Enacting ‘Creativity’ in a Neoliberal Policy Context: English Primary School Teacher Perspectives

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This paper draws on the findings of doctoral research investigating how ‘creative teaching’ and ‘creative learning’ were defined and enacted by teachers within an English primary school over the course of an academic year. There has been an enduring public interest in the perceived social benefits of creativity and the role of education in developing it, evidenced by a wide-ranging, cross-disciplinary body of academic work (e.g. Harris, 2016; Kaufman and Sternberg, 2006; Reuter, 2015). However, this is complicated by the varied definitions and applications in creativity research, as well as the contradictions inherent in and occasioned by neoliberal discourses which have reconstituted social policy and public services, including education, since the late 1980s (Klenk and Pavolini 2015). Although creativity is viewed as desirable within neoliberal models, it is often conflated with marketised notions of innovation (Gibson and Klocker, 2005). Furthermore, the focus on managerialist strategies emphasising standardisation, measurable performative achievement and accountability (Clarke et al. 2000) conflict with many notions of creativity. Education policy does not clarify the ways in which teachers can accommodate the contradictory demands in their practice, resulting in complex enactments (Craft and Jeffrey 2008; Jeffrey and Troman, 2013). This research is an in-depth examination of teacher’s enactments of creativity in a single suburban school. It employs a qualitative interpretivist design, drawing on the traditions of ethnographic case study. A range of methods were used to explore the perspectives and experiences of the head teacher and the teachers and children within three classrooms during 2012-13: Reception, Year 2 and Year 6. These included document analysis, general and targeted observations, semi-structured interviews and field notes. Bourdieu’s (1977; 1990) social field theory provides the conceptual framework for the study, together with theoretical elaborations including notions of ‘pedagogical habitus’ (Feldman 2016) and cross-field effects (Lingard and Rawolle, 2004, Rawolle & Lingard, 2008). This framework demonstrates how the values and practices of the staff are shaped by their individual and personal experiences, as well as the system of interactive social, political and institutional ‘fields’ in which they are situated. The study examines the encroachment of ‘neoliberal policy dispositions’ (Thomson 2005) on practice and the different ways these shape enactments of creativity. Creativity was presented as a priority in the school’s local policy documents but, in practice, staff had little time to develop shared understandings, therefore much depended on their varied, individual interpretations. Enactments were shaped by several interlinked factors; first, personal definitions, the value placed on these and their sense of self-efficacy as a ‘creative person’; second, how staff positioned creativity in relation to their pedagogical values; and, finally, the extent to which they had assimilated neoliberal policy dispositions into their pedagogical habitus. Fieldwork took place at a sensitive period in terms of several rapid and substantial changes to the national curriculum, assessment and inspection systems. Attempts to interpret and comply with these shifting frameworks overshadowed staff efforts to engage in creative teaching and creative learning. Their sense of uncertainty intensified over the year as they realised they were not playing the game of schooling successfully and did not know how to improve.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 11 Sept 2019
EventBritish Educational Research Association - University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom
Duration: 10 Sept 201912 Sept 2019


ConferenceBritish Educational Research Association
Abbreviated titleBERA
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address

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