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National Curriculum

What is creativity?


What is creativity?

What comes to mind when you think of creativity? People being imaginative, inventive, taking risks and challenging convention? Do you think about originality and the value of what people produce? Perhaps you think you can only be creative if you are artistic.

A good starting point for defining creativity is 'All our futures: Creativity, culture and education', the National Advisory Committee's report (DfEE, 1999). This report states that we are all, or can be, creative to a lesser or greater degree if we are given the opportunity. The definition of creativity in the report (page 29) is broken down into four characteristics:

First, they [the characteristics of creativity] always involve thinking or behaving imaginatively. Second, overall this imaginative activity is purposeful: that is, it is directed to achieving an objective. Third, these processes must generate something original. Fourth, the outcome must be of value in relation to the objective.

Debating the characteristics highlighted by this definition can be a helpful starting point for agreeing what your school actually means by creativity. 

Imagination and purpose

Imagination is definitely a key part of creativity. But are all imaginative ideas creative?

Suppose someone imagined a blue and white striped unicorn. Would this be creative? It may be that no one has conjured up a unicorn like this before. But what is the point of the idea? If someone thinks of an imaginative idea like this and then does not take it any further, are they creative?

Creative people are purposeful as well as imaginative. Their imaginative activity is directed at achieving an objective (although this objective may change over time).


What do we mean by originality? What might we mean by originality when we are talking about pupils' learning? Original in relation to their previous work? Other pupils' work? Work that has gained public recognition?

When pupils are writing a poem, choreographing a dance or producing a painting, their work can be unique if it expresses their ideas and feelings. But what about work in subjects like science, history and mathematics? While it would be wonderful for a pupil to be the first person to discover a new scientific principle, this is highly unlikely. Does this mean that pupils can't be creative in these subjects?

Not at all. Skilled teachers can help pupils tackle questions, solve problems and have ideas that are new to them. This makes pupils' ideas original, the result of genuinely creative behaviour.


Imaginative activity can only be creative if it is of value in relation to its purpose.

Teachers need to help pupils judge the value of what they and others have done through critical evaluation. This means asking questions such as, ‘Does it do the job?’, ‘Is it aesthetically pleasing?’, ‘Is it a valid solution?’, ‘Is it useful?’

Sometimes teachers’ and pupils’ views about what is worthwhile and valuable may differ. Sharing judgements together can provide useful insight into what other people value. An act can be highly imaginative and original, but harm someone or destroy something. Are we happy with this kind of creativity?

This content relates to the 1999 programmes of study and attainment targets.

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