EDUCATION: Scotland’s first ‘School of Creativity’ delivering positive results for young people

By Julia Patton

Scotland’s first ‘School of Creativity’ is opening-up possibilities for young people through its innovative approach to placing creativity at the heart of its curriculum, allowing every pupil the opportunity to realise their full potential.

Through Castlehead High School in Paisley’s unique partnership with the world-renowned The Glasgow School of Art (The GSA), pupils from S1-S6 are reaping the benefits of everything learning through creativity provides; from new ways to engage with learning, developing valuable life skills such as critical thinking and problem solving and even opening their minds to potential future career paths.

The school’s second annual Creativity Week is taking place this month, which will see more than 85% of S1-3 pupils participate in range of creative workshops or lessons with artists, GSA tutors, teachers such as Dumbarton woman Gemma Woods Fraser, right,  from across the school curriculum and representatives from industry. The workshops will cover everything from theme park design and fine art to poetry, jewellery making, engineering and architecture.

In addition to the annual Creativity Week, GSA tutors pay regular visits to the school to work on design-related projects with the pupils, who also receive regular trips to the art school to learn from GSA tutors in a studio-based environment.

The Castlehead and GSA partnership, which was first formed in 2017 as part of a unique collaboration between the GSA and Renfrewshire Council, aims to embed the benefits of creativity across the full curriculum, based on research showing that learning through arts and culture can improve life skills and attainment across all subjects. It is designed to unlock potential in pupils, encourage innovative thinking, increase attainment and develop skills needed to thrive not just at school and work but in broader society.

This innovative approach to learning is already delivering tangible positive results. Castlehead’s Art department is now the joint top performing Art department in Renfrewshire compared to 2019 when it was ranked 10th out of 11 for Higher. 

Of the 90 senior students leaving the school this summer, 13 per cent will be moving on to study creative subjects including: journalism, game design, product design engineering, architecture, fine art, animation and tattoo artistry to name a small selection.

Art and Design teacher at Castlehead High School and The Glasgow School of Art link, Gemma Fraser, said: “We know that enabling pupils to learn through art and creativity can improve attainment in other areas like literacy and numeracy; so, while pupils are learning about something like sculpture or game design they are also developing skills and behaviour that empower them to do better in school.

“The aim is for every pupil at Castlehead to benefit from the scheme in some way whether it be through our S1-S3 pupils participating in Creativity Week or our senior pupils who opt to do the portfolio classes – usually pupils would have to go to Glasgow and pay a lot of money for those, but the GSA come here and offer them to our pupils for free.

“This isn’t about getting these pupils to go to art school – it’s about preparing them for the future. These skills are so important for jobs as a some of these kids will end up in careers that haven’t been invented yet, so they need creativity for future employment no matter what path they go down.”

Shona Paul, Head of Professional and Continuing Education at the GSA agrees. “We don’t expect everyone to go on to art school or study creative subjects but having creativity at the heart of a curriculum helps pupils to prepare for the opportunities ahead in all sectors and industries.

“Through studio-based learning, young people are encouraged to develop confidence and learn teamwork, problem solving and critical thinking across all subjects. The approach is developing healthy young people by supporting their well-being, mental health and aspirations.” 

A recent review of research carried out by Creative Scotland on Arts in Education identified connecting schools and artists and as one of the main barriers to embedding arts and creativity in education. It found that key stakeholders felt these relationships were “critical to success and challenging to develop.”

Future Paisley, a cultural regeneration partnership programme, led by Renfrewshire Council, has worked in collaboration with Castlehead and the GSA since 2018 to identify ways to evolve the innovative educational model. Through the Future Paisley network of partners, the school has been able to easily engage with artists, other creative organisations and educational institutions and provided valuable networking and skills sharing opportunities to empower other educators in Renfrewshire to consider adopting a similar model.

Cultural Regeneration Lead for Future Paisley, Katie Nicoll, said: “The partnership between Castlehead and the GSA positions arts and culture as a vibrant and vital contributor to the school curriculum, offering pupils new approaches to learning and building confidence for their futures.

