The Arts. We all appreciate the importance of it. The new OFSTED frame work says that we need to ‘do it’, as someone who trained 20 years ago, we’ve ALWAYS needed to do it. So, what is the barrier; why is it so hard to prioritise The Arts within our curriculum?
I want to encourage school leaders to trust that investment in The Arts WILL make a positive difference to your school and that, through trusting in an Arts rich curriculum, you will see your budget flourish!
I am a small school headteacher. When I arrived at my school, the budget was precarious. I’m sure that this is a familiar story; lack of staff morale, academic standards in decline, behaviour ‘not quite right’, a reluctance to accept SEND and, of course, a serious decrease in pupil numbers. It wasn’t a happy place to be and we all knew it. We did teach art but it was broadly agreed that art was left to one of our (very talented) teaching assistants. Staff confidence was pretty low and, to be honest, you could understand why.
OFSTED were imminent and, when they arrived, we were told that we needed to focus upon our Foundation Subject curriculum. It was a carte blanche to take things back to basics and think about what we really wanted to achieve.
At this point, our numbers were still unstable. We were not the most attractive offer in the area. There were worries about the sustainability of our staffing in the short term and parents were reluctant to ‘give us a chance’; with some leaving before things ‘got worse’.
I had heard about the Artsmark programme from previous authorities, so decided to invite our local bridge agency in to chat and start the process. The cost of the accreditation was debated with governors as a couple of hundred pounds is a big deal in our school but we went for it, and oh my goodness, it was money well spent!
From that initial meeting, I was given permission to say ‘yes’ to The Arts. There’s no magic formula, no tricks or management theories that I can dazzle you with, just a simple yes. It started small, with a look at how we can build in ‘authentic’ experiences for the children and keeping our eye out. I spent my evenings looking for opportunities and, if an interesting email popped up…then I clicked it!
After that, things spiralled (in a good way!). It’s amazing just how many doors the ArtsMark opens and, more importantly for a school with limited funds, just how many of these opportunities involve absolutely no cost. Our ‘non-negotiables’ were; the activities had to be ‘authentic’ (real makers, real musicians, real experiences) and that they had to have impact. It’s surprising how easily you can fit these experiences into your existing provision map without ‘losing’ curriculum time but it does take determination!
In the last year, we’ve performed at the Albert Hall (all funded), we’ve taken a group on the HMS Belfast (all funded), we’ve hosted poets and rappers (all funded), visited the Space Centre….the list is so long it’s quite remarkable.
The impact has been vast. We’ve seen pupils who were ‘elective mute’ performing to thousands of people, pupils who have had such low self-esteem that they have been at risk of exclusion, creating artwork and presenting this to the school. We’ve taken our children out of their comfort zone and reignited the fire in the bellies of our teachers!
So, that’s lovely but:
WHAT ABOUT THE BUDGET??
Well, word spreads quickly when you’re a rural school. Parents would see our articles in the local press (written by me) and on our Twitter (also written by me) and would want to know more.
‘I saw your school in the paper’ opened up conversations with families from different local schools who knew that they wanted their child to engage in these rich experiences.
Our roll grew… and grew… and grew… (with a projected 86 for 2017/18 to 106 as it stands in October 2019).
The bottom line in rural schools is that every pupil counts and, with every new face comes opportunity to grow our offer. It’s surprising how a positive story can snowball.
Our school is one of 9 in our county with a sustainable budget for the next five years.
The Arts matters and will continue to matter.
Just take a deep breath and say ‘YES’.