St Helens Council Music Service are a Music Education Hub delivering musical opportunities to young people in St Helens, Merseyside. They’ve been delivering Arts Award for the last four years, from whole class Discover projects in primary schools to small group Bronze & Silver as part of their evening Music Centre. Arts Award Adviser, Jo Taylor-Moulden, tells us about their recent delivery of the Silver Award.
Why did you decide to start delivering Arts Award?
We decided to deliver Arts Award to further enhance our provision and give students the opportunity to gain an additional qualification. We began by delivering Arts Award Discover as part of our wider opportunities programme and have since expanded our offer to include Explore. Bronze & Silver level is delivered as part of our evening Music Centre. We also now have trained Gold advisers so can offer this level to our older students in the future.
Tell us about your delivery of Arts Award
The young people that partake in Arts Award at our centre are all in mainstream education but we also deliver Arts Award outside of formal education settings. Last year, a small group of young people who participated in our weekly youth orchestra began their Silver Arts Award journey - the group had already successfully completed Bronze and were keen to continue on to the next level.
We began by looking carefully at each element of the award and breaking it down in order to understand the requirements. Each young person was given a simplified criteria sheet to help them focus on what they needed to do. A small achievable target was given to them each week and they could communicate via email if they needed additional support. It was also agreed by all that the evidence would be posted on an online blog so that progress could be more easily accessed and monitored.
The way that I delivered Arts Award to the group allowed them to explore their own interests and develop projects related to them. I was also conscious of the students’ workload, in terms of school work and exams, and so their arts challenge and skill sharing was planned in a way that would minimise additional work and pressures. For example, the students completed a graded music exam and used this as their Arts Challenge for Unit 1.
Undertaking Arts Award Silver was a way for them to enhance their practice and share their learning with others in a positive way. One of the students organised a concert with all proceeds going to the charity Mind. She was keen to make this event very open and supportive as a reflection of her own thoughts on the benefits of engaging with the arts in terms of overall health and wellbeing. The event was attended by 20 invited guests and featured live performances by several music students.
What impact has Arts Award had on the young people you’ve worked with?
We are very aware of the positive impact young people’s engagement with the music service has had on their mental health. The students often state that they see the Music Centre as a safe space where they can be themselves and express how they are feeling creatively. Sometimes students who are particularly struggling with attending school will make the effort to come along to the Music Centre, as they see it as a calming influence. For example, when asked ‘How does listening to and playing music make you feel?’ - this is what young people told us:
Music makes me feel better. It is extremely helpful to me with coping with my anxiety.
Playing music is fun and something that I can actually be ok at.
It makes me feel calm, relaxed and happy because all of the thoughts get out of your head and you focus on one thing.
The whole process of Silver Arts Award has certainly enabled young people to develop confidence in their leadership and teamwork skills and it has been fantastic to see the pride that they have in their work.
What impact has your delivery of Arts Award had on your organisation?
Arts Award has added value to the work we do by giving students the opportunity to develop their knowledge and understanding of the arts alongside their leadership skills. We’ve seen a significant increase in student confidence as they developed their Arts Award portfolios - this has had a positive impact on the quality of their performances at our concerts.
Did you experience any challenges in your delivery of Arts Award?
As we only saw the students once a week, it was sometimes difficult to keep the momentum going. We could be contacted at any point for support, but it took some time for young people to get used to sending regular updates on their progress between meetings. We found that face to face feedback was much more effective than emailed feedback.
Do you have any tips or best practice to share with other advisers?
Make sure that each part of Silver is thoroughly understood and interpreted in an easy to understand language. We did this by breaking down each section in an easy to use table. Also, be aware that there are many other pressures that young people face and be patient in regard to meeting deadlines. We were conscious of this and so gave them small achievable targets. Finally, let them know that you are always available for any questions that they might have and that you are supporting them through every single step of their journey.
Advisers may find our Silver portfolio building templates useful for Unit 1 and Unit 2. The templates support the gathering of evidence by young people for Silver Arts Award and can be used as worksheets or as questions in an interview context if you are using video or audio evidence. The templates cover all parts of Unit 1 and 2 and you can choose to adapt them so they engage and support the young people you work with.