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March 19, 2018

Creativity and the curriculum at an Early Years conference – Rebecca Bartram

I recently attended a British Education Research Association (BERA) conference on Creativity and the Curriculum. As an alumnus of Central Saint Martins College with a degree in Jewellery, creativity and learning have always been important to me both personally and professionally. It is my need to be creative which led to me specialising and becoming passionate about Early Years Education and the subject of childhood.

At the conference, delegates shared fantastic work in the form of PhD research and larger international studies. Throughout, the emphasis was on subjects and creativity working together with equal value rather than the model that we might be more familiar with (or find more comfortable) where art is used to make mathematics more interesting, or to complement a piece of further writing. Particularly exciting, inspiring and interesting to me was the work presented on science and creativity. Whilst this was a large European funded study, a school presented a case study where a group of children had participated in a project that made artistic responses to four big questions - time, evolution, energy and forces.

The results were astonishing. The artistic merit and scientific knowledge explored and learned through self-directed study far exceeded that of the national curriculum expectations. For example one child, in response to the question ‘energy’ had learned how particles behaved and had designed and created a ‘particle physics’ chess game, playable with moves governed by the behaviours of different particles. Another example was a response to ‘time’ where the child after exploration and discussion with their peers and the art and science teachers, made ice cube models of polar bears; these were arranged on a set and filmed melting using time-lapse photography. The final piece of work was poignant to say the least.

Interestingly, the children offered this opportunity were in years seven, eight and nine (non-tested year groups) and the time allocated to do this was lunchtime. Over the course of the day and in discussion, the recurring theme to me was the notion of the space for creativity, a physical space and also space in time to develop ideas and to explore creativity. Space where the process of working creatively is valued for the learning it can produce.

This led me to reflect on teacher education and the current education system in UK schools. What is our responsibility as teacher educators and where in the diagram below does our responsibility lie? Are we modeling in our programmes a compliant, box tick, teaching system or are we modeling a pedagogy of creativity? Can we give trainees the knowledge and confidence to take creative learning into schools to inspire children who in turn will have the skills to think creatively as adults and could this be a critical skill for the next generation and our society?

Compliance and cretivity model 

Hewitt and Tarrant (2015)

Those in attendance at the conference overwhelmingly had some sort of arts background before joining the teaching profession. For them the idea of being creative and working creatively was not uncomfortable. For others it can be challenging to not have prescribed outcomes that you work towards. There is security in ticking the boxes and covering the curriculum in a clear, measured, linear fashion. From an Early Years perspective the pedagogy embraces learning that takes place in a myriad of ways and in the most unexpected of places; good Early Years practice enables children to access an environment full of curiosities and possibilities. A space where children can explore and learn, be curious and take risks, without fear of failure. The big question for me is how do we engender this confidence in ourselves, create this safe space in our timetables, to model it effectively to our trainees, so that they can have the confidence to embrace a creative approach to the curriculum?


Hewitt, D. and Tarrant, S. (2015) Innovative Teaching and Learning in Primary Schools. London, Sage Publications Ltd.

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