Simmons, Robin and Thompson, Ron (2008) Re-conceptualizing creativity for further education. In: British Educational Research Association 2008, 3 - 6 September 2008, Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh. (Unpublished)

Recent research on creativity in the context of English further education (FE) suggests that teaching and learning is severely constrained by a remit that prioritises instrumentalism, care and containment. Following New Labour’s ‘discovery’ of FE and the resulting unprecedented levels of state intervention in the sector (Finlay et al., 2007), Government policy has increasingly directed FE to embrace agendas of economic competitiveness and social inclusion, emphasising skills development and engagement with non-traditional learners. Although there have been significant increases in funding for FE under New Labour, the growth of performativity and central control in the sector suggests that any meaningful conception of creativity may be lost as teachers’ energy and morale is sapped by ‘policy overload’ (Edward et. al., 2007). Simmons & Thompson (2008) discuss the rise of performativity in FE and the impact that this has on opportunities for creativity for both teachers and learners. Drawing on the work of Brown & Lauder (1992), they argue that, in this context, practitioners' autonomy is diminished within a system of work relations characterised by low trust and high levels of surveillance more in keeping with Fordist modes of production, rather than a post-Fordist response to the development of a 'knowledge economy'.

Furthermore, although official discourse increasingly aligns notions of creativity with the economic competitiveness agenda, Simmons & Thompson argue that opportunities for creative teaching and learning are limited by centrally prescribed curricula, performance indicators and mechanisms of quality control. They highlight evidence from the work of Hall & Thomson (2007) showing that officially-sponsored creativity remains largely at the level of 'a treat and a pick-me-up' for teachers and learners, and that the aim is less to change the curriculum than to ensure that learners fit more comfortably into it. Within this context, creativity may be compromised by policy imperatives and the demands of performativity.

This paper contests such an outcome by offering a (re-) conceptualization that distances itself from official accounts of creativity in education. It argues that teacher and learner identities are crucial in developing forms of 'creativity' appropriate to 21st century curricula in further education, and that these identities are framed in part by the specific and socially constructed nature of vocational curricula in English FE. At present, teachers and learners in FE are often acutely aware that their courses occupy a position within the educational hierarchy characterised by lower status. Learners may often ‘follow a particular route, not so much because they know what they want to do, but because they know what they cannot do’ (Bathmaker, 2005). These learners are unlikely to reflect New Labour’s positioning of FE within its rhetoric of ‘learning society’ and ‘knowledge economy’. Indeed, their learning identities may be seen as a response to their positioning in an education and training hierarchy rather than reflecting their inherent capacities.

Drawing on a conceptual framework derived from the work of Pierre Bourdieu (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1980) and Basil Bernstein (2000), the paper discusses creativity as a particular ‘cultural arbitrary’ located within the broader structure of an education sector. According to Bourdieu, cultural arbitraries such as curricula are the product of social relationships operating so as to reproduce dominant versions of culture and to maintain the position of powerful social groups. Bernstein (2000) elaborates on these ideas by drawing attention to the operation of this process in structuring the field of education, so that the school ‘disguises and masks the way power relations, external to the school, produce the hierarchies of knowledge, possibility and value within the school’ and thereby legitimizes educational inequality. The paper argues that in order to reclaim creativity for teachers and learners in FE a reappraisal of their role and status is required

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