Considering the importance of SEND and the arts

24 March 2017

AND Advocate Paul Morrow reflects on the importance of the arts in SEND education and looks ahead to ANDInclusive @ the Tate Exchange

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Firstly I think we have to acknowledge that the arts are important to all of us.

The arts, in their vast array, give a quality of life. They allow for freedom, autonomy and expression and are a place of debate - they question and provoke, they reflect and give voice to difference and promote progress. They deal with the human experience, its frailty, injustices, beauty and glory.

As a teacher who teaches art to young people with SEND (special educational needs and disabilities), the arts allow us to have a voice and to be included in the wider discourse of their school, community and both national and international life. The arts give the young people I work the opportunity to be empowered, to make choices and have autonomy, and to develop a sense of self. These things are vitally important.

Working in an environment where a lot of the young people I work with face multiple barriers, the arts by their very nature both support difference and celebrate it. Within the postmodern paradigm where multiple voices and narratives are equal, there is commonality with inclusion; being valued for who you are and your narrative.

Having worked in the field of SEND and arts education for 11 years my career has been wide and varied. Working with a wide range of young people from high functioning ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) through to PMLD (profound and multiple learning difficulties) across ages ranging from reception through to post 16. I have conducted research and completed both an MA in Art and Design in Education and a diploma in Special and Inclusive Education. Through this breadth of experience, I have had the privilege of working with a number of institutions and individuals including A New Direction, The Royal Academy of Arts, The Wallace Collection, the Royal Albert Hall and Lyric Hammersmith to name but a few.

The school I now teach at (Westminster Special Schools) has grown and developed in confidence through partnerships and our curriculum design, and we are now pushing out into the wider cultural landscape of London. I have the privilege of working with a dynamic group of teachers, and our expertise is recognised by leading cultural institutions. We have delivered workshops and given speeches at both local and national conferences, and have also worked as advisors to both the Royal Academy of Arts and the Royal College of Music.

In 2016 we delivered an inclusive arts festival working with Lyric Hammersmith with funding from John Lyon’s Charity. The festival was such a success that we applied for further funding in partnership with three other schools, our original partner (Lyric Hammersmith) and a new partner, The Wallace Collection. I am pleased to say that our application was successful, and we now have three years funding to develop and build a resilient three year culturally inclusive arts festival.

Our festival was a response to the shifting geography in education and funding cuts which could potentially threaten the cultural experiences our young people would access. Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have the right to a wide range of cultural, artistic and other recreational activities. This affirmed and strengthened our resolve. When we explored wider we realised that a number of other organisations, including cultural organisations and funders, also realise the importance of giving children and young people access to these activities, and I believe the cultural landscape is now reconfiguring to meet this need.

This now leads me on to the ANDInclusive @ the Tate Exchange project. Why is this project important? I don't think 'important' is the right word, 'vital' would be more appropriate. When Winston Churchill was asked to cut arts funding to support the war effort, he replied: “Then what are we fighting for?” In 2017 A New Direction and the Tate have clearly answered this call.

In preparation for the project kicking off next week, we have been exploring the notion of 'exchange' at our school. Students have been making art to be used in an installation that explores and celebrates multisensory teaching and is both immersive while supporting perception. Through this exchange, our students have developed a better understanding of each other. They are excited, and their work tells a story - a story that we will be sharing with other SEND schools at the Tate Exchange. One school in particular, the Village School in Brent, will be directly exchanging with us to build and develop the installation.

The exchange isn't just restricted to our school communities, but will continue with the public. Promoted and supported by the Tate, the public will be able to experience and learn about multisensory teaching through our installation. They will be able to respond, connect, document, photograph and send their pictures of their experience to us, thus the exchange continues.

This conversation is a powerful one, it educates and includes. Come and join us at the Tate next week and be a part of it.

Paul Morrow is Lead Practitioner of the Creative Arts at Westminster Special Schools and is also part of our AND Advocates programme.

Click here to find out more about him and the programme.

Image credit: Bamboozle Theatre Company at Westminster Special Schools.