Guest blog: Artsmark and Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND), by Tracy Hutchinson of The Dales School, Northumberland

09 October 2017

Guest blog: Artsmark and Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) by Tracy Hutchinson of The Dales School, Northumberland

By working to gain Artsmark Platinum status, our whole staff team has gained knowledge, both through continuous professional development, and in practice, having had the chance to work alongside creative practitioners and therefore discover new approaches to teaching and learning. Closer working relationships have also been formed between our arts subject leaders and Arts Award advisers.  

Our project, What’s in the Box? facilitated a fortnight of collaborative work between paired classes, one older with one younger. The majority of our pupils have difficulties in conforming to expectations of behaviour and social rules. Collaborating like this gave them opportunities to be leaders and positive role models for others, which impacted positively on their personal progression in social and emotional development. This is a particular area we plan to explore and utilise further. 

Staff teams got together and planned activities linked to the themed contents of their box: urban environments, forest, and beach. Ownership of the project, which began with planning together on opening the box, created a buzz and excitement that visitors commented on during the fortnight.  This focus on children’s ‘big questions’ is also something we’ve built into our topic planning.

A Creative Curriculum Audit was completed by each paired team at the end of the project. This provided a useful overview and also helped to highlight staff skills, which in turn increased confidence and opportunities. 

An evidence-driven approach

A staff questionnaire following the project highlighted the ‘magical’ experience of opening the box, and teachers commented on their increased knowledge of the benefits of collaborative working, such as skills sharing.

Staff also said the project had assisted caring relationships to develop among pupils, with older children taking on the ‘teacher’ role’, while having greater access to sensory play opportunities regularly enjoyed by younger children.

Pupils themselves said they enjoyed working hands on with another class, as well as creative practitioners, particularly on different activities, being outdoors, and using different media. Many were able to recall facts they’d learned about their topics too.

These comments, which were gathered via feedback forms, illustrate the way in which the seven Arts Council Quality Principles are intrinsic to a successful creative curriculum, and they also raise important questions in regard to our future practice. As you’d expect with such a mix of personalities, interests and needs, some pupils found the intensity of the fortnight’s activities challenging, which has encouraged useful reflection on how we could do things differently in future. We continue to consider the possibilities to best meet everyone’s needs.

The impact outside the classroom

Members of the wider community, including parents, were also able to get involved, as we held an exhibition of work, including a film made with the children about their What’s in the Box? projects. Feedback from visitors, including families, school governors, pupils from nearby schools, including mainstream education, was positive and demonstrated wider understanding of the impact of creative learning.

One parent said: “‘I have five children, four of whom attend school; I have never in nine years of them being at school been to anything like this. It’s amazing.”

Another added: “I’m amazed at the quality and quantity of the work produced. A great achievement for staff and children alike.”

Other comments included: “I love seeing the pride on their faces to show off everything they’ve made!” and, “I brought a group from another special school and they loved looking at and feeling the work.”

Looking to the future

Since gaining Platinum Artsmark, we’ve been involved in lots of cultural, creative activities and opportunities, including planning our own carnival day, which included each child in school designing and making their own costume and trying out circus skills. Musicians from Jessie’s Fund have completed a year with us, and we had a music festival which was very well attended and thoroughly enjoyed by pupils, staff and visitors. 

Plans are now in place to further develop our outdoor learning environment, to provide more opportunities for creative thinking, and active involvement with open-ended resources. This demonstrates how Artsmark provides us with a framework to influence ongoing positive change. Each new experience opens up further possibilities for our arts and cultural offer. Linking Artsmark directly to the School Development Plan helps us meet our targets.

Tracy’s top tips for a school that might be considering applying for Artsmark for the first time are:

  • Involve everyone – staff, children, parents and carers, governors and the local community. Share the workload and use everyone’s skills, and
  • Enjoy your journey – it’s enthusing and creates an active, purposeful atmosphere around school

She added: “This is a great opportunity to involve creative practitioners who already work with you, and to build new relationships. Artsmark is well worth the training and will support your creative offers. Have fun!”