In January 2010, Ofsted published a report entitled ‘Learning: creative approaches that raise standards’. Three years on, and with the curriculum now dominating the debate amongst policy makers and practitioners, it’s timely to revisit the report. The observation that ‘in schools with good teaching, there is not a conflict between the National Curriculum, national standards in core subjects and creative approaches to learning’ has particular relevance at a time when there is strong emphasis on subject disciplines and academic rigour.

It’s an observation that will continue to be relevant when the final changes to the primary curriculum are introduced in schools in September next year, and whatever conclusions are reached about the secondary curriculum and the EBacc, which we discuss elsewhere in this issue.

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The survey evaluates and illustrates how 44 schools – two nursery, 22 primary, 19 secondary and a special school – used creative approaches to learning. These schools had aspirations for their pupils to ask questions independently, make connections between ideas, think creatively, challenge and participate effectively, and reflect on their learning. The report also evaluates the impact on pupils’ achievement and personal development, and considers evidence from an additional 180 schools.

At the time the field work was undertaken, all 44 schools had achieved outstanding or good in their most recent Ofsted inspection in terms of pupil enjoyment of learning, their preparation for future economic well-being and the curriculum. (The inspections had of course taken place under the former inspection framework.)

Many of the examples cited in the report make the case for creative learning, showing clearly that the division of the school day into strict subject areas restricts the linking of ideas and appetite for enquiry which characterises an effective lesson. In a nursery, the children take on roles from the familiar story of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ and use their experience to talk and write. Children in a reception class work with Jan Beerstraten’s 1658 painting ‘The Castle of Muiden’ as a way in to drama, role play and oral story-telling.

A year 1 maths class looks closely at the paintings of Bridget Riley as the starting point for their work with shapes and patterns. At secondary level, drumming helps pupils learning multiplication quickly grasp the principles with which they had previously been struggling. Pupils in an inner-city secondary school in which 50 languages are spoken found that translating some aspects of chemistry, such as bonding, into dance ‘diminished their nervousness and developed their understanding’.

The report finds that a whole-school approach, intelligent planning, well managed continuous professional development for teachers, an enrichment programme that provides pupils with opportunities to learn beyond the school premises and opportunities for the involvement of partners and parents all have significant contributions to make to the impact of creative learning on pupils’ personal development and attainment.