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The Creative Youth Plan

A Reaction to Change and a Catalyst for Change

Stephen Ryan
Assistant Principal Officer, Creative Ireland Programme, Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht

Creative Youth supports the evolution of our learning ecosystem, so that knowledge and creativity are equal partners in the formation of our young citizens – where schools can support creativity and innovation in teaching and learning in an integrated way.


The core proposition of the Creative Ireland Programme is that participation in cultural and creative activity promotes individual, community, and national well-being. It seeks to support each citizen – whether individually or collectively, in our personal lives or in our institutions – to realise our full creative potential, by encouraging, facilitating, and supporting collaboration. The Creative Youth Plan is a manifestation of one of the programme’s five pillars. It is about realising this overarching proposition and securing an opportunity for our children and young people to become creative, active citizens.

Creative Youth, a plan to enable the creativity of every child and young person, was published in December 2017. It states the government’s commitment to ensuring that every child in Ireland will have practical access to tuition, experience, and participation in music, drama, arts, and coding by 2022.

But Creative Youth is more than just the latest scheme or programme aimed at providing greater access to artistic and cultural creative activities. Our aim is more audacious and ambitious: it is to promote a learning ecosystem in which knowledge and creativity are equal partners in the formation of our young people, both in the formal education system – where schools can support creativity and innovation in teaching and learning in an integrated way – and in non-formal or out-of-school settings.

Why? The answer is change. Today, and even more so tomorrow, we need to apply knowledge and expertise in previously unimagined ways. We needs the skills to be creative and inventive, to solve problems, to work collaboratively and experimentally, and to think conceptually and imaginatively.

Creative Youth seeks not only to arm future generations with the skills to thrive in this ever-changing society, but to be able to think and act differently, and to adapt to, master, and direct the continually shifting sands of technological advancement – and thereby contribute to continued, sustainable economic growth.

These same skills will enrich their personal lives, encouraging social responsibility and personal qualities related to well-being, such as resilience, empathy, and a capacity for connection and friendship. This contributes to their personal well-being and also enables them to play an active role in our wider society, to the common good and well-being of the nation.

Putting creativity, arts, and culture at the centre of education is vital in helping to develop these skills – to cultivate a diverse, accessible, and creative cultural ecosystem that sustains well-being for all. Our schools are already creative places; our teaching professionals are creative and inventive people. Creativity is not something new. The aim of the Creative Ireland Programme is to act as a catalyst for mainstreaming creativity, recognising its benefits and helping to anchor it across public life.

Significant work has been carried out over the past number of years to embed artistic processes in education, through the Arts in Education Charter and other initiatives, and there is now an opportunity to build on this through greater collaboration at national level, at local authority level, and between the various groups and professionals operating around the country.

The implementation of Creative Youth is the next stage. Creative Youth is not simply an arts or arts-in-education programme. It does not simply aim for its interventions to be an element of optional or elective activities. Creative Youth, and the entire Creative Ireland Programme, is about creativity in its widest possible sense. It is about being impactful at all levels – in schools and in the community.

Creative Youth works across three broad areas:

  • Schools: enhancing arts and creativity initiatives in schools and early years settings.
  • Teacher continuing professional development (CPD): increasing and enhancing teacher CPD opportunities across primary, post-primary, and early years settings.
  • Out of school: improving cross-sectoral collaboration to support creativity for children and young people in the community.

The Creative Youth Plan is being delivered by a range of organisations – government departments, State agencies, and non-governmental organisations – and this delivery and implementation is being overseen by a working group of representatives from the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the Department of Education and Skills (DES), the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA), and the Arts Council.

This reflects the all-of-government, cross-departmental nature of the Creative Ireland Programme and the desire of government to see the programme’s principles and objectives embedded in future public policy and mainstreamed across the system. An expert advisory group, chaired by Dr Ciaran Benson, is assisting the pillar 1 working group to achieve the broader long-term objective for the Creative Ireland Programme: to enhance cultural and creative education for all our children and young people. Membership includes experts in the field of education, creativity, and arts in education.

A number of actions have been agreed within these strategies and are currently being developed, piloted, and rolled out by partners and stakeholders. These initiatives cut across a range of creative activities: supporting the further development and growth of youth theatre provision, developing new ways to enhance the delivery of group singing (both in and outside the classroom), supporting creative writing initiatives, and enabling the nationwide roll-out of Music Generation. But the most significant initiatives to date are taking place within the formal education system.

Scoileanna Ildánacha/Creative Schools

Creative Schools aims to understand, develop, and celebrate the arts and creativity in schools. The initiative supports schools to develop and begin to implement their own creative plan, and will develop and strengthen the relationships between schools and the broader cultural and community infrastructure in which they operate. At present, 300 schools are participating in the initiative, with a two-year engagement, an annual grant, and access to a creative associate to help the school develop and implement its plan.

The long-term aim is for every school to be supported to fully embrace the arts and creativity, ensuring a positive experience and strong outcomes for children and young people. Engagement in the arts requires rigour, discipline, and resilience, nurturing a child’s sense of agency and self-worth. This combination of skills underpins all successful learning.

Creative Schools has been informed by research which confirms that schools play an important role in providing opportunities for children to participate in arts and culture, and that arts and cultural participation leads to a range of positive child outcomes, including socio-emotional well-being, cognitive development, and positive attitudes towards school.

Creative Schools provides tangible supports for schools to embrace these developments by placing the arts and creativity at the centre of school life.

