Durham Commission on Creativity and Education

The Durham Commission is a research collaboration between Durham University and Arts Council England, convened to look at the role creativity and creative thinking should play in the education of young people.

The Durham Commission on Creativity and Education is its first report and was published in 2019.

Drawing on its research, the Commission makes a powerful case that all schools, from early years to post-16 education, should be better enabled to support the promotion of creativity for all young people, whatever their background. Teaching for creativity, it argues, should be practised across the curriculum and accessed by all. This should not be confined to certain subjects; creativity in science is different to creativity in drama, but is valuable in both.

The report offers educators three compelling definitions:

Creativity: The capacity to imagine, conceive, express, or make something that was not there before.

Creative thinking: A process through which knowledge, intuition and skills are applied to imagine, express or make something novel or individual in its contexts. Creative thinking is present in all areas of life. It may appear spontaneous, but it can be underpinned by perseverance, experimentation, critical thinking and collaboration.

Teaching for creativity: Explicitly using pedagogies and practices that cultivate creativity in young people.

The report provides evidence for the value of creativity in terms of identity/community, mobility and wellbeing. It gives an overview of the current opportunities and challenges facing schools in England.

Of particular help to teachers it describes the conditions for encouraging creativity in the classroom:

The learner

  • A belief that every child is, or can be, creative, and can think creatively
  • Recognition of the individual agency of every young person in their learning

The learning experiences

  • Strong subject knowledge and practice to inform creative thinking
  • A context in which knowledge and practice can be connected both within and across disciplines
  • Encouragement of divergent as well as convergent thinking, to ‘question the question’, and to think about the subject beyond assessment goals
  • A commitment to embodied learning, through the five senses, thus encouraging learners to use their hands and bodies as well as their minds
  • Interaction with the physical environment, including outdoor learning, interactions with the living world, and incorporation of diverse cultural experiences

The learning environment

  • Opportunities to ‘fail without fear’, to be reflective, and to try again, thereby developing their resilience
  • A school culture which does not have a hierarchy of disciplines (such as over-privileging arts or mathematics, as anterior to any other) and
    offers a rich and varied curriculum, recognising the role played by creativity and the imagination in subjects such as physics or history, as well as subjects traditionally deemed to be creative
  • A classroom culture tolerant of ambiguity, paradox and diverse points of view
  • Pedagogies which encourage experimentation, multiple perspectives, persistence, collaboration
  • Opportunities for the unexpected
  • A system which rewards the creativity of students in all its aspects

You can read the ten recommendations the Durham Commission makes here.

Durham Commission recommendations

In the Spring there will be an opportunity to express interest in applying to the Creativity Collaboratives programme, recommendation one of the Commission. The Creativity Collaboratives will form a national network in which schools will work together to develop approaches to teaching for creativity across the curriculum. Details will be available on the Arts Council website in April 2021.

You can download the report here

Takeaway ideas

Go through these points on this page and rate your school. Ten for ‘This condition is wholly met’, one for ‘Just starting out’. Compare notes with your colleagues.

Now have a look at the ideas in our Ideas Hub.

Or try How to find out what’s already going well