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Creativity is back on the map. But how do we navigate from here?

Kerry Chappell, Associate Professor at University of Exeter

The Durham Commission (2019) has thankfully put creativity firmly back on the English educational map, reopening debate about its value and how we facilitate it. This is timely given the decline of creativity around 2010–2011, following something of an upsurge since 1999. In that earlier period, there was lively debate and engaged practice promoting creativity as a key life capability, necessary for a vibrant economy, the promotion of wellbeing and, when practised ethically, the development of a more cohesive society.

The Durham Commission has picked up on this thread of 2000–2010 practice and research, drawing in more recent learning and activity. It also recognises existing creative educational practice that is thriving despite an unconducive climate. The commission’s final report sets a clear and ambitious agenda for: creativity to be taught in every school in all subjects and beyond; a growing network of accredited collaborating schools; Ofsted recognition of creativity; involvement in the PISA 2021 creativity test; higher education (HE) involvement in researching creativity; and recognition of creativity within digital and the arts.

Alongside and aware of the commission’s work, the research community has also continued to investigate reduced but nonetheless ongoing creative education practice – none more so than BERA’s own Creativities in Education special interest group (SIG). As current co-lead, and working with previous co-lead Teresa Cremin, we identified a need to articulate what we know about creative pedagogies, and to do this in a way which complemented the commission’s own global review of the broad area.

Our work (Cremin & Chappell, 2019) therefore entailed a critical systematic literature review of international, English-language empirical research of creative pedagogies from 1990 to 2018 in formal schooling. It asked what we know about creative pedagogies and their impact on student creativity. Across 35 articles that made the final cut, the findings revealed seven interrelated creative pedagogy features: generating and exploring ideas, encouraging autonomy and agency, playfulness, problem-solving, risk-taking, co-constructing and collaborating, and teacher creativity. The review also, perhaps disappointingly, showed only six articles addressing impact on student creativity. For those researching in the field, these findings are not a major surprise; but the emerging critical nuances provide useful insights for future research and practice.

Methodologically, most of the studies are qualitative (26), employing multiple methods, reflecting researchers’ views of creativity and its pedagogies as multidimensional. This is a notable contrast to a wider push in creativity research per se from within psychology, emphasising quantitative testing. Reflecting the review’s findings in schools, the Durham Commission notes teachers’ reticence in positioning creativity as assessable through tests, with a preference for assessment of planning. Together, these findings indicate a need to carefully consider research and assessment methods to take advantage of the affordances of both quantitative and qualitative techniques. In research this might mean more mixed methods study and in classrooms more portfolio-style approaches.

With teachers’ own creativity another review characteristic, looking to the future, we also need to consider how to respect teachers’ professional wisdom and cultural understanding to allow them to develop their own philosophy on creativity and its pedagogy. As Banaji, Burn and Buckingham (2010) so clearly elucidated, there are many different disciplinary perspectives on creativity, including defining it: through play; little c creativity; and social, political, democratic and cognitive perspectives. In contrast, our review showed that researchers were not always clear when defining terms. We therefore all need to more carefully interrogate what we think creativity is. But we also need to be wary of a homogenised definition which could lead us towards a national checklist mentality. Space for diversity of definition and pedagogical/research approaches is key.

‘Looking to the future, we also need to consider how to respect teachers’ professional wisdom and cultural understanding to allow them to develop their own philosophy on creativity and its pedagogy.’

Going forward, we are aware that the review offers a particular systematic perspective. We need to bring this into conversation with grey literature, seminal reports such as the Durham Commission, and ongoing creative practice of all kinds. For those of you interested to pick up on these conversations, please save the date – Thursday 11 June– for the event ‘Creativity in 21st Century Education: Where, how and what next?‘, to be held at the University of Exeter and supported by the BERA Creativities SIG and the University of Exeter’s Creativity and Emergent Educational-futures Network (CEEN). With momentum building again around creativity in education, we will be looking ahead to exciting future collaborations between educational practitioners, researchers, children and young people to better embed creativity back into our educational worlds.


Banaji, S., Burn, A., & Buckingham, D. (2010). The rhetorics of creativity: A review of the literature (2nd ed.). London: Arts Council England.

Cremin, T., & Chappell, K. (2019). Creative pedagogies: A systematic review. Research Papers in Education. doi:10.1080/02671522.2019.1677757

Durham Commission Team. (2019). Final report. The Durham Commission on Creativity and Education, Arts Council/Durham University. Retrieved from