In the Spring 2013 Islington Council’s Arts Services undertook a survey of schools to find out about how they were delivering and accessing creative learning. At the same time Creative Islington, in partnership with the Council, surveyed its 800 members to find out how they were promoting and delivering their learning offer. One clear message from both sectors came through: the need to Improve connections, communication and information between the borough’s arts and heritage sectors, schools and youth providers. After further consultation it became clear that a new way of both democratising and disseminating opportunities was needed.
The time was right - the Arts Service had created a new post for Children and Young People and established an Arts and Education Strategic Advisory group with eleven key arts organisations represented.
This was the jumping off point - Creative Islington and Islington Arts Service cemented the partnership with a bid to the Connected London programme to develop a new digital resource for Islington’s cultural learning offer which would link to the existing Creative Islington website. Sadler’s Wells Bridge, provided the funding through the Connected London programme and became a key project partner in the development of the Education Portal over a 12 month period from September 2013 – September 2014.
The Education Portal will provide a digital ‘shop window’ to promote creative learning opportunities – projects and events, support and resources, news and a directory of local Arts, Cultural and Heritage organisations. A new ‘education facing’ platform, where all staff in schools/youth clubs will be able to search for activities, training and funding opportunities.
However, the devil’s in the detail…
The journey, stages and milestones; embracing wider involvement through consultation and testing
Creative Islington (CI) is a very small organisation so capacity was an issue. We managed to successfully bid for a council graduate trainee, seconded part time for the first three months, which helped with the R&D phase. We spent many months researching and devising the platform and liaising with the web developers, who had recently rebuilt the CI website. We set up consultation groups, including teachers and colleagues in the School Improvement Service, identified some enthusiastic Artsmark schools, and worked with them as co-designers at different stages of the build. We tested the prototype, running staff sessions in the three co-pilot schools, and encouraged input and feedback before finalising the brief with the developers – this was a sharp learning curve!
The biggest challenge was ‘testing’ as we had to visualise concepts, what it could look like/what it would do, as the site wouldn’t be in the build stage till at least six months into the pilot year
We had great support through the Connected London Programme including a number of sessions with the Innovation Unit, where we shared progress and challenges with other participating boroughs and took away useful tools such as project planning using an infographic, consultation and consensus building and prototyping.
Challenges and Learning
Back to...the devils in the detail...
Unsurprisingly it took much longer and cost more that we initially planned, however everyone put in a huge amount of additional time to the latter period of build and testing, and with some additional funding from both Islington Council and Sadler’s Wells Bridge, we kept to task.
Yes the site was delivered six weeks after the planned date, but we had to review our expectations to get it right and fit for purpose. No one will use a site that’s difficult to navigate, doesn’t work smoothly and isn’t beautifully designed!
We hit our three key milestones: an event for Arts organisations ‘Effective Engagement with Schools’ at Sadler’s Wells in early July - going LIVE in early September, a launch event at Islington Arts and Media School for Education staff in mid September.
"The Islington Education Portal is an exciting new tool that
addresses a “fairer” distribution of Islington’s cultural education assets" Steve Moffitt, CEO at A New Direction
"Currently 25% of Islington businesses are in the creative sector and provide 20% of the jobs (over 34,700 people employed in Islington)." Steve Moffitt, CEO at A New Direction
"This new arts education website will help us share information
between the sectors to give all Islington children, young people, and their
families opportunities to experience the incredible range of arts heritage on
offer here in Islington.", Mark Taylor; Director of Learning, Children’s and Young
People’s Service, Islington.
Immediate task and challenge is to get the site populated by arts organisations with up to date content and encourage colleagues in Education to register and search for opportunities. The ‘rollout’ phase includes a promotion strategy and awareness events to build a track record and reputation.
The BIG S - Sustainability from April 2015 – Sourcing funding and income generation. Schools will be able to join the e-portal free for the first six month period, whilst we test their ability/willingness to buy a subscription.
We aim to share the experience of making and delivering this digital resource beyond Islington and consider ways of franchising or partnership linking with other boroughs.
We will be looking for new partners and welcome any suggestions, so do have a look but only register if you are based in or deliver work in Islington.