(Picture credit: The Bridge School)
Ryan McCelland is Art/Senior Teacher at The Bridge School in Islington - one of the 7 London schools who were Artsmark Awarded in 2016. In total, 327 London schools have so far registered for Artsmark, and A New Direction is proud to be working with them to support them through their Artsmark journey.
We asked Ryan a few questions about The Bridge's experience, what his tips are for completing the process, and what value he thinks the award can add:
Why do you think Artsmark is important for schools at the moment?
At a time of great change within the school system, my feeling is that the arts are becoming marginalised and undervalued. Things such as Artsmark open a dialogue with schools and people in the wider creative sector, as opposed to the national curriculum which is very much a conversation within education.
How did Artsmark work for you in your specific setting?
We are a rapidly expanding SEND school based over two sites, with a third and soon to be fourth free school. To co-ordinate across that many sites with different staff and students was instrumental in the process.
From my perspective as the senior teacher responsible for the bid, the audit of the provision, training sessions, along with group and individual support from A New Direction were invaluable. They helped us identify areas of strength and aspects of our arts offer we could improve on and plan to develop accordingly. As a school that will be converting to an academy in 2017, the support and encouragement to be more outward looking and share best practice I feel has been very important in improving arts staff morale and confidence.
How did you decide on your focus for the Award?
After the initial training sessions and looking at the levels we were confident that we would be awarded Gold status for the second time, and we also felt we had already half reached the descriptors for Platinum. Being a teaching school, we provide a lot of training to teachers and other practitioners through courses we deliver at the training centre. The majority of areas we needed to improve on were about sharing practice and I felt that this aligned nicely with our school ethos, and provided us with a framework for improvement. We then focussed on three main areas of sharing practice: training, partnerships and publicity.
What are your top tips for making the most of Artsmark?
- Designate a teacher and a leader to work towards the bid, this gives a rounded and honest judgement about a school's arts offer
- Allocate a regular meeting time for arts staff to meet and discuss the process at different stages. This allows the coordinators to capture a lot of information that might be missed
- Send out a survey to all staff to capture examples of creativity that are being used to deliver other curriculum areas as well as any arts related training or hobbies they might have. Incentivise them to complete it with a raffle were they can win wine!
- Try to tie in the bid with some sort of INSET day which includes all of the creative subjects. We ran one in narrative/storytelling with 5 different practitioners and teachers delivering 1 hour slots using everything from clay to iPads
- Be really visual - use display boards, school newsletters and online presences. We developed a creative and expressive arts blog to share students work
What surprised you?
- I feel that the new format surprised me as it was less about number crunching and more self-reflective, which I found more enjoyable/useful as a teacher.
- The level and quality of creativity which was going on in non-arts subjects was a real positive, and to be able to capture that through the process was great
- Being involved with the critical friend and Artsmark training was a real plus as it made you feel part of a wider community
- The Artsmark process also dovetailed nicely with coaching for creative and expressive arts staff, giving them personal areas for development.
What have you learned through the process?
- From a leadership point of view, I have learnt more about coordinating curriculum areas across a multi-site school and developing an ethos that allows teachers to have a framework to operate from, whilst also giving them the confidence and trust to experiment and try different things out
- It has given me a much clearer focus on what I aspire the creative and expressive arts to deliver to our students, and how I would like to move forward - training and involving teachers who may not be from an arts background to use the arts more actively as a tool
- We have looked at overlaps into other subject specialisms that may have creativity within them, but that would not have previously been considered for Artsmark, such as computing. We've then been sure to involve the subject teacher in the Artsmark process as part of the team.
What changes has Artsmark brought about in your school?
Since the Artsmark process we have been much more active in trying to initiate partnerships outside of the school community. As a result of the
AND conference, we have been supported by our borough arts officer to meet with new organisations within Islington with a view to developing work with them in the future.
All staff have become aware of all the different types of work that has been taking place in art subjects as we have become more active in sharing them through newsletters, websites etc.
We have designated a governor with responsibility for the arts who I liaise with, and have included arts development within the school improvement plan.
We have developed and continue to work on providing more arts based training with an SEN focus, both through our courses at the training centre and within the school community through INSETs.
(Below: The Bridge School celebrates their Artsmark Award in their newsletter.)
Click here to find out more about Artsmark and how A New Direction can support you with your application.