Blog: Creative Schools

23 November 2021

Creative Schools

By Susie Batey, CBNE Area Manager for County Durham, South Tyneside and Tees Valley

In summer 2020, a friend of mine described the pandemic as a being like an x-ray. It gave us a much clearer picture of problems that already existed. It showed us exactly where the cracks were. 

From speaking to teachers over the past year, it is clear that the challenges faced by the education sector are multiple and complex. We know there is clear evidence around the impact of the pandemic on pupil mental health, social relationships, and attainment - particularly with regards to children and young people in receipt of Pupil Premium. The child poverty statistics from 2020 show frightening levels of growing deprivation across all North East local authorities. None of these problems are completely new. They have been made significantly worse, and brought more clearly into public conversation. 

While there is no one-size-fits-all model for how to address these challenges, we know the proven impact that creative learning can have on the fundamental building blocks in education: self-esteem, empathy and relationships, language development, metacognition, problem solving – to name a few. A year 9 pupil from Middlesbrough explained to me last week: creativity helps you to be independent. Because nobody can be creative for you.’ 

Culture Bridge North East is currently developing ‘Creative Schools’. This programme seeks to use creativity as a tool to address existing and emerging issues faced by schools across the North East. We wanted schools to identify an immediate need within their specific context, and to work closely with a creative producer to explore how creative learning could address this. Funded through the Department for Education, teachers and pupils will commission artists to co-produce a creative learning project within their setting, and share their findings through professional development opportunities and networks.

The selection process for the programme focused on schools in areas of high social deprivation, with remote access, poor transport links, as well as other relevant barriers to engagement with cultural activity. The five schools selected highlighted challenges around child poverty, mental health, social isolation, low self-esteem, and social isolation particularly for pupils with SEND. Since October 2021, they have started to develop and plan for their creative activity, with the aim of commencing delivery in January 2022. So far, plans for the programme include contemporary theatre work exploring issues surrounding identity, representation of disability within the arts, and creative career pathways. 

If the pandemic acted like an x-ray to show where there was already existing damage, it has also shown existing areas of strength. Not only have teachers experienced intense challenges and workload during the pandemic, but are now under increased pressure from Ofsted to demonstrate how they are addressing gaps in pupil attainment. Even the language around ‘gaps’ and ‘loss of learning’ is problematic at best, and potentially highly damaging. In the face of this, many teachers I’ve worked with this term remain passionately committed to creative learning. There is real strength in teachers’ ability to lead creativity in classrooms, regardless of what is thrown at them. It’s an absolute gift. 

This strength, however, is not infinite. Our teachers are fully committed, and they’re running on empty. There has been an expectation this term that school life has returned to normal. It is clear that this is not the case, and we should not be relying on the seemingly never-ending resilience and passion of individuals. If we want classrooms to be a thriving space for creativity, and if the greatest impact is made through the quality of teaching, it is paramount that we support and nurture the creativity of our teachers.