Creative learning is important

by Pat Thomson

  • Creative learning allows children and young people to explore and communicate ideas and to design and critically evaluate possible solutions to problems.
  • Creative approaches allow children to use a wide range of materials, media and avenues to develop their thinking, acquire information and record and share what they have learnt.
  • Creative learning is active, experiential, engaging and relevant to children and young people. It allows them to connect what they already know and understand to deep knowledges that are important to their understandings of who they are, how the world works, and how they can make their way within it.
  • Creative learning fosters collaboration and team-work, and develops responsibility as children and young people meet deadlines, and make real products for real audiences.

But is there any evidence about the benefits of creative learning? Is this all just an idealized notion of how education might be?

Some insights into creative learning can be gained from examining what happened as a result of the Creative Partnerships programme. From 2002-2011 this funded creative practitioners to work with teachers and schools. The most ambitious, biggest and longest running arts education intervention in the world, Creative Partnerships aimed to transform students’ experiences of schooling, expand teachers’ classroom approaches and dramatically improve the ways in which schools functioned and performed. Its focus was on ‘creative learning’ and whole school change. In its lifetime, Creative Partnerships worked intensively with over 5,000 schools across England, 90,000 teachers and over 1 million young people. It touched 1 in 4 schools in the country, from nurseries and Pupil Referral Units to sixth form colleges. It supported 54 national schools of creativity, and some 1500 change schools, all of which exhibited exemplary creative learning practices. Over 6,500 national arts and creativity organisations were involved.

Creative Partnerships commissioned a lot of research into its activities, and thus offers an interesting and internationally significant archive of evidence (Parker, 2013). A recent review of this research archive (Thomson, Coles, Hallewell, & Keane, 2014) suggests that these activities supported modest gains in learning within formal school curriculum areas, as measured by tests and exams. But there is much stronger evidence for Creative Partnerships encouraging enjoyment and engagement in school: this evidence ranges from improvements in attendance to increased motivation. There is also compelling evidence to suggest that the programme did produce considerable benefits for young people in the areas of wellbeing, citizenship and work-related skills and habits. There were also learning gains for teachers through the professional development opportunities on offer.

After Creative Partnerships, work on creative learning has continued. One example can be found in the Get Wet project ( in which teachers, teacher educators and artists worked together to develop a curriculum based in children’s questions about water. Working with a heritage pumping station museum, across geography, history, science, literacy and using visual and performing arts as a major means of investigation, the children showed remarkable gains in learning, particularly in science.

In other parts of the world – such as Korea, Singapore, Norway, Germany and Lithuania – governments are turning to creative learning. They understand that creative learning is vital in the new societies and economies that now exist. Rote learning will not longer do, if it ever could. But at the very same time as creative approaches are being taken up in other countries, they have been dismissed in England as being trendy and empty-headed. The available evidence suggests that this is not true. Furthermore, there is considerable expertise within the English educational and creative communities that could be brought to the task of bringing creative learning to the centre of schooling for the future.



Parker, D. (2013). Creative Partnerships in practice. developing creative learners. London: Bloomsbury.

Thomson, P., Coles, R., Hallewell, M., & Keane, J. (2014). A critical review of the Creative Partnerships archive: how was cultural value understood, researched and evidenced? Swindon: Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Further information

Craft, Anna Creativity and possibility in the early years

Creativity, Culture and Education

Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talks

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