In Sir Ken Robinson’s interview for the first of BBC Radio 4’s The Educators series, he lamented that schools are inadvertently crushing creativity with a narrow curriculum which favours a ‘particular type of intelligence’ and league tables which can be likened to the Eurovision Song Contest of education. Who better to talk about creativity? Sir Ken’s book ‘Out of Our Minds’ is an inspiring read about learning to be creative and his TED Talks receive more hits on YouTube than Bill Gates’ or Bono’s.
The importance of creativity has never been more apparent. The great creative minds within major technology and engineering companies are driving innovations that could only have been dreamed of in the past. In a country where the creative economy accounts for one in every 12 jobs, it is short-sighted educationally, politically and economically that many schools are simply unable to set an effective creative agenda and yet in the maintained sector in particular I know how challenging it can be to extend and encourage creativity through the curriculum. By contrast, I delight that St Mary’s School, Cambridge is not hampered by such restrictions and that our students have extraordinary levels of creativity in science, technology, engineering, language and literature, art and drama.
The media has been reporting on the introduction of the new Computer Science curriculum which aims to provide students with ‘computational thinking and creativity to understand and change the world’. This isn’t of course new to us: our first cohort of girls successfully completed the GCSE course this summer gaining A* or A grades on a course established to meet their interest. The tools that we use in school make access to these innovations possible and, through our science and technology curriculum, we are enabling our girls to apply their creativity to both theoretical and real life practical technical and engineering challenges. We are excited to be using iPads in both Year 8 and Year 9 this year allowing students to engage with their learning in new and interesting ways.
One of our latest curriculum innovations is the introduction of the Creative Writing AS Level which girls are invited to take in their GCSE year. This course, together with our new Creative Writing scholarship, has been introduced in response to demand from our girls. The scholarship is for those students who demonstrate particular flair and passion for the written word and award holders are given every encouragement to develop their Creative Writing skills by entering competitions and submitting pieces for publications.
Our girls’ creative acumen and abilities will continue to grow as they build their careers, and become the next generation’s great enthusiasts and leaders. Our school community is extremely lucky to be home to so many remarkable women who remind us daily that the ultimate purpose of education is the ‘do’ and to ‘give’ more, not to ‘have’ more. Examples include Louisa Reid who teaches English at the school. A critically acclaimed author, she generously talks with the girls about her experiences of being an author and the mechanics of getting books published. She is an exceptional role model and in this digital age provides a grounded reminder of the pleasure that the traditional printed word on a page can bring.
We are also lucky to have an extremely proactive Governing body which includes inspirational individuals like the newly appointed High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire, Linda Fairbrother, who is also member of our parent body. Inspired by the legend of ‘The Last Englishman’, Linda has commissioned a piece of music from composer Richard Brown, previously Musical Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, which will be performed for the first time in Ely Cathedral in March next year.
It is the work of role models like these women which inspires great creativity in our girls and so Sir Ken has nothing to fear at St Mary’s School, Cambridge! While others may be ‘crushing’ it, we are investing heavily in celebrating and supporting creativity across the whole curriculum. The national obsession with league tables may have caused some to lose sight of the purpose of education but, within our community, creativity lies at the very heart of what we hold dear.
Charlotte Avery, Headmistress at St Mary’s School, Cambridge