Eastbury Community School's journey to Artsmark Platinum

Jennifer Higginson, Head of Art and Design at Eastbury Community School, reflects on the school's journey to Artsmark Platinum.

21 June 2018

(Photo credit: Eastbury Community School)

Eastbury Community School are a large through school in Barking, East London. We originally began the Artsmark process a few years back using the old format which was initially quite challenging. When we were introduced to the new process it was really forward looking; what are we good at, what do we offer and what are our next steps? Taking time to reflect on our current creative offer and liaise with other staff was rewarding in itself, but discussing where we want things to head in the future was incredibly satisfying.

Eastbury Community School are passionate about teaching the creative arts, and registering and being awarded Artsmark seemed like a clear next step. To be awarded Platinum is such wonderful recognition in our continued drive to provide the best creative opportunities we can for our young people in East London.

Artsmark status is very influential and important in the current educational climate, the value of the arts can be difficult to navigate for staff, students and parents. Having clear and exciting creative opportunities to encourage, motivate and inspire young people and their families is vital to keeping cultural and creative learning alive in schools and communities.

Eastbury value all our students’ interests and passions, informing prospective new students and parents of the wide subject range we offer both within and outside the published curriculum demonstrates these aims and will allow our young people to flourish.

There have been many benefits to Eastbury Community School going through the Artsmark process, in particular the sharing of good practice and keeping the creative arts in the forefront of school planning and curriculum. Eastbury have always had a strength in working with outside agencies and organisations, but through taking part in Creative Schools , Arts Award and Cultural Citizens we have gained further access to networks of leading cultural organisations, developing and strengthening our arts provision. Through planning and embedding our action plan and reflecting through our Artsmark case study, Eastbury have been able to recognise and celebrate our strengths and gain support with any future plans, some of which we are already thinking about now.

Eastbury had three main foci; using the self-assessment tool we looked at what we would need to cultivate to achieve platinum status and planned around this. Eastbury has a healthy appetite for independence, aspiration and high expectations of both staff and students, so our targets concentrated around creative leadership.

To develop leadership and students’ active learning within the arts we are now a registered Arts Award Centre with two staff trained as Bronze and Silver advisors and one member of staff trained as Discover and Explore advisor. To develop our links to our feeder schools and Eastbury Primary school we plan to deliver Arts Award with the younger students to encourage and grow creative learning right at the start of school life, ideally imbedding the enthusiasm and skills for students to bring to up to KS3 and be our ambassadors for the future. We have seen an increase in pupils’ confidence and communication skills. Students start to further their interests and cultural appetite and use London and the school as a learning resource.

I have written a whole school Arts Policy which was approved by governors and is on the school website. This underlines Eastbury’s commitment to a creative curriculum and our obligation to teach creative skills and allow students to flourish. It really underpins how it isn’t only the responsibility of ‘creative’ teachers and subjects to deliver creative learning, that all staff and parents can be involved and adapt projects, activities and outcomes to allow a rich and varied approach.

Tying in with this, Eastbury Art Department ran a creative arts twilight CPD to share specialist skills with any staff who wished to attend. Staff were actively involved in leading, planning and sharing CPD in school as part of the whole school CPD carousel, this was offered to Technology and Art staff, Eastbury Primary and the staff Culture Club to enrich and strengthen knowledge. Often staff opt for external CPD, when our own staff know our students and demographic the best and can obtain great results within a structure that gets the best from our learners.

Eastbury now has a virtual Culture Club, a space to share creative opportunities, private views, theatre visits and more. Staff have visited West End plays and the Barbican already this year; social interaction amongst staff that isn’t always directly related to academic events is a healthy and supportive way to develop staff friendship and a sense of belonging.

As part of our planning around cultural leadership we now have a team of student Cultural Ambassadors across all year groups forming a subgroup of the school council, similar to our LGBT group. They meet weekly with staff and SLT to discuss opportunities, launch competitions, and are an integral and valued part of teaching and learning and a strategic part of the creative direction of the school. They are our representatives to younger years and primaries to spread the message about creative learning. They are a visible support on open evenings and taster days, welcoming students and parents, and have opportunities to visit local universities. One of their most important jobs this year is creatively leading the Inspire Festival.

Harley year 9;

The benefits of being a cultural ambassador is that we create our own projects… it makes me less shy to bring up funny or outrageous ideas.

Music teacher;

I get to explore the school and its students in a way that I never could being a school council member or peer mediator, I have become better in RE because I can look at different points of view.’ Yr8 student. ‘Sharing ideas, collaborating with co-workers and bringing a project to life with the lovely ambassadors.

As our Executive Head says;

Eastbury are interested in the holistic approach to our young people, learning the skills that the robots can’t do. Artsmark is important to Eastbury as it gives currency and value to the arts, as a person from a science background the evidence speaks for itself. We are building cultural capital not just the ‘academic’ skills.

The statement from Artsmark read;

Your school offers wonderful arts opportunities to students and, particularly with the use of digital technology, goes way beyond the traditional arts offer. Your leadership and planning are outstanding and your Case Study evidences your commitment to inclusivity and diversity. The range of offer, the approach to CPD and continuous improvement within the school and the leadership role you are taking beyond the school are all very impressive, as is your understanding of the wider and deeper value of the arts, now captured in your whole school Arts policy. Congratulations on your Artsmark Platinum Award!

We are so proud at achieving Platinum and are very aware it’s an ongoing journey, so what are we going to do now we are a platinum school and what are our targets for the future? We would like to continue developing our cultural ambassador roles, to further develop links with local universities, who have their own ambassadors. I think it would be amazing for our young people to meet and form a reciprocal relationship with them, discussing creative education at degree level, discussing how Eastbury can further communicate the importance of higher education. We have some excellent international trips, such as the upcoming Art/MFL trip to Lille and the PE trips to Iceland, we would like to build upon these opportunities and our cross-curricular opportunities. Just talking to staff this week about future plans has already sprouted some excellent ideas and conversations.