Blog: Artsmark helped us raise student aspirations, resilience and improve well-being

11 November 2021

By Robyn Cruickshank, Teacher of Design Technology & Art, Parkside Academy

By Robyn Cruickshank, Teacher of Design Technology & Art, Parkside Academy

Parkside Academy, near Durham, recently received a Gold Artsmark award and is now embarking on their second Artsmark journey, where they continue to develop an arts and culture curriculum and provision within the school and wider settings. 

Artsmark gave us the framework that allowed us to embed arts and culture within our whole school curriculum. This is in alignment with our school vision and subsequently expanded into our wider settings and local community creating a real sense of Cultural Capital. During our journey we had significant leadership changes as well as entering a global pandemic, however the Artsmark framework was flexible and allowed our vision to change and adapt. 

During our journey we built sustainable and long lasting partnerships with cultural and charitable organisations and have been able to access external funding in order to expose our students to culture and provide them with inclusive creative opportunities. GCSE photography students worked with Northern Heartlands, a charitable organisation that supports creativity and cultural development in communities and organisations across the North East, by taking part in photography masterclasses exploring the theme of ‘identity’. Students visited challenging art exhibitions at The Side Gallery and The Baltic Centre of Contemporary Art, discussions about the displayed work stretched their knowledge and cultural understanding. For the majority of students, this was their first visit to a gallery space. By forming further links through Northern Heartlands, students were invited to exhibit their work at Bishop Auckland Town Hall in response to Ali Baskerville’s ‘Women at War’. They also developed their leadership qualities as they were actively involved in creating and selecting their own work. Students worked alongside industry professionals by liaising with the gallery curator about how their work should be displayed. 

We wanted to raise student aspirations, resilience and improve their well-being to enable personal progression. We aimed to narrow the gap of our pupil premium students, as currently the academy has around 45% and in art and design, we had a shortfall. Working with Northern Heartlands was inspiring, challenging and engaging for this group of students. By bringing in artist, Ali Bakervillie, we developed a positive and inclusive experience for them. The average art GCSE grade improved from a level 4- to a level 5 for pupil premium students. Female students also improved their average grade from the previous year of a level 4+ to a 6- which we feel was directly influenced by the increased creative opportunities afforded to our students. 

Our arts and culture programmes have expanded, we've added photography, music, dance and drama GCSE courses. Valued Voice and Student Leadership worked directly with the governors to implement this change, which has developed a wide-ranging and high quality cultural experience for all students here at Parkside. Successful engagement and more students picking a creative subject at GCSE has led to a growing department and two additional members of staff, new leadership roles within the department as well as more students studying creative subjects within further education.

During our Artsmark journey we were really proud of our commitment to not only develop our students knowledge and skills but also our staff’s commitment to develop their own knowledge and skills of creative industries. A group of disengaged male students were selected to take part in a ‘Changing Relationships’ project with the opportunity to work with local artist, Polly Turner. They were exposed to challenging cultural content by producing work in response to ‘The Men’s Voices’ exhibition. Students and specialist staff from the art department worked with equipment and materials that link directly to the creative industries. which were exhibited at Locomotion alongside the touring exhibition of ‘The Men’s Voices’.

Our Deputy Head Teacher, Mr Stott said: ‘Artsmark has been an excellent experience for our school but most importantly the students here at Parkside Academy. It has provided students with the opportunity to broaden their horizons and get involved in a range of projects to expand on their passion for the arts."