Leading Article: We must nurture the creativity of children

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The Independent Culture
ALL WORK and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Yesterday David Almond, winner of the Carnegie Medal for children's literature, condemned the Government's obsession with tests and targets for stifling the fun and creativity of learning. And in today's Education section he describes how primary schoolteachers' creative efforts are being stymied by the need for both themselves and their pupils to make an endless succession of grades. Much still needs to be done to improve the standards of literacy and numeracy in schools. These were so low that tests and targets were, and still are, vital to haul them back up. But this drive to improve must not be at the expense of creative teaching and activities, so important to the learning process.

In too many schools creativity is in danger of being unintentionally sacrificed to the need to pass these stringent but necessary tests. The testing of core subjects is important but schools need to strike a balance. Too often, untested activities such as arts and crafts are exiled to the boundaries of stretched schedules. And the prescriptive detail of literacy and numeracy hours in primary schools - 10 minutes spent doing exactly this and 10 minutes doing exactly that - makes inventive teaching harder.

It is ironic that while the Government has been on an emotive recruitment campaign based on inventive teaching - nobody forgets a good teacher - it is in danger of restricting the inventive teaching of key skills at an early age. Teachers have a tough job in winning the interest of a class of more than 30 children with differing abilities. And although a structured framework helps children to learn, it should not be too rigid. Teachers need the flexibility, especially with words and numbers at primary school level, to animate learning in just the way that they know will grab the attention of their pupils. Equally important as the creative teaching of conventional subjects are creative activities themselves. There is more to learning, and life, than just English, maths and science. And, although a child does need to be literate before writing out a made-up story, many children are, at some stage, slow to learn the three Rs. For these children persistent failure can be discouraging, if not alienating, and it is crucial to their continued interest in education that they succeed somewhere at school. Drawing and drama, the arts and crafts, can often provide that forum. For those children whose parents do not encourage them to build, draw and act at home, their only creative stimulus outside school may be television or, at best, a computer game.

Imagination has long been one of Britain's best exports. This country has produced some of the world's greatest novelists, rock musicians and software designers. Even the Paris fashion houses are now being guided by young British designers. We must continue to nurture these creative instincts.