The Signature Pedagogies Project

Authors: Pat Thomson, Christine Hall, Ken Jones and Julian Sefton-Green

Institution: University of Nottingham, Goldsmith College, University of London

Full reference: Thomson, P., Hall, C., Jones, K. and Sefton-Green, J. (2012). The Signature Pedagogies Project: Final Report. Newcastle: CCE

Summary of key findings

This report focuses on the work of creative practitioners, mainly artists, in a small number of English primary and secondary schools that took part in Creative Partnerships in 2011. It seeks to identify the distinctive (‘signature’) pedagogies that the practitioners helped to shape. Pedagogy is defined broadly: it refers to the shaping of the learning environment as a whole, in classroom settings, and more widely in the school and community. Throughout the report, the researchers explore the differences between arts-related signature pedagogies and the ‘default pedagogy’ established in schools by a standards agenda that defines excellence in terms of progress against a limited set of measurable outcomes.

Five important phenomena recurring throughout the researchers’ observations of hybrid signature pedagogies are discussed under the heading of ‘Pedagogic Platforms’: a particular approach to inclusion, the importance of choice and agency, the challenge of scale and ambition, the role of the absurd and carnivalesque, and the lived experience of the present.

Under the heading of ‘Pedagogic Purposes’, the researchers then present eight case studies in the context of UNESCO’s ‘four pillars of education’ to exemplify what they can look like in English schools. The four pillars are:

  • Learning to know – the discipline-based and interdisciplinary intellectual resources used for making meaning
  • Learning to do – the dispositions and skills used to make knowing into practice
  • Learning to live together – building meaningful and associations, networks and participatory practices
  • Learning to be – the development of new identities, embodiments, and horizons of possibility

A discussion of a repertoire of pedagogic practices follows identifying 19 separate practices with examples from the schools that took part in the research. The practices include provocation, the ‘self’ as a teaching resource, use of the body, the use of professional norms, managing behaviour differently, the use of routine, flexibility of pacing, the use of open-ended challenge and permission to play.

The researchers argue that signature creative pedagogies derive from the combination of platforms, purposes and practices outlined in the report. While any one of them is not necessarily distinctive to creative practice and what artists and teachers do, the best creative practices seen by the researchers combined all of the elements of the platforms and purposes with a repertoire of the practices.

The report concludes that there is much that schools can learn and are learning from the pedagogies of creative practitioners, but that learning involves a deep encounter with the fundamental purposes and understandings of arts-related pedagogy, not only an assimilation of its surface techniques. Artists bring particular frames of reference and purposes with them from their practice outside the school. As they and teachers work together, they are able to create new practice.

Research Questions & Methodology

Research participants:

  • 12 Schools took part in the research: 6 primary schools in the Midlands and 6 secondary schools in London and the South East
  • Range of practice of the creative practitioners that took part in the programme: storymaking, storytelling, dance, visual and movement art, radio, physical theatre, media, and creative activities including problem-solving.


  • Observations made during researcher visits to the classrooms plus filming of creative practitioners’ work with students which allowed researchers to capture a range of non-verbal interactions
  • Interviews with creative practitioners

A common analytical framework was constructed through which the different elements and emphases of arts-related signature pedagogies could be illuminated in detail. The framework considered introduction of the activities and practitioner, resources, classroom discourse, flow, use of space, behaviour management, teaching methods and framing.

Read the Report