Creative Clusters

Creative Clusters is a DES School Excellence Fund initiative led by and in partnership with the Teacher Education Centres (ATECI). Its purpose is to demonstrate how the arts and creativity can support clusters of schools to work together to address common learning challenges identified by those schools.

A Creative Cluster consists of two to five schools collaborating on the design, implementation, evaluation, and dissemination of an innovative arts and creative learning project which supports them to address a common issue or challenge identified by those schools. Creative Clusters include schools at different stages of their journey in using the arts and creativity in the classroom. Clusters can consist of primary schools only, post-primary schools only, or a combination of the two.

As with Creative Schools, the initiative has also been informed by recent curriculum reform in Ireland which, from early childhood to post-primary education, places emphasis on the development of key skills, such as being creative, communicating, and collaborating with others; and recognises the value of play, imagination, and enquiry in developing these skills.

Each Cluster is provided with training and is supported by a designated cluster facilitator linked to an ATECI full-time Education Centre and led by a designated lead school, with one of its teachers acting as lead school coordinator. Cluster schools are strongly encouraged to engage with their students to identify an area to be explored by that cluster. The scheme gives schools access to creative people, skills, and resources, and supports them to draw on their own skills and experiences and those in their wider communities.

Creative Clusters are also encouraged to engage with other initiatives under Creative Ireland pillar 1. This includes collaborating with Creative Schools or engaging in CPD provided at both primary and post-primary level. To date, 148 schools across 44 clusters have participated in the initiative, which began in the 2018–19 academic year.

Teacher Continuing Professional Development

CPD for teachers and for artists working in partnership with teachers is crucial to the long-term success and sustainability of the overall Creative Youth plan. To achieve the long-term objective of cultural and creative education, it is necessary to build a critical mass of education and arts professionals who are versed in the theoretical frameworks of arts and creativity education and equipped with the skills and techniques for delivering programmes.

To this end, we are working towards achieving the following goals:

  • Early Years: The DCYA will support the development and roll-out of relevant early years CPD which promotes principles, guidelines, and pedagogical practices that broadly support practitioners in the development of early arts education for young children in early years settings. A working group has been established, and a research project to inform the basis for this CPD offering is about to begin.
  • Primary: The Teacher/Artist Partnership (TAP) as a CPD model to support and enhance arts education is an arts-in-education initiative in which artists work in partnership with teachers. The Creative Youth Plan seeks to mainstream the initiative, and this has been substantially implemented to date, taking place across all twenty-one Education Centres (administered through Tralee Education Centre).
  • Post-Primary: Arts in Junior Cycle consists of a series of professional development experiences for teachers to support engagement with the arts and learning in junior cycle. The workshops embody the principles and key skills which underpin the Framework for Junior Cycle and the Arts in Education Charter, and provide teachers with practical and creative methodologies to engage with learning outcomes in their classroom. The initiative is based on partnership and collaboration with key elective partners across the arts and education sectors (administered through Junior Cycle for Teachers, Monaghan Education Centre).

In addition to the formal CPD offerings being facilitated through the Creative Youth Plan, other elements of the plan are having a ‘spill-over’ effect in CPD. Through the training provided to those involved in Creative Schools and Creative Clusters, as facilitators or coordinators, new skills and knowledge are being transferred and disseminated. That is, participation in developing the school’s own plan, participating in taster workshops, and new activities are providing teachers with new skills and experiences. Furthermore, we are aware that schools involved in the programmes have organised and delivered specific CPD programmes for staff in after-school workshops and other contexts away from the classroom.

NAPD Creative Engagement programme

Creative Youth is also supporting the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals’ (NAPD) Creative Engagement programme, whose aim is to encourage students’ creativity, initiative, and expression. That Creative Engagement places the student at the centre of the creative process, that it strives to complement curricular learning in the arts, culture, and heritage, and that it seeks to establish new working partnerships, makes it an ideal partner for Creative Ireland. The voice of the child, consultation, and collaboration are core principles of the Creative Youth Plan.

Where to next?

Creative Youth is about starting a conversation, trying things out, and trialling new ideas – ultimately with a view to making impactful change. To inform this, a formal evaluation of Creative Schools is starting, led by Dublin City University, and this will help inform us on the next steps in realising our part in contributing to a changed learning environment for future generations.

From an initial informal review of the first year of Creative Schools, we have learned that most participating schools are building new relationships with arts and cultural organisations in their own locality. Many participating schools have engaged additional artists and creative practitioners to deliver activities and workshops in their school, and as mentioned previously, the programme is giving teachers opportunities to continue their own development and learning journey. We hope that the torch has been lit, and that creativity is being accepted as a key element in building a forward-looking learning environment.

This initial impact is manifesting not only in the formal initiatives outlined above but also from broader engagement across the wider education and youth services communities. For example, the chosen theme of this year’s DES Inspectorate conference is – creativity!

The education and learning environment is evolving, as it always does. The Creative Ireland Programme, and the Creative Youth Plan in particular, is but one actor in this change. Having sought collaboration and new partnerships, the Creative Ireland Programme will work with our partners to identify those elements, or combination of elements, from the programmes and initiatives that we have supported which may be carried forward to meet our shared objective: to enhance the wider learning ecosystem through recognising the importance of creativity and creative learning, arming young people with lifelong skills and confidence which will contribute to their personal and societal well-being.

Further information on the Creative Ireland Programme, including our Programme Overview and the Creative Youth Plan, is available at:

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