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Working within the framework of a prescriptive national curriculum, with an ever-increasing drive to raise standards, everyone in our schools is under increasing pressure to deliver on outcomes. Sadly, all too often, this culture of accountability leads to a stifling of creativity. But does this really need to be the case? Take a step back and the reality is that teachers and school leaders still have enormous freedoms, with numerous opportunities to be inventive, innovative and creative.

Last week, teachers at Highgate Primary School enjoyed an inspirational workshop led by one of our parents, Nurit Cohen, which set out to develop our collective ability to be innovative in the way we think, plan, teach and problem solve. Removing all the furniture from Rob’s classroom put us all well outside our collective comfort zone and an early failure to solve a rather simple puzzle suggested the next couple of hours was going to be a challenge.

The essence of Nurit’s approach of Systematic Inventive Thinking is that whilst ‘fixed thinking’, or the way in which we have been programmed to think, is in the main part a good thing, it can be the enemy of inventiveness. Overcoming this mind-set does not come naturally, but it can be achieved by consciously adopting tools specially designed to challenge this ‘fixedness’.

One of these tools, ‘Subtraction’, forced us to consider what we might do were we to remove something we might perceive to be essential. So, for example, what might learning look like if children didn’t have a classroom? There are hundreds of reasons why removing the classrooms from our school would be a very bad idea, however these weren’t allowed to be aired before all the positives were considered. And after all, the real reason we have classrooms is probably because we’ve always had them.

Fifteen minutes later and the school had been completely redesigned. Traditional classrooms had gone and in their place a set of incredible spaces, each configured in a unique way, some without furniture. Children would be taught in mixed-age groups, within spaces designed to stimulate and inspire, such as the ideas laboratory, the mindfulness zone and the living globe. Ideas were flowing and our creative energies had been released. Teachers were buzzing with the endless possibilities of the move to Flexible Learning Zones. What possible reason could there be not to instigate these changes, immediately? A return to good old fixed-thinking quickly brought us back to reality. Where would we hang our coats?

William Dean