The Impact of Creative Partnerships on the Wellbeing of Children and Young People

Authors: Ros McLellan, Maurice Galton, Susan Steward and Charlotte Page

Institution: University of Cambridge

Full reference: McLellan, R., Galton, M., Steward, S. and Page, C. (2012). The Impact of Creative Partnerships on the Wellbeing of Children and Young People. Newcastle: CCE

Summary of key findings

This study aimed to explore how the Creative Partnerships programme had affected student wellbeing and the degree to which creative approaches had become embedded in areas of the curriculum other than those directly involving creative practitioners.

The researchers discuss approaches to creativity and creative learning, including the Creative Partnerships programme, the notion of wellbeing and interests in measuring it, and motivation as the link between creative learning and wellbeing.

The research draws on self-determination theory (SDT) where the achievement of learning goals associated with developing expertise and metacognitive wisdom, result in a sense of psychological wellbeing through satisfaction of core needs. This theory suggests that people’s innate needs include competence, autonomy and relatedness, and the findings of this report suggest that these are the very qualities that underpin the central aim of the Creative Partnerships programme.

Important themes are discussed in the report, including student voice, school ethos, the development of creative transferable skills, the effects of performativity culture, collaborative approaches, levels of student engagement, positive relationships in the classroom, and pastoral care.

Impact on primary schools

Findings based on the analysis of the survey and case study data included the following:

  • Creative Partnerships’ approach to fostering wellbeing was radically different from that in the other case study schools. In the latter wellbeing was a means to an end whereas in Creative Partnerships schools no distinction was made between creativity and wellbeing which meant that creative learning tended to permeate the whole curriculum.
  • Student voice was crucial to promoting wellbeing and in helping students to function effectively both personally and socially. The extent to which students were able to have their views recognized and contribute to decision making had been taken further in Creative Partnerships schools.
  • There was little evidence to suggest that there was a typology of creative practices. Where differences did exist this could be attributed to the fact that Creative Partnerships schools were at different stages of their learning journey, rather than because they adopted different approaches for developing their pupils’ creativity.
  • There was little evidence that creative learning was promoted through specific ‘arts based’ approaches to learning. In all Creative Partnerships schools the emphasis was on generic pedagogies rather than pedagogic subject knowledge. Specialist knowledge and skills were only introduced when it helped students to develop their own ideas. The emphasis was mainly on helping students to think flexibly, strategically and creatively.

Impact on secondary schools

Findings based on the analysis of the survey and case study data included the following:

  • In general, the survey indicated that there were no overall differences in wellbeing between students attending Creative Partnerships schools and other schools. Issues in the matching of schools at secondary level, together with previous research indicating that variation in wellbeing scores attributable to between school differences is small, might have accounted for this finding.
  • The qualitative data can provide insight into how Creative Partnerships work impacts upon student wellbeing but as schools have many strategies in place to support wellbeing disaggregating the impact of any one strategy is difficult. The context within which secondary schools operate cannot be ignored, particularly the performativity culture with its focus on examination results. This has implications for student wellbeing in terms of lack of choice and exam pressures can be controlling and therefore thwart the need for autonomy, and can also lead to a de-valuing of creativity and wellbeing.
  • The main motivation for schools joining the Creative Partnerships Programme was school improvement. Creative Partnerships work had generally focused on one departmental area or an identified group of students (e.g. disaffected Year 9 boys) in the first instance, although the number of departments and variety of projects undertaken increased as schools gained more experience of Creative Partnerships work. There was little evidence in the two case studies that where creative practitioners had worked with teachers to improve practice, this had impacted on pedagogy in other lessons beyond the Creative Partnerships projects.
  • Self-determination theory was applied to identify elements of Creative Partnerships work that promoted wellbeing through the satisfaction of the core needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness. A number of projects were seen to meet these needs in different ways and particularly promoted interpersonal and perceived competence wellbeing. There was less evidence that Creative Partnerships work influenced life satisfaction. It also had the potential to have a positive impact on wellbeing through factors not captured by SDT, e.g. aspiration and teacher wellbeing. In a small number of cases, Creative Partnerships work also had the potential to reduce wellbeing in the way it had been implemented, i.e. depending on the quality of the work. 
  • In conclusion, Creative Partnerships work was seen to positively influence students’ wellbeing and therefore similar initiatives should be implemented in UK schools. Difficulties associated with introducing change in large secondary schools suggests that it would be appropriate to concentrate initiatives within individual departments.

Research Questions & Methodology

Four research questions:

  1. What is the nature and effect of the relationship between creative approaches to learning, attainment and wellbeing? Can creative approaches taken be typologised?
  2. What is the impact of Creative Partnerships work on student wellbeing?
  3. What are the key elements of effective creative based learning that feed into the development of wellbeing?
  4. Are there aspects of this creative approach particular to the theory and practice associated with an arts based approach to learning?


  • Literature Review (summarised in the research report, with a full version published as part of the CCE Literature Review Series)
  • Survey – Four versions (for Years 3, 6, 8 and 10) of a Student Wellbeing survey was developed, piloted and administered to 5,231 students in 20 primary and 20 secondary schools, half of which were currently engaged in the Creative Partnerships programme. Those that were not were matched (in terms of size, attainment and catchment) to Creative Partnerships schools. The survey asked students to consider (a) how they felt in school (secondary students were also asked to compare this to how they felt outside school), and (b) how they perceived the work they do in lessons.
  • Case Studies – In-depth exploration of 5 primary and 2 secondary schools, mix of Creative Partnerships schools and others with no involvement. They were all drawn from those who took part in the survey. Researchers spent a number of days in the schools, interviewing students, teachers and any other adults involved in wellbeing or creative initiatives, gathering documentary evidence, and observing creative activities and normal lessons. A matrix approach was used to organize data from each school case in identifying the ethos, the main creative, wellbeing and teaching and learning approaches, and impact of those on student wellbeing.

Read the Report