, public health – and, through collaboration, to apply what they have learned to the problem in a local context, and then present it. We are immensely proud of what we consider to be a pioneering, demanding and highly relevant educational programme. Our reward for this? For BACs to be ignored in education league tables, a fate shared increasingly with the unduly maligned IGCSEs.

There is a long tradition of radical liberal thought informing the design and content of mainstream education in this country; rather than looking to score easy political points by bashing independent schools. Labour would do young people and schools alike a much greater service by working with us in finding alternatives to a curriculum and assessment regime that is dull, out of touch and frankly oppressive. With former Cabinet Secretary Lord O’Donnell warning that an addiction to exams for young people ramps up the risk of a mental health epidemic, the reformed GCSE system – built around a conviction that only end of course exams can truly assess learning – seems a dangerous horse to back.

Alumni Relations

By Philip Parsons, Alumni Officer

As part of Bedales’ efforts to support and stay connected with the network of Old Bedalians, every year the Alumni Relations division of the school’s External Relations team organise several reunions.

For recent leavers, these gatherings come in the form of university reunions, which are organised by Alumni Liaison Manager Leana Seriau, University Liaison Officer Sarah Oakley and Alumni Officer Philip Parsons and hosted in cities or towns where Old Bedalians have gone on to study at university.

Last Thursday, 29 November, the series of university reunions continued in Bristol, where eight Old Bedalians studying at Bristol and Cardiff met – joined by Sarah and Philip – at the Hotel du Vin to renew acquaintance and share their post-Bedales experiences.

Students from the 2015, 2016 and 2017 year groups were all represented and subjects studied include History of Art, French, Law, Classics, Medicine, Theology, Economics and Pharmacy.

As their first official reunion as Old Bedalians, it was a very enjoyable evening and, as with previous events, we find it a useful way of keeping in touch and maintaining the extended Bedales family.

Find out more about the work of the Alumni office and read the profiles of Old Bedalians, visit the Alumni page on the Bedales website.

Speaking at HMC Conference

By Blossom Gottlieb, 6.2

I had the pleasure of assisting Alistair McConville last Friday at the Conference for Academic Deputy Heads and Directors of Studies in Brighton.

Al invited me to speak for around five minutes about my experience in education, with the view of how institution-led learning could improve our current curriculum. We ran two sessions, each addressing around 25 people for an hour and a half.

Supporting the concept of internally moderated assessments and our own Bedales Assessed Courses (BACs) in front of a somewhat sceptical audience was more challenging than I had expected. However, Al’s eloquent and inspirational arguments encouraged innovation in the vast majority of our attendees.

It was enlightening to meet so many influencers in the educational field and hear their opinions on what improvements could be made. I learnt some valuable oratory skills from listening to Al’s presentation and thoroughly enjoyed being a part of it.

I am incredibly grateful to have been given the opportunity – thank you Al.

By Alistair McConville, Director of Learning and Innovation

It’s daunting having ‘innovation’ in your job title… People expect you to be working on something earth-shattering!

No trips to Mars (yet), but Blossom Gottlieb and I did venture out to Brighton last week to address the Academic Deputy Heads of the Headmasters’ Conference on the subject of running your own innovative courses.

Blossom gave the Deputies a heart-felt blast about the damaging nature of metric-obsessed approaches to education, and the tedious treadmill of nine or ten GCSEs. I weighed in with our story of doing things more imaginatively through BACs and Enrichment.

We highlighted the ongoing gap between the skills that GCSEs test – memorisation; speed-writing; endurance – and the skills that young people really need for the world beyond: collaboration; communication; creativity, to name but a few, and showed how we had been able to incorporate these into our programme.

We hinted at what might come next: an even greater degree of inter-disciplinary, real-life, project-based work, which is what employers are crying out for, and by happy coincidence, what young people are engaged by!

Watch this space for Mars-based projects…

Sleep, learning and wellbeing

By Al McConville, Director of Teaching and Innovation

The crucial role of sleep in learning and wellbeing has been much in the press recently. As scientists gradually understand more fully the underlying processes of memory and cognition, it is increasingly clear how central a good night’s sleep is to optimal functioning.

At a recent Friends of Bedales meeting, a group of staff and students presented the latest research on sleep and adolescence, and how it relates to our practice, now, and potentially in the future. What, for example, would the impact of a later start to the school day be…?

