Guest blog: How Artsmark contributes to whole school improvement at Ravenswood Primary

12 October 2017

Guest blog: How Artsmark contributes to whole school improvement at Ravenswood Primary, by Clive Maddison, Headteacher

We belong to a group of local schools in Newcastle upon Tyne, The Ouseburn Learning Trust, which is currently focused on the arts. Just over a year ago, the headteachers and arts leads from each member school met at Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children's Books, to discuss the importance of the arts in schools.

We found that although we all value the arts, we’re all at different points on our journey towards including the arts within and across our curriculum. As a result of this meeting, it was suggested that each school should submit an Artsmark application and without this as our catalyst, I’m certain we wouldn’t have made the progress we have. 

At Ravenswood, we were particularly keen to improve the teaching of music, as we felt this was the area of greatest need. We set our sights realistically, with an aim to improve both teaching and learning in music.

Our first task was to employ an expert to work alongside staff, providing outstanding tuition for the pupils, as well as in-school professional development for staff. We knew that two of our trust schools already work with Rob Kitchen, Schools Programme Leader for The Sage Gateshead, and we were lucky enough to have him come and work with us as well. 

Upping the tempo

Rob has been working for a school term with each year group, developing in our pupils an understanding and appreciation of the many elements of music. Our starting point was quite low, but I am delighted to report that as Rob begins year two of this long term project, the pupils are already developing what they learnt in year one and progress has been rapid. Expectations are very high in terms of pupils’ progress after seven years, and the increased knowledge of our class teachers, but these expectations already seem achievable. 

Our second task has been to raise the profile of music across the school. We built an ICT Suite about 10 years ago and were finding it was being used less and less, as IT has become an ever more integral part of the classroom environment. Stripping the room allowed us to create our new music room. We felt it was important to create an effective space, so we knocked a wall down to attach a music store for instruments, created a stage area with curtains, where pupils could perform, and brought in a simple amplification system. We also hung guitars around the walls and set up keyboards.

We want to continue to develop the space by putting some musical graffiti on the walls, laying a more comfortable carpet, and adding furnishings which make it look less like a classroom. These plans are still in development.

We were keen to involve pupils in raising the profile of music too. We asked anyone who already played instruments in their own time to come and join an extra-curricular music club. This club has grown and now has five regular staff members who respectively play clarinet, trombone, piano and guitar, and six pupils who play instruments, including cello, French horn, piano and drums, as well as a further seven pupils who sing and join in with percussion instruments such as tuned bells and glockenspiels. This band supported the school choir at the Ouseburn Learning Trust’s City Hall singing event and played at our Great Get Together picnic in tribute to Jo Cox, as well as our Christmas carol service at the local church.

Beyond music

Moving forward, we're hoping to offer instrumental lessons for guitar and keyboards through two peripatetic teachers. The interest in these lessons is very encouraging and we hope pupils will feed into the music club from these lessons.

Working alongside the Trust, four of our staff have taken part in the Concordia Project to train and develop vocal leaders in schools. Three of them completed the beginners’ course and one continued work from the previous year to complete the intermediate course. These teachers have taken their new knowledge into the classroom and supported the school choir in preparation for the two concerts mentioned above.

The most exciting thing to come out of our Artsmark application is the springboard effect into the teaching of the arts across all curriculum areas. Through meeting with our fellow trust schools as part of this process, we’ve been able to share our work and ideas, which has inspired us to develop our provision in all areas of the arts. I’m delighted to say that as a staff we’ve decided that the arts will be our main focus for the coming year.

We hope to develop our already strong tradition of drama and dance in school by adding more extra-curricular opportunities in these areas and creating performances to share with each other and the parents. The school will continue to take part in the Shakespeare Schools Festival and produce five different shows across the age ranges as part of our Christmas celebrations. 

Our newly formed choir will run throughout the year, looking for further opportunities to perform. We will also encourage singers to join a local choir. Our biggest aim for the coming year is to develop our understanding of teaching art with regular arts weeks. Two of our Trust schools shared their experiences of this kind of project and we've developed these into something which meets our needs. This year we will be opening a small gallery to share art work with pupils and parents, and we'll be responding to school-wide themes in art, starting with a painting project based on freedom, to celebrate fifty years since Martin Luther King visited Newcastle University. None of this would have been possible without Artsmark.

Here are some thoughts from our teachers:

  • "I've already learnt so much from working alongside Rob. I'm much more confident delivering music in the classroom and have some great activities to use." 
  • "Staff and pupils working together as musicians puts us on an equal footing and allows us to see each other in a very different light. Playing along with our young cellist is an absolute pleasure."

And our pupils:

  • "Without Rob, school would be much less exciting. He gives us so many new opportunities."
  • "The music room gives us somewhere to practice without disturbing other people. The stage makes us feel like real musicians."

And finally, a parent:

  • "We were so proud to see our child playing on the City Hall stage, where so many amazing musicians have performed. It brought a tear to my eye."

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

  • Try to find a group of schools to work alongside; the sharing of ideas and outcomes has been an inspiration to us
  • Get some support from an arts organisation that can point you in the right direction and offer expert advice.