Exploring impact, evaluation and evidence

Rachel Moss, AND Advocates Facilitator, reflects on session two of this year’s AND Advocates Programme

6 February 2018

AND Advocates are a group of teachers and senior leaders from schools across London with a passion for the arts and culture in education. For the second session of the 2017/18 programme, we met at the Wellcome Collection on 24 January. The focus was on Impact, Evaluation and Evidence - a key area identified by the teachers when applying for the programme.

After an icebreaker, the group shared one thing they were proud of achieving in 2017, one thing they are concerned about in 2018 and one thing they are looking forward to in 2018. Not surprisingly time and funding were common concerns, but many of the Advocates already had exciting projects mapped out for 2018 - including, for some, starting their Artsmark journeys.

We were then joined by two inspirational speakers who kicked off the theme of the session. Firstly Sam Cairns, co-director of the Cultural Learning Alliance (CLA) spoke about how the CLA is a collective voice working to ensure that all children and young people have meaningful access to culture, highlighting that anyone can join as a member. She talked about the CLA’s report Imagine Nation: the Value of Cultural Learning and their briefing notes, such as the recent STEAM Briefing in collaboration with NESTA. The CLA often collate evidence from other organisations to demonstrate the impact of arts education and highlight this on their website - see 10 key research findings: the case for Cultural Learning. Sam highlighted how these reports can be useful for those trying to make the case for access to arts education, such as teachers in schools fighting subject cuts or the uptake of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc).

Sam also talked candidly about needing to know your audience - specifically focusing on the areas of health & well-being and employability, which the CLA will be launching briefing notes on in the coming months. Sam also mentioned What Next? - a movement bringing people together to articulate, champion and strengthen the role of culture in our society. She is a member of What Next?, and you can join too. There are 34 chapters across the UK meeting up to discuss and campaign in their local areas, as well as nationally - visit their website to find out more.

Next, the group heard from Annie Thorpe, Information Manager at A New Direction (AND), who talked about AND’s research focusing on arts in schools, acting as a bridge to the cultural sector, employment and skills, and more recently the importance of place. She highlighted AND’s series of case studies: Culture, Creativity and Narrowing the Gap: using pupil premium to enrich cultural education and their recent report Caring for Cultural Freedom: An Ecological Approach to Young People’s Cultural Learning. The latter considered what is happening outside of cultural organisations and highlights how, for young people, place is crucial, and having freedom and agency is so important.

Annie also spoke about the Learning About Culture research being carried out by the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) and the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), which AND is also involved in. They are currently looking for schools to take part in a two-and-a-half year investigation into the role that cultural learning plays in improving educational outcomes for children. AND also work with Project Oracle, who empower the youth sector to achieve the best possible outcomes for children and young people by supporting organisations and funders to produce, use and share high-quality evidence. All of AND’s resources and research are available here.

We also heard from two of the AND Advocates about their own experiences of evaluation based in their schools. Ally Taylor (St Thomas of Canterbury RC Primary, Merton) talked about her Masters research on the different types of data – qualitative and quantitative – and the issues faced when gathering evidence for the arts, how difficult it can be to prove and how she got around this. Then Yolanda Guns (Chingford Academies Trust, Waltham Forest) described her case study which she used for evaluating the success of Arts Award on helping ‘more-able disadvantaged’ students. This was followed by a Q&A in which a number of the group said they were keen to try out some of Ally and Yolanda’s methodologies back in their own schools.

Speakers were followed up by discussions focusing on what the teachers are already evaluating, and what they could evaluate in future which would be of value. They also considered who the evaluation would be for - themselves, their Senior Leadership Team (SLT), their students, their parents/community or even the government. They also discussed ways they can work as a group alongside both the CLA and AND. Each individual then started mapping out one thing that they could go away and evaluate, thinking about why, how, who for, any tools or support needed, and a timescale. This will be reflected upon in a future AND Advocates session.

The last part of the day was spent grouped by their allocated mentors, and therefore similar areas of interest, with time to share and discuss their priority or challenge, with discussions to be continued at future sessions to see how these are developing. Individuals and small groups also caught up with Laura Fuller, Senior Programme Manager at AND, about their advocacy plans such as writing blogs, planning TeachMeets and arranging peer-learning visits with other schools. The AND Advocates all left with their new personalised business cards ready to share and disseminate with their school networks. Maybe you will meet one of them soon!

There will be opportunities for you to hear from the AND Advocates in future blogs and to meet them at future AND events. In the meantime, you can find out more about them here.