Constraints on creativity

Much has been written this week about a squeezed creative curriculum in our schools, including a perceived emphasis of teaching children to code to the detriment of other subjects in a timetable.

Two points close to my heart and, for me, very much linked to curriculum and a wider perspective.  Also highlighted through conflict coming out of research into digital making (and creativity) in the formal curriculum and reasons towards my commitment to the Foundation for Digital Creativity CIC.

As I contributed to the start of the Leeds Digital Festival by talking about bridging the digital skills divide, then curriculum and conflict rear their heads.

So two questions to think about when we talk about balancing the curriculum and ideas for change:

  1. Are we equipping all young people with the knowledge and skills needed to prepare for a digital future through a broad and rich curriculum?
  2. If not, why not?

And straight away my focus comes back to the support needed to ensure that curriculum achieves it’s fundamental aim.

Nothing new, for anybody remembering the challenges that school leadership teams faced when implementing the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies. Priorities, pressures and support mechanisms (or not).

Understanding the priorities placed on targets for particular subjects and the shift in how schools are supported (does freedom and autonomy for schools facilitate this?) to offer a broad and rich curriculum ought to go some way towards an emphatic approach of opinions and support.

At this point we could go down the ‘community and parental viewpoints about a shift in league tables’ route, but let’s leave that for another day.  They are interlinked, though.

I live in hope that curriculum research and noise from Ofsted is the catalyst needed for every child to learn from a broad curriculum, and be equipped at the end of it with a balanced range of knowledge and skills.  To give them choice and options for a future digital life ahead.

Until that day, will we continue to hear more about exam hot houses, 2 year KS3 programmes and a narrowed primary curriculum?

Until that day, will we also continue to hear opinions and suggestions from inside and outside of the education landscape about including more creative and/or STEAM based curricula?

I hope so, but under the umbrella of a broad and balanced curriculum.  We see STEM and STEAM acronyms talked about more now and when related to formal education I think in pedagogical and support terms.  And I do consider the support and national network of STEM learning, so don’t hold it against me if I slip from using the STEAM acronym when you think I ought not to.

I’ve got a fit for purpose curriculum on my mind and look towards wider participation programmes to encourage particular groups of students into STEM subjects from the school curriculum.  Perhaps girls into Computing at KS4 or looking to the work that the Institute of Physics have conducted on gender balance over the last few years.

Let us not forget that our students make selections for KS4 from the disciplines included in STEM or STEAM, not as a subject, as options to individualise their broad and rich curriculum. Consider the constraints on those choices, through curriculum options or wider considerations, and then we recognise the difficulties in offering a STEAM approach for those who wish to pursue one.

We’ll also continue to hear more about an emphasis on teaching kids to code and forgetting about the whole computing curriculum. See, I’m education focused again and thinking about the different support mechanisms that have been in place since before September 2014 , the start of the computing curriculum and still now we hear a lot more about the CS element.  Again, another and separate conversation about supporting/developing teachers and leadership teams, but a similar theme.  The ‘T’ in STEM or STEAM within the curriculum can be broadly technological and with digital literacy linked across every subject but the foundation subject is computing.

So until the day when we see that broad and rich curriculum for every child, throughout the academic year, please stop yourself and ask ‘where and how’.  How can all schools be supported and it be reported on holistically rather than core subjects prioritised even during inspection? *

Something I question as a parent and an educator.

*I’ll leave reporting (or not) on foundation subjects to another post.

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