Can we teach creativity?

Sunday 18 October, 16.00 until 17.15, Pit Theatre, Barbican Battle for the Classroom

The 2015 report by the Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value argues that creativity and the arts are being ‘squeezed out’ of schools. Popular educational thinker Ken Robinson, whose TED Talk, ‘How schools kill creativity’, has over 32million views, claims that equal weighting should be given to the arts as to science and maths. Perhaps ironically, Robinson promotes creativity as being in the interests of the ‘knowledge economy’: schools must cultivate a ‘Creative Class’ for the future. Similarly, Yong Zhao, author of the best-selling World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students, urges educators to treat creativity not as a ‘nice-to-have’ but as ‘an economic necessity’. Proponents of knowledge-led education counter that creativity can only arise if one first has a mastery of subject-knowledge. To think outside the box, you need to know what’s inside first. Furthermore, advocates of liberal education argue the arts and culture should be taught for their own sake, not how they might serve the economy.

Meanwhile, some argue the debate about declining creativity is an unnecessary panic: the kids are all right, and doing it for themselves. Techy geeks are creating games that display incredible artistic prowess and imagination. And are kids who code any less creative than those who colour? There’s evidence to suggest that, worldwide, youngsters are particularly creative with their use of digital media: anyone with a mobile phone can be a photographer or create mini films; computers allow young people freely to remix videos, create their own fan comics, compose music. The fast-growing Maker Movement, with an emphasis on creating rather than consuming, is seen as one solution to a decline in traditional arts education. 

So what is true creativity and how should schools cultivate it? Are schools doomed to kill creativity or can they teach it? Is creativity a unique skill or simply the result of hard work and knowing your stuff? Do we know how to encourage creativity or even what it is? Is it one of those abstract concepts that can mean everything and nothing all at once, even as it is widely debated?

JJ Charlesworth
senior editor, ArtReview

Nick Corston
co-founder, STEAM Co, set up to power communities to inspire children with creativity across the STEAM skills of Science, Tech, Engineering, Art and Maths

Sean Gregory
director, Creative Learning, Barbican/Guildhall School of Music & Drama

Martin Robinson
educational consultant and teacher; author, Trivium 21c: preparing young people for the future with lessons from the past; writer, Times Educational Supplement

Annie Warburton
creative director, Crafts Council

Cara Bleiman
teacher, Arnhem Wharf Primary School

Produced by
Cara Bleiman teacher, Arnhem Wharf Primary School
Recommended readings
Teaching; it’s about what you know

William Kitchen vs education’s child-centred, anti-knowledge orthodoxy.

Joanna Williams, spiked, January 2015

Creativity in Education: Are We Doing Enough to Support Young People?

What are the long-term ramifications for young people of an education that stifles creativity?

Mark A'Bear, Huffington Post, 25 October 2013

Gove’s changes threaten Britain’s greatest asset: our creativity

As part of his quest for greater academic rigour, the Education Secretary plans to remove all arts subjects except English from the top tier of his Ebacc

Roger Mavity, Independent, 28 January 2013

Can Creativity Be Taught?

We don’t learn to be creative. We must become creative people.

August Turak, Forbes, 22 May 2011

Classroom Creativity

Everybody wants a creative child – in theory. The reality of creativity, however, is a little more complicated, as creative thoughts tend to emerge when we’re distracted, daydreaming, disinhibited and not following the rules.

Jonah Lehrer, Science Blogs, 12 March 2010

Do schools kill creativity?

Sir Ken Robinson makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity.

Ken Robinson, TED, 1 February 2006

follow the Academy of Ideas


Keep up to date with Academy of Ideas news and events by joining our mailing list.

Next year's festival will be packed with more debates like this one. If you would like to come, get your ticket now via our 2016 tickets page.
Session partners

in association with