“This is a long-term project that will allow us to closely evaluate the positive impact creative learning has on pupils, not just through their time at secondary school but in the courses and careers they go on to after they leave.  We are already seeing the amazing results this approach is having for the pupils at Castlehead and we want to see models like this in schools across Renfrewshire and beyond so all pupils can benefit from opportunities of learning through a creative lens.”

Through the partnership with the GSA the school has introduced more opportunities for pupils to engage with creativity. The school piloted the Creative Thinking course in 22/23 – one of only 19 across the country – which is helping to engage and encourage pupils in coursework outside the SQA structure. Castlehead also offers Creative Industries course which aims to develop skills required for employment or further study in the creative industries.

Robert Millar (16) who chose the Creative Industries course at Castlehead and has been accepted to study Games Design at West College Scotland, said: “The Creative Industries course gave me a taste of game design by giving me the chance to design my own game as part of my course work – that really set my desire to do it in stone.

Speaking about the benefits of learning creatively at Castlehead, Robert said: “Having to work within certain criteria of a brief, whilst still having plenty of room for creativity has been great. We got to learn about lots of different careers in jewellery, interior design and game design and I found them all to be very interesting.”

Claudia Luque (17), who participated in the GSA portfolio class at Castlehead, has been accepted to do Architecture at Edinburgh University. She said: “I enjoy all the creative subjects at school. I did Art, Technical, Creative Industries and Creative Thinking. Leaving school to go on and study Architecture will allow me to combine the artistic and technical side of the subjects I enjoy.

“What I found most interesting about being involved in creative subjects at school is that there are lots of different creative careers in the creative sector that are fresh and new and interesting.”

The Castlehead and the GSA partnership was first formed in 2017 following Paisley’s UK City of Culture 2021 bid.

Gordon Menzies, headteacher at Castlehead High School, commented on the approach the school has taken. He said:  “At Castlehead, we try to ensure that every pupil has the opportunity to succeed across our curriculum. With creativity being at the heart of so many opportunities, it helps our pupils build confidence, embrace learning and become motivated to perform at their very best.  

“It is amazing to see how a relatively simple but unique model like the one we have at Castlehead with the GSA, can provide so many positive outcomes for our pupils, just by freeing up teacher time to enable staff to explore new ways to engage learners.”

Through the Castlehead and the GSA model art and design teacher, Gemma Fraser, can come off timetable two days per week through the hiring of an additional probationary teacher. During this time, she can work with the GSA to explore ways to further embed creativity into the school curriculum, engage and network with arts and industry professionals and identify additional opportunities to bring creative learning practices to the school.

Gordon added: “This partnership has not only supported the great work that already goes on in the school but enhances the delivery and support framework around our pupils to harness creative thinking across the curriculum and into the world of work.​ We are already seeing the tangible benefits of creative learning and it’s our ambition to continue to develop this approach so that pupils across our school community, including our cluster primaries, and beyond experience the benefits.”

Content on how teachers from non-creative subjects are engaging with creativity in their lessons. 

Teachers from traditionally non-creative subjects such as maths, history, P.E etc, are seeing the value in this creative approach to learning and are offering to participate in visits to GSA and deliver sessions at the school’s Creativity Week to help illustrate to pupils how the creative skills they learn around critical thinking and problem solving can be used in other subjects.

Amy Costello, social subjects teacher at Castlehead High School, who is helping deliver activities at Creativity Week, said: “Creativity Week gives me an opportunity to build relationships with pupils outside my own subject. Being involved in activities like this makes it easier for me to plan lessons as I know what tasks the pupils will enjoy and be engaged in.

“This school’s approach to promoting learning through art and culture has allowed me to become more creative in how I deliver content to pupils and allows them the opportunity to get creative in the class by learning through different mediums.

“Placing creativity at the heart of learning has shown me what can come out of allowing pupils the freedom to have creative choices. Outlining simple criteria for success for the pupils but allowing them to build on it in their own creative way.”

Enjoying this creative approach to learning – senior pupils from Castlehead High School.

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