Blog: Double Platinum

11 October 2019

By Charlotte Jones, Curriculum Leader for the Creative Arts at Chantry and Newminster Middle Schools in Morpeth

Our two middle schools received some excellent news at the start of this year’s autumn term. After being awarded Platinum Artsmark in October 2017 we heard that we had again achieved platinum in both schools. Returning in September can often be a challenging time for both pupils and staff and this was just the news the school and the creative arts department needed to give us a momentum boost for the new academic year, inspiring us to build further on past achievements.

Artsmark has become a key contributor to the core values of our schools and for meeting our long term goals. We have been very fortunate to receive the continued wholehearted backing from the Three Rivers Learning Trust throughout our journey to keep the arts at the heart of the school curriculum in both schools. We have a designated trust governor for the arts who is an active participant in the work of the creative arts department. Without this backing, especially at a time when the arts is being squeezed by budget/curriculum tensions, we would not have been able to continue to move forward and maintain platinum status.

Our pupils have been given the opportunity to take part in a huge variety of creative arts experiences over the last two years. Underpinning everything we do is an all inclusive policy to help students to use their talents and to fulfil their potential. We involve the whole school as a community in events and activities whenever possible and smaller specific activities are open to all students. Feedback is encouraged through student voice activities and questionnaires to get ideas and make improvements in our arts offerings.

Our whole child development approach involves specialist teams, working musicians and artists and their dedication has continued to produce fabulous results in terms of personal development of our students. Some of the events and activities they have been involved in over the past year have included Sign2Sing, Whole School Rock Choir for Comic Relief and School of Rock the musical. Health and wellbeing day experiences for our students have involved workshops with Beamish, Mushroom Works, Dance City, BALTIC artists and Music Partnership North.

Our numerous events and activities are always recorded, take a look at what we've been doing at Newminster and Chantry. We have recently welcomed The Pearl of Africa Children’s Choir to our schools for the day and the pupils enjoyed performances and workshops culminating in a joint performance with our choir.

A critical success factor in our Artsmark journey has been building networks and teams within our schools and building links and partnerships externally. The creative arts team recently met with the School Improvement Partner, Academy Council and governors for the school, to present information about the range of enrichment activities taking place, levels of student participation, engagement and future plans for development of the provision. This has resulted in further support from our leadership team and through this we were given the opportunity to train the primary trainee teachers in the trust. We now deliver a yearly CPD session on teaching primary music. The impact of our journey has seen our creative arts staff team speak at various conferences across the North East about our Artsmark journey and experiences. 

We have been able to strengthen our bridging role in the partnerships between the feeder schools and the high school in our three-tier system in Morpeth. Work with the Morpeth Music Partnership (MMP) is aimed at improving and gaining maximum benefit from links between the schools for students over their entire school career. Embracing transition days, training of trainee primary teachers, moderation meetings, staff coaching and attending various arts events also help to develop leadership skills. In March 2020 the MMP will be putting on a major event called the Morpeth One Big Performance which will highlight all the outstanding musical activities that are taking place every week across the partnership from first access musical experiences through to middle and high school ensembles. The idea of the event is to highlight how music and the arts are so important in a young person's educational journey. The day will provide an opportunity to share the love of music, enthuse and inspire the young people, create musical role models and strengthen both school and community partnerships.

We have continued to use arts events to link with our local community and wider community and these have been strengthened through media links with local newspapers and TV. A new and particularly beneficial link has been with a local nursing home. Students have performed there and residents and staff attended a performance of our summer term musical School of Rock. The Bronze Arts Award students have also contributed to the community by creating art for Morpeth train station. Newminster School won a bid for £1000 for art materials with the project being funded by Northern Rail’s Community Funding and the South East Northumberland Rail User Group. The pupils chose the theme of Morpeth in Bloom ‘Between Rivers and Woods We Dwell’. They have designed and painted six square boards which are displayed permanently at the station.  

Our Artsmark journey continues ... we grasp as many opportunities as possible and the department’s ethos involves team building and encourages risk taking and creative thinking. The aim is to be accessible, diverse and encourage confidence and enthusiasm to stretch, challenge and raise the aspirations of our students. Artsmark has helped us to widen our resources and to focus on putting all learners’ experiences at the centre of our planning. From starting the process and gaining the platinum award two years ago we have gained momentum and have the drive to continue to push forward the creative arts in our schools. We see it as an ever evolving process building upon past successes to improve upon the provision offered to all of our students.

It’s difficult to offer advice for anyone starting their Artsmark journey as every school’s circumstances are so different. It is also important to note that not all ideas and projects work but here are some pointers we have followed. Make a plan and be prepared to adapt as circumstances change. Always look for new project opportunities, partners and ideas. Make contacts and develop networks. Involve as many students as possible and the local community in activities. And above all – BE CREATIVE!