How creativity supported us in lockdown

Published on: 
14 Oct 2020


How creativity supported us in lockdown

In our first Artsmark in action blog we hear from Julia Wisbey, Head of Drama and Senior Leader in Personal Development at Admiral Lord Nelson School, a secondary school in Portsmouth. Julia shares with us how they’ve used arts and creativity at the school to support pupil wellbeing, encourage engagement with distanced learning, and build a sense of community.

At Admiral Lord Nelson we’re committed to ensuring that every student has the opportunity to take part in a range of high-quality arts experiences to develop a lifelong love of the arts. In 2019 we won TES’ Creative School of the Year and we are exceptionally proud to be one of the first Artsmark Platinum schools. This is really important to our school community as despite a flourishing arts scene in the city, attendance by our students is minimal as they are not easily accessible, and Portsmouth has one of the highest rates of youth poverty in the country. 

How we use the arts to support wellbeing

The arts and creativity play a crucial role in our day to day wellbeing for pupils and staff. We feel passionately about encouraging young people to find creative strategies that help them manage their mental health and build their resilience. This became paramount during Covid-19 and as educators we felt it was our job to ensure we engaged our young people as creatively as possible.

Arts and creativity remained a key focus when setting distance learning tasks and we felt it was vital to continue teaching arts-based subjects wherever possible. Music, Art and Design, Drama and Dance subjects set weekly work for students to engage in. This included developing new skills, with students engaging in video making, recording, drawing, puppet making and longer creative projects. Whilst our keyworker students, who remained in school, participated in weekly Drama, Music, Dance and Art lessons delivered by expert teachers. Ensuring that our students continued their arts education allowed them to continue to progress, whilst benefitting from having a creative outlet to express themselves during the pandemic.

Building a community

The arts also help us build a sense of community at Admiral Lord Nelson, and Covid-19 gave us an opportunity to connect with carers and parents in a different way. We developed a YouTube channel of past performances of school plays, concerts and events which carers, parents, students and teachers watched together to feel part of our wider community.

Challenges and solutions

Like many schools, we found lockdown presented us with lots of challenges. At first, we found it difficult to set work that had true value for children at home. We had to totally rethink our curriculum, with teachers learning new skills so we could record ourselves, make films, and model what we wanted from our young people. We focussed on developing short term projects, with the emphasis on fun, success, and sharing, rather than on marking or grading their work. This allowed students to have structured fun and remain connected to their friends, teachers and the school as a whole.

The next challenge was about keeping our students motivated. This is where our commitment to the arts really came into its own with all subject areas using a creative approach to keep students engaged in learning. We gave teachers training on Zoom to deliver Live Lessons, we got our pets involved on screen, performed live gigs for the students, sent reward postcards home, spoke to parents every week, created virtual assemblies and even hosted competitions for students to take part in. The exceptional level of creativity from our staff not only motivated our pupils to continue learning but supported their wellbeing through creative tasks which encouraged social interaction online. 

Returning to school

We’re keen to keep our creative approach to teaching across all subjects as we return to school as we’ve seen the powerful impact it has had on pupil motivation and wellbeing. We also want to make sure pupils continue to develop their creative thinking to aid their resilience for a post Covid-19 world. Over the summer, we planned how we can put this into action through digital productions of school plays and performing arts events that are shared on our YouTube channel for parents and carers, continuing the sense of community we want to nurture at our school. We’ve also been planning how we can continue to grow our digital skills through online art and photography exhibitions to celebrate the amazing creative work students have produced in lockdown.

Whilst we’re unsure of the many challenges schools may face this academic year, we’re certain that arts and creativity will remain central to the success of Admiral Lord Nelson, whatever comes our way!

Find out more about Admiral Lord Nelson School.




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Cultural education gives children and young people the opportunity to develop their creativity, both individually and collectively, and that's why our goal is for every child and young person to have the opportunity to experience the richness of the arts.

Darren Henley
Chief Executive
Arts Council England

It's vital that children have the opportunity to learn and enjoy arts and culture from an early age. It develops their creativity, inspires future careers and enriches their childhood.

Artsmark Award does brilliant work in schools and education to ensure young people access a broad and balanced curriculum that includes high-quality arts and culture.

Michael Ellis MP
Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism
Department of Culture, Media and Sport