Life in a Post-Level World: Progress Descriptors for Creativity in Four Days

It should be idyllic. Teachers and children conversing together, children learning stuff because it’s interesting or necessary or both. Assessment a continuous part of the process of understanding:

“Have you got it yet?”

“Yes, I have.”



“Well, have you considered this… ?”

“Oh, does that mean that blah blah might not be right?”


A post level world should be one where teacher and pupil focus on education, the joy and the pain of teaching and learning things. However, what is going on in the ‘real world’? Consider this:

Today I read the following on my Facebook group page for drama teachers:

“Hi, does anyone have anything I could look at re life without levels? I have to come up with 4 progress descriptors for Creativity. My SLT wants them emailed by Monday.” I have cut a couple of things from the original post but the point being made is stark:

Life without levels can mean a senior leadership team deciding at the last minute to ask teachers to come up with rushed and ill-considered descriptors for progress in the most difficult and nebulous of areas. What in heaven’s name is the point?

Before I go any further I need to share a bit of information with you. I think creativity is an essential part of learning particularly in subjects where you have to ‘create’ stuff. Drama is one of these subjects, in drama it is a good idea to encourage creativity and I think most people would agree with this. About ten years ago I was charged with a task by the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust to look into creativity across the curriculum, looking at questions such as can it be taught, can it be learned, and can it be assessed? I looked at lessons, talked to teachers, pupils, and creative people from a variety of disciplines. I read a copious amount of literature, I presented at conferences and asked delegates their thoughts, I team taught with a number of teachers, I worked with creative artists and put together an online ‘creativity’ game to see if it could make children more creative. This took over a couple of years, I interviewed over a thousand people, and I’m still reflecting on what I came up with.

I was then asked by the QCA to work on Personal, Learning and Thinking Skills assessment for the new, now old, national curriculum. The QCA wanted me to come up with descriptors and a way of measuring progress in all of the PLTS but, in particular, creativity. I read more books and material written specifically on the assessment and recognition of creativity in the curriculum across ‘all’ subjects. I learned about the pitfalls in subject specific, let alone generic assessment of creativity, teamwork, independent learning and the rest. I took a painstaking approach to try to solve the riddle: how to measure the unmeasurable. I came up with an online assessment tool that did a job. It was very interesting to look at and the data sets it came up with were very pretty and some said that they were of real use. But were they? Well, they might have been but in order to know we would have had to research them over a few years, with a control group or two and would we have found more children being more creative? We may well have done, we might not have done and the point of this blog is not to argue the whys and wherefores of whether there is a point to all this ‘skills’ assessment (I’ll leave that for another blog).

No, the point of this blog is to register my utter dismay that some SLTs are expecting teachers to come up with last minute solutions to hugely complex ideas. This can’t be because they think it will aid the education of the children in their care, it can only be because they want to tick some boxes purely for the sake of ticking boxes.

If anyone wants to take creativity in the arts and across the curriculum seriously and explore how problematic this idea is please contact me here as I have much of interest to share. In the meantime here is a video of Ken Campbell talking about creativity and education as part of a conference I organised. I worked with Ken for a few years on this, both of us ended up none the wiser and wiser for it:

2 thoughts on “Life in a Post-Level World: Progress Descriptors for Creativity in Four Days

  1. Brilliant, Martin, I can only hope that someone who is responsible for the administration of Education in this country will take time to read,learn and inwardly digest what you have written in your last two blogs and will be knowledgeable enough and have the wisdom to understand your sound and well researched comments. Good too for the head of Uppingham. We need more well informed voices.Something has got to be done. It’s all so depressing and if we continue in the ways we are being led then God help the teachers and kids, God help what will pass for Education and above all, God help the country.


  2. I die a little inside when I see highly prescriptive rubrics for creative acts. For example “your poem should include four stanzas with rhyming couplets and make good use of imagery.” I did a bit of research into using improv to generate ideas for story writing in Year 3. It was more about unlocking creativity for a purpose than measuring creativity, which I think is the whole point. The writing was assessed using APP (at the time), but the creative process leading up to it was reflected upon by the student rather than judged by the teacher. I don’t think that creativity is a blueprinted process, so we need to be very careful not to imply that there are only a limited number of ways to spark the imagination.


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