Professional transformation through creative agents

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Chris May describes how the new professional development role of Creative Agents will work with schools to enable creativity to flourish.

Since 2002 Creative Partnerships have worked in over two thousand four hundred schools in England, delivering a programme which places professional development for teachers and creative practitioners at its core. From the start of the programme it was recognised that in order to have any lasting impact on the ways in which schools develop creativity, the starting point had to be nurturing the creativity of teachers and other staff in schools. It is no surprise therefore that the thirty-six Creative Partnerships area offices have delivered over seventeen thousand professional development opportunities for over forty-five thousand teachers and other school  professionals, resulting in an increase in teacher confidence to experiment with creative approaches to teaching and learning and a growth in teachers’ ability to reflect in-depth on what works.

Creative Partnerships aims to develop:
• the creativity and enterprise of young people, raising their aspirations and achievements
• the skills of teachers and their ability to work with creative practitioners
• schools’ approaches to culture, creativity and partnership working; and
• the skills, capacity and sustainability of the creative industries and other partners who wish to work with schools.

Innovative creative practice
As the organisation enters a new phase of development, funded for a further three years by the DCSF and DCMS, the focus of the programme will become sharper while reaching many more schools across England.

Schools selected for participation will work in one of three strands. Entry into the Schools of Creativity strand is highly competitive and only available to schools that have an established track record of working successfully with Creative Partnerships for several years. The brief for these schools will be to develop innovative practice in creative teaching and learning while proactively sharing that practice with others through local, regional and national networks. Thirty Schools of Creativity will be selected in 2008/9.

Radical curriculum development
The Change Schools Programme will work with 800 schools in its first year and will recruit partners who demonstrate a deep commitment to whole school change through the development of creativity. These schools will commit to a three year funding relationship, during which time they will be working towards radical reform of their approach to curriculum development and delivery, placing creative development at the core of the change process.

Creative enquiry
The final strand is the Enquiry Schools programme – a three term funding agreement which encourages schools to develop a focussed programme of enquiry into specific aspects of creative teaching and learning. There will be twelve hundred Enquiry Schools each year.

Creative agents
In each of these three strands the key creative partner working with the school is the Creative Agent – a new cultural and educational role in school improvement. Every school in the Creative Partnerships programme is assigned a Creative Agent who is responsible for facilitating the development of an individualised programme in each school.

Creative Agents are creative practitioners who are experienced in working in educational settings in an advisory and enabling capacity. They are skilled in relationship building, partnership management, programme development and delivery,   brokering contractual arrangements with other practitioners, enabling professional development and developing networks of practice. Most importantly Creative Agents are skilled in developing reflective practice through fostering the growth of professional learning communities in schools.

Each Creative Agent has an individual style of working – as we might expect from cultural sector partners and in many ways this is what makes their contribution unique in the educational landscape. Each capitalises on their background in creative practice while bringing to the school a variety of experience that has been gained through working in a range of settings. While acting as a critical friend to the school, the Creative Agent is encouraged to never get too comfortable or complacent, in order that the right level of challenge and stimulation can be provided and that a fresh response to entrenched problems can be developed.

Creative development framework
The starting point for the relationship between the Creative Agent and the school is the establishment of rapport and the process of understanding the school’s key developmental priorities. Trough carrying out a self assessment exercise using a tool we call the Creative School Development Framework, each school is able to assess the elements of school systems and structures that need to be addressed to enable creativity to flourish. Having considered the five elements of the framework: leadership and management; teaching and learning; curriculum development and delivery;, staff learning and development; and environments and resources, the school is able to draw up an action plan which can  then be used as a basis  for project development.

The agent’s job is then to establish a team of creative practitioners who will work with the school for at least a year, developing the trust and communication necessary or true innovation to take place.

Professional learning community
As projects develop, the Creative Agent’s role moves from a diagnostic and brokering function towards the long-term development of a creative professional learning community in the school, drawing in partners across the school community at a pace that is appropriate for each school. To ensure that reflective practice drives the programme, Creative Agents make use of a national evaluation framework. This resource records impacts on the learning of teachers, creative practitioners and pupils as well as monitoring the quality of project delivery arrangements and the distance travelled as a result of the project.

Consistency across the programme is achieved through the application of a national competency framework for Creative Agents which sets out eighteen areas of knowledge, skill and behaviour which agents work towards demonstrating. Training is provided across the country to support Creative Agent Development and it is anticipated that this creative professional learning community will mature over the next few years as a powerful force for educational change.

For more information about the Creative Partnerships programme and the role of Creative Agents please visit our website at
Chris May: Interim Director: Change Schools.

Taken from Professional Development Today Issue 11-1

Professional Development Today