BLOG: Sugar Hill Primary School on their second Artsmark journey

18 March 2020

Sugar Hill Primary School, an experienced Artsmark school from County Durham, has begun its second Artsmark journey. Teachers Mark Pearson and Julie Forster caught up with us recently to tell us how Artsmark has impacted on their school, helping them to embed a creative curriculum and to set ambitious new goals for the future.

“Providing all of our children at Sugarhill with the confidence to become whatever they want to be when they leave us is at the heart of our school. By providing an inspiring curriculum for cultural learning, we help our children to progress and thrive, therefore investing in their future.

Our Artsmark journey allowed us as a school, to not only achieve what we set out to do but perhaps more importantly, and by far the biggest impact, is how it has highlighted areas in which we can continue to culturally grow. We set out with the commitment to ensure that the arts and culture were not an add-on, or a nice-to-have, or part of a ‘topic week’ but instead to be part of the fabric of our school and weaved throughout our curriculum. Our skills based planning provides the children with a progressive and well sequenced coverage that has been carefully designed to offer cultural experiences ranging from our local heritage in Newton Aycliffe to studying artists and artwork from around the world. We feel that through Artsmark, we are beginning to make a real impact in terms of re-shaping our children’s aspirations and futures and that we are giving them opportunities above and beyond in which they would ever receive at home.

However, despite our success, we realise that our music and drama curriculum now needs to be raised to match the outstanding provision that we provide in art and design, and this will form the basis of our new Artsmark journey.  At a time of increasing mental health issues amongst our young children, we believe that we can raise awareness, as well as increasing self-esteem through the participation of performing arts.  Our children will learn to explore outside of their comfort zone, appraise new situations, think outside the box and express their thoughts and ideas in a safe and familiar environment. We believe all of these experiences will be carried through school, social activities, their future careers, and will stay with them throughout their lives.

We plan to achieve our Artsmark journey by increasing the amount of time and coverage that is given to music and drama alongside carefully progressive planning. Also, we now have outside musicians to provide lessons on various instruments and a weekly performing arts workshop by a local qualified performing arts specialist, who will not only work with the children, but provide CPD for all of our staff. The levels of literacy, as children enter school are a concern therefore we are committed to improve oracy and confidence through the arts to prepare our children for a dynamic and successful future. We recognise the importance of performing arts and that it is instrumental in providing positive personal and academic outcomes as well as enhancing cognitive, motor and social skills. We will celebrate our successes through exhibitions, performances, assemblies and it will be measured against the general well-being, confidence, hopes and ideas of our children.

An initial challenge that we faced with our new journey, was not only breaking down the barriers with the staff’s reluctance to teach and be involved in the performing arts, but to tackle the children’s own inhibitions. We also had to rethink our approaches to measuring impact beyond assessment and data. After a lot of discussions with the senior leadership team, the whole school approach to assessment is shifting heavily towards observing the children’s learning journey as a holistic experience that moves beyond academia. With this in mind, success and impact will be measured through the change we observe in the children’s mind-set, attitude, aspirations and overall well-being. This will also provide increased opportunities for the less academic children to flourish in new ways beyond an end product in a book. This whole school approach will challenge our understanding of assessment assumptions and what success looks like. As a result of our new Artsmark journey, success will be measured across academic and creative subjects equally.

Our continuing Artsmark journey has helped us to recognise strengths and weaknesses in our school, and given us the confidence to embark on a new approach to learning. Development days, case studies and networking at Culture Bridge North East events have all helped support us with new ideas and given us the resilience to change and shape our school’s future.”