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Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That's Transforming Education

Ken Robinson's latest book covers much well-trodden ground, but is a comprehensive and powerful manifesto for fundamental change to education.

The bad news is that for fans of Sir Ken Robinson's previous work, his new book Creative Schools may not have many new ideas to offer. It serves as a powerful rallying cry against 'back to basics' reform, and a impassioned plea for more personalised teaching and a greater appreciation of the humanities - but we would expect no less from Sir Ken. If you have watched his TED talks and other presentations, you can almost hear the humour and cadence of Robinson's delightful oratory style - testament to the articulate and readable style he and his ghost writer Lou Aronica have also brought to his previous books.

The good news is that for those new to his work (or his published titles at least), Creative Schools provides a comprehensive framework of his educational philosophy, supported with insights from his extensive field research. It also sets forth some more actionable recommendations - for teachers, parents (Ch. 7), principals (Ch. 8) and educational leaders (Ch. 9). Even for those unfamiliar with the current debate within education, the book is extremely accessible, beginning with a review of key aspects.

Robinson is crictial - as he has been for some time - of the 'industrial' approach to education. He goes on, however, to offer an alternative metaphor - that of organic farming (Ch. 2). Within this metaphor, he posits four basic purposes of education;

  • ECONOMIC: Education should enable students to become economically responsible and independent
  • CULTURAL: Education should enable students to understand and appreciate their own cultures  and to respect the diversity of others
  • SOCIAL: Education should enable young people to become active and compassionate citizens
  • PERSONAL: Education should enable young people to engage with the world within them as well as the world around them

Building on these roles, Robinson sets out eight competencies schools should seek to cultivate in their students. In doing so, he is in many ways extending deepening the 21st Century Learning Skills that have become increaingly popular rhetoric in recent years.

  • CURIOSITY: The ability to ask questions and explore how the world works
  • CREATIVITY: The ability to generate new ideas and to apply them in practice
  • CRITICISM: The ability to analyse information and ideas and to form reasoned arguments and judgement
  • COMMUNICATION: The ability to express thoughts and feelings clearly and confidently in a range of media and forms
  • COLLABORATION: The ability to work constructively with others
  • COMPASSION: The ability to empathise with others and act accordingly
  • COMPOSURE: The ability to connect with the inner life of feeling and develop a sense of personal harmony and balance
  • CITIZENSHIP: The ability to engage constructively with society and to participate in the processes that sustain it

In examining how school can deliver on these objectives, he defines four roles for teachers; to engage, to enable to expect and to empower (Ch. 5). Reduced to such a clear set of ambitions, his vision for teaching is both simple and profound.

While his advice to teachers, parents and principals is well presented and actionable, perhaps the most interest new thinking he shares is the final chapter on how policy makers and educational leaders can bring about the change he believes is required. Robinson presents a set of straightforward objectives - recruiting and retaining expert teachers to setting high standards across the curriculum; from strategic innovation to intelligent accountability. He describes instances globally where real change is occurring, and invites the rest of us to become part of this force for change.


Brett Rolfe

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