Conversations in Creativity
: Interpreting secondary English curriculum policy in England past and present

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This thesis is a response to the expurgation of the term ‘creativity’ from the revised National Curriculum for English (DfE, 2014), inspired by my view – borne of 30 years’ experience - that English and creativity are intimately connected.
The research aims to understand the deep relationship between English policy and creativity, and the response of subject experts to the current Curriculum in this light; and hence make recommendations towards the next Curriculum, promote the agency of English teachers, and emphasise the importance of maintaining a community of practice.

I draw on the substantial existing literature on creativity in education and its (sometimes disputed) importance to English, using an interpretive hermeneutic approach influenced by Gadamer (1975/2004), to appreciate:
i) how creativity appears throughout English education policy, through analysis from the first ‘Blue Book’ (BoE, 1905/1912) to the present Curriculum (DfE, 2014);
ii) how expert English teaching professionals (or ‘colloquists’) conceive contemporary policy, through a series of semi-structured interviews.

There are four key findings. First, that policy from 1905 to the first Curriculum (Cox, 1989) establishes a tradition of creative English grounded in humanism; second, that subsequent Curricula (from DfE/WO, 1995) increasingly decouple creativity and English, such that the absence of ‘creativity’ from the current Curriculum is not as great a departure it might appear; third, that the colloquists align themselves with the tradition of creative English; fourth, that they remain committed to creative practice despite suggestions (Biesta, 2015; Erss, 2018) that today’s Curriculum disempowers and demotivates teachers.

I argue that preserving the tradition of creative English in both policy and practice is vital: creativity is a fundamentally humanising force, necessary to help young people cope with local, national and global challenges. Harnessing the collective memory of expert professionals provides an important counter-perspective to the current Curriculum until the policy is reviewed.
Date of Award21 Jan 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorKeri Facer (Supervisor) & Janet L Orchard (Supervisor)


  • Secondary English
  • Creativity
  • Curriculum
  • Policy
  • Hermeneutics
  • National Curriculum
  • History
  • Humanism
  • Teacher agency

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