Arts Award – maintaining a creative curriculum during the pandemic

With much of the focus for Covid recovery on core subjects, how do we ensure the arts aren’t neglected? Emma Deba-Smith thinks Arts Award could provide the answer...

13 January 2021

Image: participant from our We Belong programme. Credit: Jessica McDermott

The arts and creative sectors are facing a period of unprecedented threat, with COVID-19 leading to empty theatres, cancelled festivals and closed museums. The need for social distancing and its necessary limitations on audiences, participation and engagement pose a great challenge to the ongoing vitality of the cultural sector. Responding to that threat will require planning and dedication, and the education and learning sectors will be vital elements of that response.

A problem is a chance for you to do your best
– Duke Ellington

But the upheaval of the pandemic cuts across all elements of national life, and the education sector has been particularly hard hit. Spring saw school closures and a move to online learning where possible, while since September we have had the fragmentation and distortion caused by bubbles, classes and sometimes year groups, as well as staff, being required to isolate in response to positive cases and close contact. This has of course been followed by the last-minute announcement of school closures at the start of 2021. Cumulatively a great many school days and teaching hours have been lost.

In the race to recover we can be sure the overwhelming focus will be on core subjects and key deliverables. Subjects and themes that sit outside the main attainment goals in English, maths (and EBacc) may well be further marginalised. How do we ensure the arts aren’t neglected in our educational recovery from COVID?

A society’s competitive advantage will come not from how well its schools teach the multiplication and periodic tables, but from how well they stimulate imagination and creativity
- Albert Einstein

Arts Award is a key part of the answer to that question. Operating across all artforms and with five levels tailored to different age groups, Arts Award is an accredited qualification which can be delivered flexibly to work around existing or new priorities. The adaptability and accessibility of the award will help teachers to ensure that cultural and creative learning isn’t neglected during these times but is instead fostered and recognised.

Arts Award is a range of unique qualifications that support anyone up to the age of 25 to grow as artists and art leaders, inspiring them to connect with and take part in the wider arts world through taking challenges in any art form that suits them, from fashion to photography to music and much more! There are no entry requirements, no time limit for completing the award, and no set rules on how to present final work.

The Arts Award has five levels:

  • Discover (Introductory certificate)
  • Explore (Entry Level 3)
  • Bronze (Level 1)
  • Silver (Level 2)
  • Gold (Level 3 – 16 UCAS points)

A three year impact study carried out by London South Bank University (LSBU), found that the Arts Award has a positive impact on young people in five key areas, but most of all, children and young people just enjoy taking part and having their achievements formally recognised with a certificate!

LIFE SKILLS: Transferable skills to the world of work, such as communication, leadership and organisational skills.

ACCREDITATION: A well respected and universal qualification, based on sound approaches to teaching and learning.

ARTS CHOICES: Influences and encourages interest in artistic subjects and supports successful applications for further and higher education.

ENTREPRENEURIAL SKILLS: Encourages independent learning, creativity and communication skills; essential for a career as a freelancer or arts entrepreneur, or for careers beyond the arts.

CREATIVITY FOR LIFE: Develops young people as creative artists and arts leaders, nurturing their understanding of routes to education and employment in the creative and cultural sector.

The arts are wonderful, stimulating and thrilling and Arts Award is a means by which young people can unleash their creativity and discover new interests, passions and talents.
– Graham Norton

To deliver Arts Award, you must work with a qualified Arts Award Adviser, who could either be a trained member of staff or a freelance practitioner you have brought in to support your delivery (A New Direction can provide you with information about local Advisers who can support you if required). There are three separate training courses for the various levels of the award, so you need only sign up to the one you plan to deliver and then you can train again for other levels at a later date if you so wish. Once trained, Advisers retain this status, giving them the ability to deliver Arts Award in centres they are connected to for years to come. For the health and wellbeing of trainers and participants, all training has been moved online for the foreseeable future. More details about upcoming training sessions, including dates and costs, can be found on the Arts Award website.

For each level, Trinity has provided additional guidance of how young people can evidence their learning and achieve the award in the current climate with social distancing required and often remote and online learning from home.

You can find guidance for the Discover Award here. This is an excellent starting point an introductory award, for which children and young people need to complete three core components and evidence these in order to achieve the Arts Award certificate. You can see from the criteria that the content can be tailored to suit any age group from 5-25, and as any artforms can be included (from pottery to poetry and everything in between), the award can be tailored to the individuals interests.

Even in the midst of probably the most challenging time our arts and culture venues have ever faced, they have still sought to share their work via a host of online (and often free) resources – from virtual theatre tours of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, to Tate Kids with activities to discover, make and explore. The wealth of online resources available can support pupils to achieve the various sections of the Arts Award. You can browse hundreds of free resources from arts and culture organisations on A New Direction’s LookUp platform.

A New Direction has also developed a free online Discover Arts Award resource and logbook, that can be downloaded and completed online or printed and sent out, so that young people can easily record evidence of their creative journey. The resource can be easily adapted to suit any age wishing to complete a Discover Arts Award. Helpfully, there is also a guidance document so parents and carers can support children and young people in recording their artistic exploits.

With schools and colleges already under immense pressure to make up for lost learning time, and with further disruptions on the horizon, the introductory Discover Arts Award can be a simple and effective self or parent/carer-led project, that can run alongside set work and classes, to keep pupils engaged and enthusiastic about their learning. The delivery of the award can be as short as a week, or stretched across a whole term or the remainder of the academic year – the depth of discovery is up to you and your students.

Arts Award is so beneficial and allows you to develop your skills in many ways. It’s a brilliant qualification to have and really stands out on your CV.
– Jayden, Gold Arts Award achiever

As an introductory certificate, Discover logbooks are assessed by the Arts Award Adviser and no external moderation is required. A list of successful pupils to pass the award is sent to Trinity and certificates are awarded (at a unit cost of £4 per certificate, with group discounts available). In these uncertain, pressurised and disrupted times, the formal recognition of children and young people’s creative achievements at home can be a real boost to their confidence and sense of achievement and can also provide a focal point to celebrate everyone’s individual talents and creativity, which we all need to share and enjoy now more than ever.

If you want to find out more, contact Arts Award, or get in touch directly with A New Direction and they will be happy to help.

Arts Award website:

Arts Award Voice:

Help centre:

Telephone: 020 7820 6178


Emma Deba-Smith is an Arts Award Adviser who is passionate about art in all its forms and young people’s achievements.

“Thanks for taking the time to read this post – wishing you good luck on your Arts Award journey!

Where next?

Find out more about Arts Award

Browse upcoming Arts Award CPD sessions

Join our Arts Award London Network

Reset – our pandemic support programme