Making Arts Award work in challenging times

22 June 2017

With the launch of a new Arts Award Area Action Research programme, Louise Barnell reflects on what we've learnt so far

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For the last two years, A New Direction have analysed Arts Award data in order to identify areas of low Arts Award engagement in London. In 2015-16, we set up a Local Area Development programme to support organisations and partnerships to scale up their Arts Award offer and connect with more children and young people. 2016-17 has seen a continuation of this programme so that new areas of London can contribute to this continual sharing of learning.

The Local Area Development programme seeks to explore the question:

“What conditions and partnerships need to be in place to make Arts Award work in areas of low engagement?”

An Action Research approach continues to be used in order to support learning and develop a deeper understanding of how schools, local authorities, cultural organisations, freelancers and informal settings can all support children and young people to achieve through Arts Award.

The exploration was structured into three meetings. An introductory meeting, an action research set up meeting, and a midpoint exploration of key challenges, the barriers involved and how they can be overcome. Each organisation has also had regular meetings with an evaluator to re-examine, revise assumptions, and make continual changes.


All delivery partners on the Local Area Development Programme raised a core broad theme at their final meeting that was then underpinned by given solutions for future delivery and interventions to make Arts Award work in areas of low take up.

Funding and policy landscapes have meant that education and youth settings are facing challenging times, and that Arts Award is not seen as a priority for schools, even when they are engaging with significant cultural activity in the existing delivery. This resulted in difficulty in engaging teachers and schools, and sometimes high dependency relationships between schools, organisations and delivery partners in order to pay for and provide information and training on Arts Award and CPD.

Solutions included:

  • Cross-borough linkages and peer support between boroughs delivering Arts Award. This was seen as encouraging shared best practice, and a wider pool of resources for schools and organisations.

  • Offering opportunities - making CPD for teachers accessible and fun was seen as key to ensuring they felt that they could include delivery in their existing tight schedules. For example, offering a private view at a gallery or arts organisation with networking and drinks worked well in Redbridge and Waltham Forest.
  • Drawing out a cross-curricular focus. One example of this was Orleans House, who used the Wellcome collection to work on making connections with science.
  • Using parents and teachers as an ‘in’ for creating networks and resource sharing. Into Film suggested that inviting schools and heads for a celebration, getting good risk assessments and good info for trips and then sharing showed powerful communication and garnered ‘buy in’ from organisations.

All delivery partners felt that creating online examples of assessment sheets so teachers can easily download and use examples, and sharing resources actively across networks would work well.

They also agreed that engaging parents and teachers in conversations about delivery and celebrating their achievements is a powerful tool for repeat engagement and take up where resources are scarce and arts and cultural subjects not prioritised.

Next steps

Using the above conclusions and data from the full 2016-17 report, as well as analysis of annual Arts Award Data, A New Direction is launching another round of Arts Award Area Action Research projects for 2017-18.

Expressions of interest for the 2017-18 programme are now open – click here for more information.

Picture credit: Lyric Hammersmith