Dare To Be Creative – Paper Nations event arms audience with tips to keep creative writing alive in schools

By Katy Hancock, School Governor, Parent & Writer

This week I attended a Paper Nation event at the Bath Children’s Literature Festival; entitled “How can we keep creative writing alive in our schools?” The evening gathered educators, writers, parents and teachers together to hear a panel of fascinating speakers all concerned about the way in which the new national curriculum is marginalising creativity in schools.

The panel included celebrated writer David Almond, Francesca Beers (Deputy Head at a Bristol Primary School), Jake Bishop Pointe (member of Youth Parliament for B&NES), Bethany Taverner (youth worker at Free Verse Poetry Project) and was ably chaired by Julia Eccleshare MBE (Guardian Children’s Books Editor).

As a school governor at a large, Bath primary school I attended hoping to hear solutions to our regular curriculum committee debates over how we can not only please OFSTED, prepare our children for the new rigorous focus on SPAG  (Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar), but also excite and inspire them to write creatively.

As a writer and parent, I also attended hoping to hear about how I could spark my own primary school children’s creative juices. I was not disappointed.

Francesca Beers and David Almond spoke eloquently about the challenge schools face when national pupil progress targets, assessments and baseline testing all require that children master the scaffolding of language and literature; SPAG.

The recent Year 2 and 6 SATS left many teachers wringing their hands and demanded that children know the difference between subordinating conjunctives and prepositions and the definition of modal adverbs. I was relieved to hear that I was not alone in not knowing the answers, indeed David Almond warned that by putting grammatical barriers in the way of children’s creativity, we are in danger of repressing the instinctive love of language that all children are born with.

For Beers, the challenge as a deputy head is to ensure children are not frustrated by any lack of basic knowledge of phonics or handwriting; she views time spent mastering these tools as a means to an end to ensure children can then develop a love of writing and described how incorporating the Talk 4 Writing  scheme into the national curriculum can enable children to feed their creative engines.

Both Bethany and Jake spoke about how they had witnessed teenagers using oral poetry and creative writing as a means to express family pressures, anxieties and the state of their mental health. The panel all agreed that educators have a responsibility not only to prepare children to pass an exam but for life in the real world, to enable children to get in touch with art, literature, drama and music as a form of counselling and self awareness.

So how can we ensure creative writing thrives in our schools? The answers came flooding in from the panel and audience alike;

Help begins at home:

  • Preschool children should be given every opportunity to hear, dance, draw, act out and begin reading stories so that when they arrive at school their love of storytelling is ready to be nurtured. Amazing Pages produce uniquely personalised children’s books that use photographs, names, favourite foods and the real life experiences of a child to spark even the most reluctant with a love of creative writing before they have even learnt to read stories.
  • Pressure from parents via the governing body and PTA of schools can be very powerful in a climate of anxiety amongst teaching staff awaiting appraisals. Some audience members described successful library fundraising, mini children’s literature festivals and using the abundant creative experience within the parental body to connect children’s love of creativity with real jobs.
  • In October 2015, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department of Education launched the Cultural Education Challenge. Nick Gibb, the then schools minister stated; “an academic curriculum and a cultural education can only complement each other…both aspects of a child’s education can and should co-exist within every school in England…we want to challenge every school to make this their aim.” The Paper Nation panel called upon parents to hold schools, academies and Local Authorities to account by shining a mirror on any barriers to creativity.

Support for schools:

  • Creative budgeting can enable teachers to invite actors, authors and artists into school, giving children the chance to ask the questions they want answered and expose them to a wealth of experience and practical information about how books are made, the daily routines and individuality of writers and the psychosocial benefits of creative thinking.
  • Using an enquiry based model of learning, such as that advocated by the 5x5x5 project, can offer teachers new ways of inspiring children. The project offers training and resources for schools and provides ways to mould the national curriculum around individuals and identify measureable outcomes and indicators of progress to meet national assessment criteria.
  • Finally Paper Nation themselves are soon to offer an Ambassador Scheme and the first ever national qualification for creative writing for children aged 8 plus. Discover more about Paper Nations here.

With so many practical suggestions, I left the event feeling buoyed by what seems to be a coordinated national creative movement. I can’t wait to share the tips with my school’s governing body, look up local schemes and I may just pick up the well sharpened Paper Nation’s pencil and return to my own creative writing roots!

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