Guest Blog: 21 September 2016 - Our Artsmark journey, By Ruth Robinson, Durham Sixth Form Centre

21 September 2016

Our Artsmark journey

Durham Sixth Form Centre

By Ruth Robinson, Faculty of Visual, Performing and Written Arts, Durham Sixth Form Centre

I consider myself lucky to work in a large, vibrant and inclusive Sixth Form Centre. As a centre we maintain a strong commitment to creative and cultural education both through our arts provision and as part of whole school entitlement. We believe that creative and cultural education is essential to the economy and intrinsic to the cultural, spiritual, creative and social wellbeing of all. We recognise the importance that arts and creativity play in careers of the future. It is for these reasons that our focus remains strong, despite a changing and challenging political climate.

We’ve been through an extended period of self-reflection as an organisation and have had to refocus and hunker-down and despite the challenges we have come out stronger from it. It seemed timely then, when the opportunity arose to attend an Artsmark development day, to seek recognition of our good practice and extend our programme of established partnership work.

The new Artsmark award felt very different from the outset. Should you hold any prejudice from the old system, re-think! Using the self assessment tool we were able to gauge what level would best describe our provision and from this set ourselves the ambitious target of becoming a Platinum centre. The most significant shift in the application process for me was the insistence that a member of the senior leadership team attended the development day. It is differences like this and the clear links to whole school improvement that makes the new Artsmark a more meaningful and a powerful tool for developing creative and cultural entitlement for all.

Our development day was exciting and through discussion with Jo Lain, our Deputy Head, we were afforded the luxury of time to reflect and discuss our vision for the arts and whole school cultural entitlement. This was aligned with the 7 Quality Principles set out by Arts Council England ‘to raise the quality of work by, with and for children and young people’.

Back at school I was able to map how Artsmark would support strands of our own school vision. With full support from our leadership team we submitted our statement of commitment within two months of the development day outlining an ambitious 18 month project that aims to raise participation in the visual, performing and media arts. We aim to extend partnership work and strengthen links with our feeder schools through an exciting and engaging CPD network. Our first meeting is Friday 11th November 2016 (please contact me directly for further information. (

Work started before we’d submitted. We sought advice from a valued critical friend, Susan Coles, Creativity & Educational Consultant, and established a pilot masterclass programme for prospective students. The masterclass pilot programme ran for three days in July and engaged students in a range of activities including, dance, drama, life drawing and film editing.

The opportunities that have come as a result of being part of the Artsmark family have already had a huge impact. Shortly after meeting The Forge team we were approached to become lead partners in The Defiant Voices Project; a project created to empower young people to speak out against discrimination and injustice. Through a mixture of theatre, drama, documentary film footage, music and workshops this project enables sixth form students from around County Durham through DFSC to explore issues linked to tolerance, respect and inclusion and become civic ambassadors. The project culminates in the UK Premiere of Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezin at Durham Cathedral on 28th January 2017.

When I expressed an interest in reapplying for Artsmark I was asked, ‘Is it worth it? And, ‘Have you got time?’ The answers are yes absolutely, and, if you don’t have time you should make it! Artsmark has re-invigorated practice, helped us to re-group and remember why it is so vital to continue to inspire young people through the arts and culture at the same time as supporting our whole school vision.