Each of the major parties’ manifestos for the upcoming election recognises the importance of creativity in our schools and workforces.
It seems that policymakers are finally responding to a growing body of international evidence that employers, as they navigate an increasingly digital and complex world, will value human skills like original thinking and complex problem solving.
Meanwhile, educators are talking more and more about the importance of “creative thinking” — the process by which we generate, refine, and critique ideas. It requires specific knowledge, skills and habits of mind. It involves making connections across topics, concepts, disciplines and methodologies, and it improves outcomes beyond school.
The evidence suggests that creative thinking is not innate. It can be learned, and assessed, all which explains why countries such as Singapore, Finland, Canada and Australia are prioritising it in schools.
UK policymakers must realise that the stakes here are exceptionally high. Research suggests that creative occupations (of which there is a growing number) — spanning not just designers and artists, but also engineers, chemical scientists and mathematicians too — are over twice as likely as other roles to be immune to automation.
And if these countries are right, the implication is that those setting school priorities should also be investing in the teaching of creative thinking.
This is a difficult area, where cause and effect are notoriously tricky to unpick. We need rigorous evidence to understand how well our education system is already providing creative skills, and where we can improve.
The good news is that England has an opportunity to address this need. In 2021, the guardian of global comparative education standards, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) will introduce a new test of creative thinking as part of its commitment to innovation in education. This will allow us to measure how well young people in England demonstrate creative thinking, and assess how this correlates with their knowledge in English, maths and science.
Because of the standardised nature of PISA, it will be a unique opportunity for our policymakers to collect data that is strictly comparable with that in other countries.
Perhaps the biggest research opportunity of PISA, however, is that it enables a fuller evaluation of creative thinking on the outcomes across the labour market, largely by lookings at how well individuals fare when it comes to their careers.
Participating in the PISA study only requires the government to bear the relatively small costs of administering the tests. However, worryingly, it’s been recently reported that the Department for Education has decided to turn down this opportunity.
This would be a colossal error of judgement. Fortunately, it may still not be too late to reverse.
If a new government is prepared to recognise the many advantages that our participation in the new PISA 2021 test of creative thinking would bring, it needs to be one of its first decisions early in the New Year. It would be a powerful statement of intent in terms of the employability of young people.
Whatever your political persuasion, we can all agree that education should prepare young people for the future workforce. PISA 2021 is an important opportunity to add to the evidence base, and to help the UK to make the best decisions for young people as we enter a period of rapid change and complexity.
The next government should not throw it away.