Bringing creative learning to life across the curriculum
Arts education doesn't have to be confined to only art, music and drama, says this arts director – there's room for it across the whole curriculum
The arts are at the heart of a rounded education, but they should not be confined to art, music and drama lessons. At Bourne Westfield Primary Academy, we want to harness a child’s natural creative appetite to fulfil potential in all subjects and create a lifelong passion for learning.
With a focus on those children who find academic learning in core subjects challenging, we decided to use the structure of Artsmark to develop an exciting, rounded curriculum, with the arts at its core to engage all children in the learning process.
Tackling the challenges
We began by auditing, reviewing and prioritising all of our arts provision, with a focus on increasing engagement and raising creative expectations. Time and teacher confidence was always going to be the greatest challenge: teachers understand the importance of the arts but working them into an already stretched timetable needs support and careful planning.
Each year group nominated an arts lead, who was directly supported by a member of the arts team. Sharing responsibility for implementing new creative strategies has helped to build confidence in staff, measure impact, monitor progress and open lines of communication.
A staff audit revealed a lack of confidence in their ability to harness the power of the arts, particularly in dance and drama – subjects pupils told us they wanted more involvement in. So we partnered with our local secondary school to exchange skills; drama specialists and sixth form students helped train our staff and ran workshops for students.
This meant staff and students from both schools could improve their skills, as well as provide more opportunities to develop the arts without additional budget implications. Our local secondary school also helped us to build art projects into our history, geography and RE work.
Ideas for whole school creative learning
Reshaping our curriculum showed how the arts are integral to all subjects, including maths, science and English. It not only made the curriculum more enjoyable, it has also led to improved standards. So, how have we done this?
Weekly music lessons begin with the children singing a particular times table to a simple beat. As a result, 17 per cent more children have gained their gold times table badge. In science, children have built their own stop-motion animations and created their own volcanoes from clay. In maths, we have learnt about the structure, properties and use of 3D shapes by building models of well-known buildings.
This sort of approach has been particularly beneficial to children who can be intimidated by writing. Cross-curricular planning and topic-specific experience days ensure that the arts have quality, focused curriculum time.
We have found that using drama and exposure to ‘real experience’ in English has improved standards in writing. We have used themed days, such as a Hogwarts Day and a plane-crash simulation, to immerse them in an event, giving them the ability to write about the subject with a deeper understanding and knowledge. They can draw on a more powerful, descriptive and varied vocabulary which results in a higher level of writing.
The idea of inspiring creative writing through experience is now embedded across the school, with drama an integral part of literacy.
In history lessons, the children replicated Stone Age paintings and learnt about primitive drawing techniques, while they produced some beautiful chalk lotus flower pictures whilst learning about Buddhism in RE.
The key to building partnerships
Our journey is not confined to embedding arts within the curriculum. Partnering with high-profile organisations to expose our children to quality experiences is having a really significant impact.
The rural location of our school means that accessing these can be challenging, but the Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker outreach project gave new ways for Year 4 to explore ‘battles’, linking to our topic of the Norman Invasion. Teachers attended CPD with a member of the Royal Ballet and received weekly videos to share with the class.
Children were inspired by watching a live-streamed performance, and filming progression through the 12-week project provided opportunities for positive reflection and evaluation.
Perhaps surprisingly, boys were particularly engaged by the project, and one boy, who has ASD and ADHD, was able to show his emotions and express himself through dance, something he often struggles with. His attainment in guided reading had also improved by the end of the project, which his teacher saw as a direct result of having a greater understanding and ability to engage with emotion and expression.
We have participated in similar projects with the Royal Opera House, where the children took part in a project based on Carmen. These programmes are very popular with students and teachers and are now embedded into our planning.
But we have not just developed links with arts organisations. Through a partnership with an inner-city school, whose ethnic composition is a contrast to our own, we have embraced the arts as means of promoting diversity, valuing equality and teaching children about faith and culture. On one exchange visit, one of our teachers said that with one of his most reserved pupils he saw a different, animated inner child after taking part in art workshops and interacting with pupils from our partner school.
We always believed in the power of the arts to engage all children in the learning experience, to enrich the curriculum, bring subjects to life and broaden subject knowledge. Our recent journey to Artsmark Platinum gave us an opportunity to ensure that this belief was embedded into our core as part of a whole school teaching, learning and enrichment philosophy, which had sustainability well beyond the Artsmark process itself.
Rebecca Beavis is arts director at Bourne Westfield Primary Academy in Lincolnshire
- Going to The Education Show? Rebecca is delivering a practical workshop on how to embed creativity across the whole school at 10.45am on Friday 16 March in the ‘Teaching with Creativity’ area
Find out more information about the Artsmark Award here