• What Creative Thinking is and Why It Matters

    About Creative Thinking in schools


    Over many centuries new subjects are added to the school curriculum as the world changes. Sometimes new additions arise from the birth of new disciplines like geography, psychology or information and communications technology, sometimes as result of the demands of employment such as business studies or engineering. And of course, in addition to what appears on the formal curriculum, schools have always had a role in developing the character of their pupils, helping them to distinguish between right and wrong.

    In the last thirty years it has become clear that, to thrive in an increasingly complex world, young people need ‘something else’ as well as the knowledge and skills traditionally learned at school. Some call this something else ‘twenty-first century skills’. But that seems rather imprecise. It also implies that we can forecast what will be needed in seventy year, an unlikely scenario!

    Increasingly the ‘something else’ is described as dispositions or competences or capabilities depending where you are in the world. These dispositions include collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity. GIoCT, like PISA, believes that of these Creative Thinking, an amalgam of creativity and critical thinking, is particularly important.


    Over the last seventy years, creativity has become an established field of study starting with the pioneering work of J P Guilford in the middle of the last century. Guilford saw the creative act as having four stages - preparation, incubation, illumination and verification. He suggested that there are two kinds of thinking - convergent (coming up with one good idea) and divergent (generating multiple solutions). Divergent thinking, he argued, is at the heart of creativity. He sub-divided divergent thinking into three components - fluency (quickly finding multiple solutions to a problem), flexibility (simultaneously considering a variety of alternatives) and originality (selecting ideas that differ from those of other people).

    Creativity in schools

    But while there has been a growing understanding of creativity in the wider world, schools have found it more difficult to see how they can teach it in curricula which are organised around individual subjects. At the end of the last century the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education (NACCCE) published a landmark report in the UK on the value of creativity in schools. Also known as the Robinson Report after its chair, the late Sir Ken Robinson, NACCCE argued that a national strategy for creative and cultural education was essential to the process of providing a motivating education fostering the different talents of all children. NACCCE defined creativity as:

    • Imaginative activity fashioned so as to produce outcomes that are both original and of value.

    In 2001, creativity researcher Anna Craft made the simple but important suggestion that there are two different kinds of creativity. There is, she argued, a difference between being a creative genius (big c) and an ordinary person who is creative (little c). She reminded teachers that, in schools we focus on little c creativity. Craft’s ideas have subsequently been developed by James Kaufmann and Ron Beghetto into their 4C model of creativity - mini, little, pro (professional) and big.


    In 2012 the Centre for Real-World Learning (CRL) at the University of Winchester was commissioned by Creativity, Culture and Education to develop a model of creativity which could be used in schools. The model has five creative habits of mind, each with three creative thinking skills.

  • CRL’s model was used by the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as the starting point for an eleven country study designed to understand more about how creativity is taught and assessed in schools. This five dimensional model is now used in more than 35 countries across the world, often, as in this example from Rooty Hill High School in Sydney, Australia, developed by schools to show how creative thinking can be integrated with pedagogy and curriculum.

  • Distinguishing between creativity and creative thinking

    In 2019 the Durham Commission on Creativity and Education in England published important definitions which help us understand the difference between creativity and creative thinking:

    • Creativity is the capacity to imagine, conceive, express, or make something that was not there before.
    • Creative thinking is a process through which knowledge, intuition and skills are applied to imagine, express or make something novel or individual in its contexts. Creative thinking is present in all areas of life. It may appear spontaneous, but it can be underpinned by perseverance, experimentation, critical thinking and collaboration.

    In terms of schools, The Durham Commission helpfully describes what teachers need to do develop their pupils’ creativity:


    Teaching for creativity is explicitly using pedagogies and practices that cultivate creativity in young people.


    Every three years the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) identifies an important fourth new area alongside literacy, maths and science in which to measure performance of 15-year-olds. Creative Thinking is the focus of its 2022 tests and is a powerful indicator of the growing status of creativity in schools. PISA defines creative thinking as:

    • …the competence to engage productively in the generation, evaluation and improvement of ideas, that can result in original and effective solutions, advances in knowledge and impactful expressions of imagination.

    The 2022 PISA Creative Thinking Test seeks to clarify not just the elements of creative thinking - generating diverse ideas, generating creative ideas and evaluating and improving ideas - but also to suggest two domains in which they might be embedded and two modes through which they might be expressed:

  • Distinguishing between creativity and creative thinking

    Creative Thinking as envisaged by PISA combines the divergent and convergent thinking associated with creativity by Guilford. It is also explicitly connected to a discipline with which it is not always associated, science.

    The challenge for schools across the world is to choose the definition of creative thinking which most suits their curriculum and encourage teachers to embed creativity in every subject of the curriculum.

    It is the mission of the Global Institute of Creative Thinking to promote the importance of teaching creative thinking in schools across the world.

    Read more on Creative Thinking across the World.