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National Middle Schools' Forum 2003 Annual Conference

Gurnard Pines Conference Village - Isle of Wight


Wednesday October 1st - Friday October 3rd

  1. Introduction- Gary Booth, chairman
  2. Welcome - David Pettit Director of Education, Isle of Wight
  3. Creativity - Michael Marland
  4. Introduction to the 2 Year KS3 Project - Colin Penfold
  5. David Bell, HMCI
  6. Annual General Meeting
  7. Workshops:
Welcome and introduction to the conference - Gary Booth
Gary Booth

Creativity is the key theme for our conference. Teachers increasingly report that despite using all the accelerated learning strategies many pupils seem disinterested and lacking motivation. These are good teachers trying to do their best for their pupils. Despite working harder than ever, many feel constrained by the programmes of study and government strategies, with their accompanying schemes of work and lesson plans available to download from the Internet. We may be in danger of losing that buzz of excitement that comes when a good teacher communicates his or her enthusiasm and interest through courses they design and over which they feel ownership. This is the true element of creativity at the heart of the teacher's role - a creativity that sparks the imagination of pupils and transforms the good into the excellent.

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Director of Education, Isle of Wight - David Pettit
David Pettit

The Isle of Wight is unusual in having an exclusively three-tier form of organisation, with 16 middle schools and 5 high schools. In the LEA's very recent Ofsted inspection the constant challenge from the team was to assess the impact of this form of organisation. This is not easy to do when national data is often only available for 5-11 and 11-18 systems, which had to be disaggregated for comparative purposes. However, we need to look beyond these narrow statistical boxes to the more creative possibilities available through our systems. So, for example, by sharing specialists, such as modern language teachers, between schools we can bring specialist teaching to children as young as nine.

While centrally driven strategies have undoubtedly supported the weakest teachers to at least satisfactory levels of teaching, they have acted as a constraint on some of our most able teachers. This constraint has inhibited their confidence to teach creatively, and prevented them reaching levels of teaching excellence.

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Michael Marland - Creativity
Michael Marland

In our education system we have often seen creativity as of lesser importance than knowledge. This rests on a false dichotomy:

'There is no such thing as pure invention, only raiding the store house of the mind.'
- Sir Joshua Reynolds

The excuse often given is that this is forced on us by the "system". However as William Blake points out

'I must create a system or be enslaved by another man's.'
- William Blake

Systems are necessary and need not limit creativity. A system that squashes creativity is just a bad system.

It is commonly held that the National Curriculum acts as a constraint on creativity. However there are more opportunities for flexibility than many think. The Education Act 1996 section 356 repeats the wording of the 1998 Education Reform Act in making it clear that no prescription can be made about the amount of time to be spent on, or the method of delivering the National Curriculum:


'(3) An order made under subsection (2) may not require-
(a) the allocation of any particular period or periods of time during any key stage to the teaching of any programme of study or any matter, skill or process forming part of it, or
(b) the making in school timetables of provision of any particular kind for the periods to be allocated to such teaching during any such stage.'

- Education Act 1996 section 356

The National Curriculum is an important element of the whole school curriculum. How you deliver it is for you to decide. This flexibility is re-emphasised in recent guidance on disapplication of the National Curriculum (2003/0076).

2.1 Schools have considerable flexibility in how they develop their curriculum from the statutory requirements, without any need for disapplication. For example:

  • in allocating time to each curriculum area, schools may provide emphases within the curriculum appropriate to their aims. Although National Curriculum programmes of study for each key stage have been developed against notional times, there are no centrally prescribed time allocations for particular subjects. The time spent on each subject is for the school to decide;
  • whilst the National Curriculum is specified in terms of separate subjects, schools are not required to teach the subjects discretely. The way teaching is timetabled and how lessons are described and organised is not prescribed and it is for each school to decide the organising structures to use;
  • the programmes of study for National Curriculum subjects set out what the majority of pupils should be taught during each key stage. Schools decide how to organise time within the key stage. It is not necessary, for example, for pupils to study all National Curriculum subjects each week, term or year and a school may decide to concentrate on particular subjects during particular terms or particular years. Pupils must, however, engage in physical activity throughout each key stage;
  • the programme of study for each National Curriculum subject prescribes what is to be taught, not how it is to be taught. Revised programmes of study in all subjects, implemented from August 2000, are less prescriptive and give greater flexibility for teachers to decide on the most appropriate teaching and learning approaches and the aspects of a subject pupils will study in depth;
  • at each key stage, the full programme of study will be appropriate for the majority of pupils. A few pupils' learning needs, however, will be better matched by concentrating on particular aspects of the programme of study or by the programme of study from earlier or later key stages. The Inclusion Statement in the revised National Curriculum outlines how teachers can adapt programmes of study to provide all pupils with relevant and appropriately challenging work at each key stage;
  • when a key stage programme of study has been taught in full, pupils can progress beyond its requirements or take up other subjects. For example, a pupil who achieves a GCSE during key stage 3 or in year 10 need not continue to study the subject. Pupils must, however, engage in physical activity throughout each key stage;
  • there is no requirement to assess National Curriculum subjects at key stage 4, although, for most pupils, schools will want the learning from the appropriate programme of study to be assessed through national qualifications. Within the requirements of the programmes of study, schools can decide on the most appropriate approved qualifications for their pupils;
  • at key stage 4, schools have greater flexibility in determining where learning takes place. For example, pupils are able to study any aspect of the key stage 4 National Curriculum in further education colleges and to undertake work experience from the start of year 10.
  • Further information is provided in Flexibility in the Secondary Curriculum (QCA/99/477).

