How we linked pupil wellbeing and the arts

Lucy Stiles, Art Lead at Hatcham Temple Grove Free School, shares learning from our Artsmark Connects event focused on pupil wellbeing and creativity

16 April 2020

Health and Wellbeing was the main focus of our last Artsmark Connects event – an informal networking event hosted by the London Bubble Theatre, an Artsmark Partner. A range of teachers and cultural organisations came together for an evening of discussion, exploring the links between pupil wellbeing and the arts.

As A New Direction Advocates, Siodhna O'Dowd (Creative Arts Leader at Wellington Primary school) and I kicked off proceedings by sharing strategies our schools have taken to promote personal, social and emotional wellbeing. It was great to know that our school communities, despite having quite different sets of priorities and challenges, both employ similar techniques, and both see wellbeing of pupils and staff as important areas to invest time and energy into.

High quality PSHE

We both discussed our push to improve PSHE teaching across the school through the use of ‘Jigsaw’ resources. This proved of great interest to teachers in our discussion time. Schemes of work are often seen as easy ‘out of the box’ methods to fulfil a curriculum need, but we both agreed that Jigsaw contains worthwhile activities and plans that can be adapted to schools’ needs.

Increased arts provision

Both schools have developed methods for incorporating mindfulness and general awareness of the importance of mental health through events and assemblies, and staff are on board with ensuring mindfulness takes place everyday.

We highlighted the steps our schools have taken to develop the arts through:

  • Increased capacity
  • Specialist teachers
  • Greater collaboration between pastoral leads
  • Targeted interventions such as Lego Therapy and Circle of Friends
  • Focusing on playtime activities

Including pupil voice

Pupil voice has an important part to play in how we evaluate the need for, and success of, creative activities and their impact on wellbeing. In my school, our Arts Council have been doing some work on student feedback and evaluation of art teaching, as well as the benefits to wellbeing that the creative arts can have. It’s proven a popular area for discussion and encourages those who’ve had anxiety issues to feel empowered to speak out about it and think of how they might use their experiences to help others in the school.

Hard outcomes such a data and assessment results give us tangible feedback, but the soft outcomes of seemingly harder to measure successes of creative output and wellbeing need to be given equal importance.

Drama activities

Our guest speakers for the evening helped to frame some of the ways that they’ve been recording their activities and successes in schools so that they can continue their work:

Challenge 59

The use of drama techniques is always a good way to get professionals to engage in a subject. Jo Rhodes from Challenge 59 shared some of their '59 second challenges' which they use in schools.

In pairs, we stood together and while one of us held our hand out, the other person would rest their hand under ours as if they were magnets attracting each other. They would then guide us through the space, generating a discussion about trust and challenge.

The aim of Challenge 59’s programme is to help schools to engage young people with health and wellbeing through dance and film, starting with 59 second drama activities and moving on to the production of short 59 second films which engage students with issues important to them. We watched a variety of films that had been created by young people, which included the themes of smoking and the importance of outside play.

Speech Bubbles

Adam Annand from London Bubble kicked off his presentation with a drama activity which encouraged participants to walk around the space greeting people with a range of expressions. Flash cards with different expressions raised the idea of communication and how we can all interpret facial cues in completely different ways.

During his presentation, which delved into the work of Speech Bubbles, it became clear that their work has been having an impact in a range of settings, and that young people working within their programme have developed new skills to be able to express themselves and grow in confidence. The approaches were playful, and with a wealth of case studies to draw upon it was clear that they were also authentic and meaningful.

All of the attendees were from different settings, so the discussion moved on to how different organisations could help to support others and how networking opportunities were valuable in the promotion of sometimes forgotten area such as drama.

Integrating social and wellbeing issues into drama has proven successful for Challenge 59 and Speech Bubbles, so we hope that schools and other organisations working with young people will continue to formulate innovative ways to tackle issues using creative techniques.

Other blogs you might be interested in:

Speech Bubbles have also created two packs of fun drama games to try at home with your children.

Find out more

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Lucy Stiles is Head of Creative Arts at Hatcham Temple Grove Free School in Lewisham. Lucy is part of the current cohort of our teachers involved in our Advocates CPD programme.

View Lucy's advocate profile