I produced a handout sharing some key messages harvested from several books: Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep; Till Roenneberg’s Internal Time; Sarah-Jane Blakemore’s Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain; and Dan Pink’s When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.

  • Sleep is strongly correlated with success in laying down new memories and other elements of cognitive performance, including focus, understanding, speed of processing and problem-solving; age appropriate levels of sleep lead to better memory and optimal cognitive function overall.
  • During the day we store information in our short-term memory bank, the hippocampus. It needs to be cleared out daily to make space for new memories; that clearing out, or transfer to long-term memory in the cortex, happens primarily at night. Short-term memory capacity is refreshed in proportion to the number of ‘spindles’ that occur during sleep.
  • There is a strong biological setting in all individuals which dictates their natural waking/sleeping times – chronotypes. It’s not good for you to try and work against this; very little ‘entrainment’ (i.e. getting used to forced alternatives) is possible.
  • Sleep deprivation is correlated strongly with the full spectrum of mental health issues.
  • Even a relatively small but regular shortfall of the necessary sleep leads to sleep deprivation indicators.
  • The most important sleep for strengthening memory and learning (REM sleep) tends to happen at the tail end of the cycle, when the sleep is most ‘spindle-rich’, which is also the bit that is most often cut short.
  • Teenagers need nine hours’ sleep on average; 8-10 hours is the range. However, their chronotypes shift later by 1-3 hours during adolescence, so their natural bed/wake times shift later.
  • There is evidence from America in particular that shifting the same start time of schools back leads to improved academic performance. Locally, Alton College (sixth form only) starts at 10am.
  • Even with enough sleep, there are variations in the cycle as to when we’re most cognitively capable of doing different kinds of work: earlier in the cycle is better for analytical thinking, while later in the cycle is better for more creative, ‘diffuse’ work.
  • There is a big slump in attentiveness in the early afternoon for most people, adequately slept or not. This is somewhat later for teenagers. We’re ‘bi-phasic’ – people who know when their ‘slump’ is can (ideally) plan less cognitively demanding activities for that period.
  • Naps perform something of a corrective to sleep deprivation, though are only really a sticking plaster, since a full cycle is necessary to perform all the functions of sleep.
  • Watch out for alcohol – for memories to be fully, reliably ‘laid down’ takes several days, or rather several sleeps, and alcohol can wipe out new neuronal growth three days after a new memory is formed. Nicotine also reduces the depth of sleep.

Commission on Religious Education

By Clare Jarmy, Head of Philosophy, Religion & Ethics

The Commission on Religious Education (CoRE) recently reported its findings after a long period of consultation with stakeholders. CoRE was set up by the RE Council, but was run independently of it. As independent schools, we are unlikely to feel the full force of CoRE’s effect, but times are changing for Religious Education, and independent schools will surely find themselves influenced by the findings.

These key recommendations are likely to have the biggest effect on independent schools:

1. Religion & Worldviews

CoRE recommends that ‘Religious Education’ should be renamed ‘Religion & Worldviews’. Do not be fooled: this change of nomenclature is no mere windowdressing. The Commission recognises the huge change that has taken place in religious affiliation in the last fifty years, and argues that the subject must evolve to recognise this. Around 50% of adults in the UK have no religion. 41% identify as Christian. Focussing on ‘The Six World Religions’ does not reflect the religious (or increasingly nonreligious) nature of the UK. By introducing ‘worldviews’ to the subject, and requiring students to handle concepts such as secularism as well as religion, it is hoped that the subject will be useful in reflecting the conversations students will need to have in their lives as well as at work. Even though most schools in the Independent Sector tend to call this subject ‘Religious Studies’ and not ‘Religious Education’, this name change, and everything it implies, is causing controversy. The term ‘worldview’ is defined by the report, but not closely enough. Couldn’t a worldview mean any set of beliefs that are in some way foundational to the way someone sees the world? As Philip Robinson, the RE Advisor to the Catholic Education Service puts it, “communism, libertarianism, capitalism, nationalism and socialism are just a few nonreligious worldviews; should they be taught in RE too? It…seems hugely ironic that the answer to declining religious literacy should be to teach less religion.”

