Arts are for everyone - how can colleges make that a reality?

Arts are for everyone - how can colleges make that a reality?
Date19th Jul 2021AuthorGuest AuthorCategoriesTeaching

Prior Pursglove and Stockton Sixth Form College is part of Tees Valley Academy Trust, comprised of two sixth form colleges, a pupil referral unit and a primary school, across multiple sites with approximately 1900 young people studying a wide range of A Levels and Level 3 BTECs. We speak to Helen Kirk, Teacher of Music about how the college, split across two campuses, has placed arts, culture and creativity at the heart of learning, no matter what the subject learners are specialising in.  

Our ethos is to be inclusive: we want to support every young person to progress and achieve, including those with additional learning needs and those who have previously struggled to engage with mainstream education. We’ve strived to ensure we’re whole-heartedly committed to the arts curriculum and our buildings and facilities powerfully demonstrate our commitment to Music, Performance and Visual Arts. 

A key driver in achieving this ambition was embarking on our Artsmark journey. Artsmark Award is the only creative quality standard for schools and education settings, accredited by Arts Council England. It supports settings to develop and celebrate their commitment to arts and cultural education with a surprisingly encompassing and interrelated framework. 

The framework required us to look outwards from our own classrooms, subjects and staffrooms and really discover and nurture the strengths that we already had throughout the college and Trust. It required a new dialogue between arts staff providing us with a clear focus and incentive to be able to put a magnifying glass onto our arts provision. Being across multiple sites could have felt like a hinderance, but it actually strengthened our intentions, and we began to forge stronger links with our partner primary school as well as across both colleges, despite this physical distance. 

Having a variety of age-groups and range of students sparked off ideas between arts teachers and managers and a feeling of renewed enthusiasm for a ‘bigger vision’ of developing the arts ensued in many different and wonderful ways. 

So, whether you wish to embark on a formal Artsmark journey, or simply want to enrich your offer, here are some of the actions and developments we took that shouldn’t daunt you! 

Enrichment opportunities 

Here are some of the main developments and features of our enrichment provision.

  • Upon enrolment, students are invited to attend the Enrichment Fayre where stalls advertise a wide range of activities. The Students’ Union  discover interests new students have and then set up activities in response, for example a Book Club, Debating Society, Japanese and Latin classes, amongst other regular music and arts enrichments. This sense of ownership over the choice on offer really helps to amplify student voice and we also distribute confidential questionnaires to find out how we might improve these opportunities.
  • student Events Team work hard to organise a variety of events alongside staff.  This leadership from students really allows an authentic student voice to be heard and we were delighted to be able to put on an end of term outdoor festival this summer after a year or disruption for students.
  • Over the course of our Artsmark journey, we increased the extra-curricular arts offer to all students including non-arts students, allowing them to deepen their experience and extend their passion of the arts through active participation. Participation numbers increased, particularly in our Arts club enrichment for non-arts students and Open Mic sessions. This Arts club also led to an off-site exhibition at a local gallery in Middlesbrough curated by the students themselves.

Value of Partnerships

Our focus on arts partnerships has been one of the most stimulating and engaging aspects of our arts development. You’ll be surprised at how many interesting opportunities are around you to support your arts and cultural offer. Here’s a few of ours and the impact they’ve had: 

  • We’ve developed an Artists in Residence programme with two exhibiting practitioners. Sculptor Connor Shields delivered sculpture workshops, helping both students and staff learn new techniques. His exhibition at college and at a public venue in Middlesbrough provided the students with an authentic understanding of principles of curation and offered a role model in utilising their artistic talent. 
  • Our A-level Arts students loved delivering a primary school’s Art club, where they modelled techniques to the children. 
  • Supporting local community groups can give students practical learning opportunities. At Marske United FC, our students volunteered as copy writers and designers for match day programmes and match day videographers for YouTube content.
  • We worked closely with our partner primary school, as we discovered that there are many areas of the arts curriculum that felt daunting to teachers who had little experience in those areas.  For example, the need to teach basic music theory notation at Key Stage 2 had many staff lacking in confidence. We developed specialist IT packages and tailor-made resources to support them. Our photography and Fine Arts specialist put together a programme of CPD in different areas such as drawing skills, photography, computer software (Photoshop), animation and music theory. 

This really started to highlight how useful the sixth-form specialist setting can be particularly for Primary teachers who have to adapt to ever-changing curriculums across a wealth of subject areas. We plan to start to deliver this in the next academic year.

And through our Local Education Cultural Partnership in the Tees Valley we’ve been linked up with Durham Sixth Form Centre, the first sixth form to achieve a Platinum Artsmark Award, for support, advice and valuable information to support our development. 

Cross-curricular aspects

This was one of the more challenging Artsmark criteria for us due to the very nature of sixth-form college education as students streamline their curriculum and think ahead to university and their future careers.

We found that, by having a well-advertised enrichment programme, we provided students with the opportunity to extend their college experience despite the restrictions of a key stage 4 curriculum.  

We are now starting to re-design parts of our tutorial programme that all students undertake, to look into cultural links within the local area and economy.  Although this may not always relate directly to the arts, this cultural emphasis will provide a greater appreciation for the local area that is, for many artists, a stimulus for expression. We are also looking at ways to highlight culture within each subject’s scheme of work and the hope is that this allows non-arts curriculum areas to embrace this aspect within their classrooms.

Arts Award is also a great way for students to engage with the arts and gain additional qualifications. We are planning to offer the Gold Arts Award for the first time to a small cohort of students regardless of their study programme. The addition of this opportunity, alongside the EPQ qualification, will really enable all students to gain valuable UCAS points in an arts area of their own choice to complement their studies.

For more information on Prior Pursglove and Stockton Sixth Form College’s Artsmark journey, or to read specialist guidance for sixth form colleges thinking of joining Artsmark, click here.

Some images of college creative work are below, including a student performing at Priorfest Open Mic (bottom row).

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