Addressing the barriers to delivering Arts Award

3 August 2018

Mike Simpson, Musical Director at Inspire-works, tells us how their Area Action Research project helped them deliver Arts Award via whole-class music lessons

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At Inspire-works, we’ve been delivering First Access and Wider Opportunities programmes on behalf of many music hubs for over 12 years. We’ve always been big supporters and advocates for Arts Award and have seen how a whole-class instrumental learning programme at Key Stage 2 fits beautifully with Arts Award Discover. It frames the learning, helps the tutor document the progress, gives a sense of achievement for those who might struggle with the practical music-making activities and gives a wonderful sense of pride for the children when they receive their Arts Award certificate.

So, it’s always puzzled us why the delivery of Arts Award within whole-class music lessons is not more popular. What are the barriers and what support could be given to schools and music hubs to ensure more Arts Award projects are delivered?

We were delighted when we discovered we had been successful in receiving funding from A New Direction to be one of 6 organisations chosen to receive funding for our Arts Award Action Research Project, and hoped that we would be able to use this funding to try out new ideas and discover why the Arts Award isn’t as popular as it could be within whole-class music lessons.

As part of the funding, we were required to attend several Action Research workshops at A New Direction, facilitated excellently by Ruth Clarke and Louise Barnell (Programmes Manager, A New Direction). These sessions were very practical - using lots of post-it notes and huge sheets of paper stuck up all over the room.

Ruth encouraged each organisation to be very reflective in our practice and to challenge our assumptions about all aspects of our projects. Throughout the project, Ruth and Lou partnered us with different organisations for peer learning which was fascinating and helped us think deeper about our own project and what we might need to change or modify. We also had to complete several assignments throughout the project that were very thought-provoking, and at times challenging! Ruth had several phone calls with us to help guide us through our project and her experience and expertise were invaluable.

We were aware that our project, which was delivered primarily via online video tuition, was very experimental and had many potential pitfalls with school IT systems. For example, we discovered YouTube and Dropbox are blocked borough-wide in two of the three boroughs we were doing our project in, so it was immediately apparent that sharing the video files was going to be a challenge! Therefore, we had to source software that would enable videos to be playable in all educational settings and worked well with the progression of learning for the children within the project. We also discovered that the secondary school in our pilot operated their Key Stage 3 arts subjects on a rotation basis with each class only doing music/art/drama for 6 weeks of the year. This was a challenge to overcome as our project was only designed to last 10-weeks.

The Action Research format that A New Direction devised for our group was excellent in helping us plan, reflect and revise our work and we will definitely be using this format for future projects.

As a direct result of being able to participate in A New Direction’s Local Area Arts Award Action Research project, we’ve now been able to roll out our Online Courses nationally and are already reaching parts of the UK that we wouldn’t have been able to reach with our workshop visits.

We would recommend any organisation that is trying out new ideas to use the Action Research model. Thank you A New Direction for opening our eyes to a wonderful way of working!

Mike Simpson is Musical Director at Inspire-works. Find out more at

Image credit: Lancasterian Primary School, photographed by Roger Brown for A New Direction