Partnerships in practice - Arts Award Action Research

Ruth Clarke, an Associate Research Consultant and Facilitator, explains how cultural organisations and special schools came together to test new ways of working for our Arts Award Action Research Programme

19 December 2019

The benefits for schools and cultural organisations in working together to deliver impactful, student-centred programmes can maybe only really be seen when the shared challenges, assumptions and approaches have been identified upfront. During 2018-19, three schools and three cultural organisations did just that through their participation in A New Direction’s Arts Award Action Research initiative.

What we did

The partnerships set out to devise a way of delivering Bronze Arts Award with targeted student groups. Framing this as a piece of action research gave the partnerships an invitation to think anew, and challenge themselves and each other on how best to plan for and support young people in SEND settings to engage with the arts and successfully achieve an Arts Award qualification.

A New Directions I Am At Tate Exchange Festival provided a natural focus for the partners to celebrate the programmes they had developed, and for the young people to take centre stage in sharing their skills – a perfect match with the criteria for Part D of Bronze Arts Award!

Working together to create project plans in the form of a Theory of Change, the partners sought to understand how Arts Award could help students to reflect on and share their experiences and achievements. By authentically evidencing this, they would be setting the scene for progression on to GCSEs, college, training or employment. They were also keen to see if Arts Award’s flexible framework for learning could help demonstrate and promote the value of arts education interventions in SEND settings.

The students’ learning

Both the schools and cultural organisations were ultimately looking to foster students’ abilities to reflect, empathise, connect, create and respect difference, while sowing the seeds for an embedded approach to partnership working. Partners were united in their belief that extending students’ insight into personal identity and social skills through developing arts skills would also support their wellbeing. These highly ambitious and persuasive drivers provided a solid foundation for all of the projects.

Partnership working

Exploring potential approaches and considering who would lead on each element were the starting points for devising the project activity. How key was Senior Management/Senior Leadership support, for example? Were partners able to step away from ‘business as usual’ and commit to partnership working?

Another element of successful activity planning was the identification of, and response to, assumptions which were often unspoken and unexplored. Would students be able to speak publicly? To what extent would memory and recall challenges prohibit reflection and evidence gathering? Do the students even want to be creative? How difficult would a busy, unfamiliar social situation be?

With the shared ambitions, drivers, commitments in place, and the assumptions identified, the scene was set for the partners to devise the project activity. You can read more about the partnerships and their projects in the report below.

read the full report