Book Review - Ken Robinson's Creative Schools

Published: Wednesday 16 March 2016

With the release of the 2016 edu-documentary Most Likely to Succeed, Directed by Greg Whiteley determined to shake the educational landscape across the globe it is an opportune time to look at where the origins of the film were established. Many of the messages within this documentary are not new; in fact Sir Ken Robinson’s famed TED talk ‘Do Schools kill Creativity?’ was produced in 2006 and many of the ideas are reflected within Whiteley’s work. Since then Robinson’s talk has gone on to become the most viewed TED talk of all time with a whopping 300 million views.

The success of this 20-minute talk resulted in the release of Robinson’s fourth book, Creative Schools – Revolutionizing Education from the Ground Up. Much of the work within this novel is inspired by the ideas that Robinson presented in his earlier works Finding Your Element. He talks of the fact that education, as a system derived from the industrial revolution, has developed into a system which fails most people as it does not allow them to reach their potential.

Within Creative Schools, Robinson calls to action the politicians who allow the industrial model of mass education to maintain the hierarchy we see in society today. He claims that ‘telling schools what to teach, imposing systems of testing to hold them accountable, and levying penalties if they don’t make the grade’ are causing schools to engage in a standards movement which is killing creativity in schools. The model of mass standardization through testing, national curriculum and Government initiatives is highly criticized as stifling the ability for school leaders to act without fear of judgment within a league table or OECD indicator such as PISA International Rankings.

A key message within the book is the lack of value that education systems place on the Arts, referring to the subject hierarchy that sees most importance placed on STEM subjects to the detriment of others. Robinson’s key message can be captured here; ‘Opportunities for change exist within every school, even where the emphasis on high stakes testing has become extreme. Schools often do things simply because they’ve always done them.’

Critics of Robinson often draw on his utopian views of what education could be as pie in the sky ideas, which are unachievable. What he is able to do is to provoke a discourse within education that asks us to question the systems within which we operate and consider if we really are operating a school or a factory?

What is to like about this release is that unlike his previous works, Creative Schools provides practical ways in which schools can begin looking at change. By focusing on how leaders within schools can free staff of the rigor of externally imposed policy and standards to allow freedom for our teachers to inspire our kids to be creative, he provides a pathway for a positive educational reform.

Peter Allen
Director of Teaching and Learning
Scotch College