2. National Entitlement

Provision for RE has been found to be patchy in recent years, and increasing academisation of maintained sector schools has diminished the amount of RE being taught. 34.1% of academies with no religious character were not teaching any RE in KS3 in 2015; 43.7% at KS4. CoRE recommends that a National Entitlement is created to ensure that all students can access the subject. This might cause some independent schools to examine the provision they have in place themselves. Whilst there is no suggestion that independent schools will have to conform, the National Entitlement confirms the importance of the subject, and some independent schools might see fit to follow suit.

3. An ‘Academically Rich & Rigorous’ subject

A key aim that has come out of CoRE is a call for an “academically rich and rigorous” approach to the subject. Religious Education has historically served many goals: community cohesion; spiritual development; formation of world view; tolerance and understanding of others. Academic rigour has not always featured at the top of priorities in RE for successive governments. In the independent sector, there has been a longer history of an academic approach as the term ‘Religious Studies’ implies. The sector has a wealth of expertise amongst its teachers: expect to meet lots of textbook authors at the ISRSA Conference! Having argued that this is a challenging and academic subject, CoRE recommends that Religion and Worldviews is finally given the status that, as such, it deserves. For its whole history, RE has been a bit different, in its legal status, in its provision, in its locally agreed syllabuses, and, many would argue, this was for some good reasons. Yet, its unique place on the curriculum has also made it a bit of an outlier, difficult to categorise, and difficult, for some, to take seriously as an academic pursuit. Recent government decisions, namely the exclusion both of RE from the EBacc and of short-course RE from schools’ performance figures, have hugely undervalued the subject and led to a dramatic downturn in uptake nationally at GCSE. The Russell Group’s list of ‘facilitating’ subjects, where Religious Studies A Level is conspicuous by its absence, also hugely underestimates the usefulness of the subject for all sorts of areas of further study. CoRE requests that the Russell Group re-examines its list. Here, CoRE could have direct implications for the independent sector: some Heads of RS feel under an unfair amount of pressure to justify their subject, purely because of its seemingly arbitrary exclusion from that list. If CoRE’s recommendations are taken up, we can hope for better resourcing for teacher training, and hence higher quality applicants for jobs in both sectors. We can hope that students expect RS to be taught, and to be taught well, as it so often is by colleagues in the independent sector. More thanthis, we can hope, finally, to be understood for what we are. We are teachers of a valuable, viable, challenging and rigorous academic subject: so much more, but nothing less.

This article was originally published in Independent Schools Magazine

Remembrance Jaw

By Clare Jarmy, Head of Philosophy, Religious Studies & Ethics

At Dunhurst and Bedales, students commemorated the centenary of the Armistice at a Remembrance Jaw. Jaw at the Bedales Schools takes the place of chapel in more traditional independent schools. It is the time during the week for reflecting on philosophical, spiritual, religious and moral ideas and views.

Remembrance Jaw is the most solemn event in our calendar. The Bedales Archives project creating profiles of those Old Bedalians who died provided the substance for our commemoration. Students heard in much more detail than before about three Bedalians who died in 1918.

We heard about Edmund ‘Gabriel’ Rice, nephew Mrs Badley the founder’s wife. We remembered Ellis ‘Lynn’ Doncaster, who was shot down on the first day of the Battle of Amiens, and hence the start of what was to be known as the Hundred Days Offensive that ended the war. Finally, we remembered Oswald Horsley, known universally as ‘Pump’, a gentle giant, a lot of fun, and a popular choice for Head Boy.

Oswald was clearly an extremely courageous man, injured three times at the Front. In the offensive where he suffered considerable abdominal wounds, he continued to command his troops from where he lay injured. He was the only Officer to survive that day, and was awarded the MC. The day before he died in a test flight, having refused to retire after his injuries made a continued career in the infantry impossible, he came back to Bedales. As he left, he said he’d be back in a week. Tragically, he was right, as his body was brought back to the village for burial.

Our Founder, Mr Badley, wrote this poem dedicated to Oswald, which was read at his burial.

To O.H.

At parting, five short days ago
“This time it’s not for long” you said;
“You’ll see me back within the week.” And lo,
Your comrades bring you dead.

Their task done, each in token how
They prized their sunniest, bravest, best,
Advancing, gives the last salute; and now
They leave you here, to rest,

Where, by the old grey church, the view
Of half a county, weald and hill —
Wide almost as your vision from the blue —
Lies round you silent, still.

Rest, then, where you so loved to be,
Living, and, dead, be with us yet.
You have come back to us again, and so
Like you, we’ll not forget.

— JH Badley