Source : http://www.dfes.gov.uk/disapply/disapp.shtml

Schools should consider designing courses, rather than teaching subjects. Only in this way will the natural opportunities for developing learning in context be grasped - when in a course on the Tudors, for example, the art of the time will be given its proper place. Skills do need to be specifically taught at times. However, truly creative teaching will combine specific and contextual approaches.

In developing creativity we need to give full value to the place of the Arts in other courses - the use of song, for example, in social history, or the golden mean in mathematics. Thinking, and the development of thinking skills, does not come from working harder. It requires the development of creative strategies - something that needs to be specifically taught.

There is a danger that in considering creativity we stress 'doing' exclusively at the expenses of 'appreciating' as the member of an audience. Being an appreciator is a creative act - not just a passive experience. In later life the majority of pupils will mostly be appreciators.

'There is a danger that our children will be smart intellectually, but dumb spiritually, ethically and emotionally.'
- Bernice King (daughter of Martin Luther King)

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David Bell, HMCI - Creativity in the Curriculum
David Bell

There is a danger of assuming that in the past there was a golden age when there was much more creativity in schools and teaching - at a time when teachers were free to teach much as they liked. The evidence does not support this idea. The 1978 Primary School Survey did not reveal a picture of progressive teaching. It found, on the contrary, that there was insufficient breadth to the curriculum and a concentration on 'safe' approaches to teaching. From this, via the HMI papers of the early 1980's, developed the National Curriculum in 1988 - which, while it specified the content, did not prescribe how it should be taught. In fact there remains quite a lot of professional scope - contrary to rhetoric we often hear. It is probably more difficult to 'follow the rainbow' - to pick up an issue that arises and run with it. However, as the recent document "Excellence and Enjoyment" makes clear through the case studies it contains, there is still quite a lot of freedom to determine the shape of the curriculum. The primary schools highlighted in the document understand the requirement for breadth in the curriculum - but also the need for study in depth.

Every pupil's entitlement as an educated person is to be introduced to the full range of human experience - and this is particularly true of the arts. To narrow the primary curriculum, as some would have us do, to the core subjects with choice in the rest would be fundamentally mistaken - and endanger the breadth that is so vital to a well-rounded education.

At 14 there are choices to be made beyond the core of the curriculum. However, while the evidence is that a number of pupils do not want it, breadth is still of vital importance. There seems less scope for flexibility at KS3, but the commonality of structure here may be important.

Creative Teaching

The investment in upskilling teachers has brought an enormous benefit. There is greater knowledge about what constitutes good teaching and a fair degree of consensus around the Ofsted criteria. The document "Expect the Unexpected" gives examples of skillful teachers who are good at getting creative responses from their pupils. What they demonstrate is good teaching that stimulates and inspires, but also excellent subject knowledge that can recognise the insight in an unexpected but creative response.

Creative Leadership and Management

There is no one way to salvation and no one approach to leadership that will be successful. The most creative schools offer a broad curriculum with an outlook that springs from the commitment of its leader.

Is accountability and inspection the enemy of creativity?

We should not see these as in opposition. We quite rightly have greater accountability. The taxpayer should expect the service to be accountable for 8 billion cost each year.

There is lots of evidence of schools adopting creative approaches - even during inspections. The inspection system does not simply look at test data. There is a greater emphasis on the individual nature and circumstances of the school in the inspection process. A more intelligent inspection system will allow teams to acknowledge the school's individuality.

Innovation and risk taking - Should schools be given credit for innovation?

There is a danger, if we followed this path, that schools would be under pressure to always be trying the latest thing. Requiring people to innovate would be bizarre. The extent of innovation should always be a choice and linked to the achievement of clearly identified ends or aims.

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Brian Moses

Brian Moses
Alistair Black

Alistair Black

John Kirkpatrick

John Kirkpatrick

Positively Mad Workshop
Positively Mad workshop