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 initiatives on wellbeing: a literature review. Newcastle: CCE
This literature review provides a timely overview of an area that is growing in interest and relevance for educators. It underpins a CCE-commissioned research report conducted by the authors which explored the impact of Creative Partnerships on pupils’ wellbeing.
The idea of wellbeing, and how a creative education might help such a concept to develop in young people, emerges at a time when many of the economic models that underpin the structures of social life are subject to increased scrutiny. The sense that purely economic factors are enough to justify particular policy decisions in education – future competitiveness, the fear of ‘falling behind’, that learning is merely a stepping stone on the path to working – are being questioned. This is particularly relevant at the time of writing as we witness, in the coalition government in the UK, another swing to so-called ‘back to basics’ approaches to education. This seems likely to involve heightened prescriptivism with regard to curriculum content, increased testing and teaching directly to such tests.
The review explores complex themes at the heart of wellbeing and raises questions around what the future purpose of education ought to be. If we are simply interested in concocting sets of positive education ‘results’ as a possible predictor for future economic prosperity, then it is likely wellbeing will be squeezed out of the picture. However, if we are interested in helping to develop future generations of flexible thinkers, who are resilient in the face of challenges, who can marshal a repertoire of skills and knowledge when moving between tasks of different types and complexity, then, as this review clearly demonstrates, the learner’s sense of wellbeing will be key.
The range of educational initiatives touched on in the review all seek, in their own way, to inculcate a sense of pupil autonomy, self- regulation, ‘possibility thinking’ and the willingness to take risks while learning, particularly when tasks retain a high degree of ambiguity. These are, one might say, the polar opposite of ‘teaching to the test’. Evaluations of such initiatives, including the work of Creative Partnerships, managed by CCE, share a common finding. We see that students’ confidence grows, they begin to think better of themselves and recognise their own potential to improve. This, in turn, means they are able to work more effectively both individually and socially. This review shows how these dispositions and capabilities may be directly related to various aspects of what are described in greater detail as ‘hedonic’ and ‘eudaimonic’ wellbeing.
This points to there being a clear link between creative learning and wellbeing in young people. But it is a link we need to understand better. We hope that this review, offering as it does an original contribution to the education debate, might inspire further work in this area at a time when, at least in the UK, wellbeing and creativity in schools is increasingly at risk of being ignored by policy makers.