Artsmark Case Study: Curriculum design

Dan Silverman from Alexandra Park School tells us how Artsmark has supported them to develop an arts curriculum which is engaging and sustainable

14 October 2020

Image: Alexandra Park staff on World Book Day. Source: Twitter

Alexandra Park School is a secondary school and sixth form located in the Muswell Hill area of Haringey, and were awarded Artsmark Platinum in September 2019.

Below, Deputy Head Dan Silverman shares how the Artsmark framework supports curriculum design to increase arts provision and staff training.

The benefits of becoming an Artsmark School

At the most obvious level, our work with Artsmark has extended and enhanced arts provision. Students in our own school, the schools that we work with, and participants in the activities we host will have all taken part in experiences that they would not otherwise have been able to enjoy.

Overall, the true value of our Artsmark journey is the extent to which it is mutually beneficial. It is a vehicle for sharing our approach more widely, and for the continued review and development of our own pedagogy amidst a changing local and national context.

How the Artsmark framework can help with curriculum design

Since our school opened in 1999, we have always valued the arts as a core constituent of our curriculum, and our arts provision is as important as any other in ensuring we support the greatest possible development of all of our students.

Our curriculum is founded on the principle of the inherent value of all subject areas and the proven benefits that are derived from students gaining a broad curriculum experience. With sufficient provision in all areas, students can fully benefit from the intrinsic interrelatedness of different subject areas.

Initially, we registered for Artsmark because we felt it would help us to further develop our whole curriculum, and this has proven to be the case – the Artsmark framework has inspired us to be more ambitious and more confident in developing our curriculum and extend our collaboration with schools in varied settings, and to share expertise and develop practice at all Key Stages. Subsequently, recognition of our approach within national policy has further increased our confidence in what we are doing and our credibility when working with others.

How an arts-rich curriculum engages students

We have seen a highly significant impact on our pupils. Fostering opportunities for students to share their work across age groups and in different settings augmented the students’ confidence and pride in their work.

We put a strong focus on the creative skills developed within traditional arts subjects: research, planning, drafting, developing, and appraising. This challenged their own views with alternative perspectives and encouraged the development of critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.

Thanks to greater participation in the arts, students have developed social skills and emotional resilience from being encouraged to try new things.

How a strong arts provision engages the wider community

There is an inherent impact on parents from the increased arts opportunities, particularly as the vast majority of our opportunities are directed towards a performance, or an exhibition. These are forums that enable direct parental engagement, the impact of which is enduring.

On a wider scale, many examples from our provision directly engage the wider community, including exhibitions of artwork in local businesses, a public summer-evening drama performance in the park, and a Christmas concert held within the foyer of the local underground station.

How to use professional development and partnerships for sustainability

Pedagogically, our work with Artsmark has helped ensure our staff are able to improve their practice while gaining confidence and creativity. These opportunities, coupled with the visible impact of the project on young people, have helped to raise career aspirations and encourage teachers to remain in the profession.

We have seen how this also benefits students through enhanced classroom practice and extracurricular provision, adding to the quality and variety of student experiences.

As a Teaching School with a very large staff and a strong emphasis on training, our work with other schools as part of our Artsmark plans has opened our eyes to a range of other ideas and approaches. These have been invaluable to individual teachers developing their practice and to teams delivering staff development and training, including those involved in NQT and ITT training programmes.

In addition, the promotion of collaboration afforded by the Artsmark work has served to strengthen and grow our teaching alliance partnerships.

Advice for other schools starting their Artsmark journey

If you do not hold a centrally held record of all extra-curricular arts activities that take place each academic year, I would advise you to collate one at the earliest opportunity.

Although we were very confident in our provision, it was important to record the sheer extent of the efforts of staff in delivering arts activities, beyond the highest profile clubs, concerts and exhibitions. On doing so it became clear that there was far more going on than any single member of staff had really appreciated.

This was critical in ensuring sufficient recognition within our own setting and also in confirming our decision to pursue the award.

Artsmark is the creative quality standard for schools, accredited by Arts Council England. It provides a clear framework for teachers to plan, develop and evaluate arts, culture and creativity across the curriculum and beyond.

A New Direction supports London schools throughout their Artsmark journey, offering expert guidance, advice and training.

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