Two organisations in Norfolk have formed a partnership to make sure that the ideal environment for fostering creative education fits comfortably alongside the day-to-day running of schools
It is no secret that the government is pushing hard to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in schools right through to university choices. No one will deny that these subjects are important, but does it mean that the arts are being left behind?
And no matter how much encouragement and support young people are given, some are just naturally more inclined to the arts while others are born scientists. The strength of the national curriculum is in its breadth and how it offers a holistic education for pupils; as educators we should commit to providing this rounded offer to all pupils. After all, do we want to live in a society devoid of creativity?
No one will deny that STEM subjects are important, but does it mean that the arts are being left behind?
Arts education can help to develop valuable skills such as creativity, listening, communication, emotional understanding, interpretation, teamwork and innovation
from the earliest stages of a child’s school career through to A-levels. Creative subjects can also bring another dimension to subjects across the curriculum; either through topic work in primary schools or by working closely with other departments in secondary schools.
The challenges for schools in delivering an effective arts programme are based around two key barriers — specialist expertise and specialist resources.
Specialist expertise isn’t too much of a problem in secondary schools where dedicated arts teachers are employed, but one teacher per class in primaries means that the level of arts education is often heavily influenced by that teacher’s abilities and attitudes.
There is no hiding that, in a time of diminishing budgets, the arts are resource intensive subjects. You also need the spaceto be able both to store resources and to give the pupils enough space to work and create in class.
Addressing these two main barriers is where schools can really benefit from partnerships with specialist arts organisations. In September last year the Active Learning Trust (ALT) and Norfolk & Norwich Festival Bridge formed a partnership to support all schools within the trust to develop their arts education.
Because ALT schools are all focused around local clusters in just two counties, it was important that the partnership took a local approach. There are organisations doing fantastic work to promote the arts all over the country; working with someone on your doorstep means that any initiatives or projects are tailored to the needs of your school and your community.
This has been the first stage of this new partnership — to identify what support each school needs to have an impact on arts education for all pupils. The team at Norfolk & Norwich Festival Bridge has worked closely with teachers in each school to find out more about what they currently do, what challenges they face and what support they really need.
Only by getting this understanding of each circumstance can the team then use its contacts to put each school in touch
with an external partner to run exciting initiatives — this could be an art studio, a museum, a local college, etc. It is through these external partners that schools can address those two main barriers by
bringing in specialist expertise and resources, as well as providing inspiration for pupils
to see just how far they can take their arts work in school and at home. They also demonstrate the value of arts and creativity for the world of modern employment.
The most important thing about this partnership, however, is the policy and knowledge transfer that will ensure arts education becomes an integral part of life at an ALT school. By working with local partners, the hope is that these relationships will grow and become long-term. The schools will also be encouraged to work together and share best practice within their clusters as well as across the trust.
Gary Peile is deputy chief executive and operations director at The Active Learning Trust