Putting the arts first: Roebuck Academy’s participation in Arts First Action Research
BY: Guest Writer
19 Jul 2021
Arts First Action Research Study is a collaborative study across a network of schools in Stevenage, Hertfordshire to explore the impact of teaching the arts. Arts First was the name given to the project as it is essentially an arts project, but it involves other areas of the curriculum based on what individual schools wish to research. The Arts First Action Research Study explores the impact of teaching concepts in an unrelated curriculum area via the arts. Students had the opportunity to explore new vocabulary in areas such as Geography, History and PSHE whilst working predominately with an artist in art forms such as drama, knitting, dance and visual arts.
Clare Elson from Roebuck Academy shares how they became involved in the project and the impact it has had on her, her school and the local community:
Roebuck Academy is fully committed to the arts. As an Artsmark Platinum school, our pupils have benefited from the Arts Award projects and experiences we have run, and from working with other schools and practitioners. For us, delivering Arts Award has proved to be a valuable process in self-assessment, identifying next steps and developing our practice.
Roebuck Academy was the first school in Stevenage to achieve Artsmark Platinum status and has developed a strong partnership with Tina Gray-Rampello, School Engagement Manager for Royal Opera House Bridge (ROHB).
The school has also developed partnerships in the local area by leading events such as STEAM weeks, music days and CPD events, including hosting Arts Award training and is keen to continue to develop a leading role in creative and cultural learning. I have written an article, which was published in Primary School Management magazine, reflecting on how partnerships in the local community can be developed to help run events with limited funds.
Through conversations with Royal Opera House Bridge and the Stevenage Creative Network, made up of local schools, the vision for Teaching Arts First Action Research Study was born. All schools identified the need to focus on language acquisition and how the arts can support the use and application of tier 2 vocabulary in a specific curriculum area. Tier 2 vocabulary is explicit vocabulary such as names of emotions taught through reading and writing. Through this individualised approach to each school’s needs, we also discovered a trend in focusing on mental health and wellbeing throughout the study.
Roebuck Academy’s role within the study was to be responsible for receiving, agreeing and helping to steer bids for projects for individual schools. My particular role consisted of maintaining contact with all schools, ensuring deadlines were met, acting as a link between the Royal Opera House Bridge and evaluator, and working closely with Tina to deliver and lead on CPD for the schools. Key dates were then identified throughout the project for schools to meet, receive training and share the outcomes of their projects.
Tina and I invited cultural practitioners to be involved in the project. Schools chose which practitioner to work with depending on the needs of their project and schools. Together they worked on an action plan for their school’s art project.
In the action plan an art focus was decided e.g drama and another area of the curriculum such as PSHE. Key vocabulary to be taught was identified. A baseline survey of the children’s use of vocabulary was carried out at the start and repeated at the end of the project alongside other impact measures for staff and students. Example projects included developing skills in knitting to aid storytelling and working with the local museum to develop skills in drama.
Roebuck Academy’s own research involved working with Trestle Theatre Group to improve mental health through drama, and to raise standards in creative writing. A year group worked with Trestle over several sessions from January to June with the lead teacher working collaboratively with Trestle in planning the sessions and completing follow up activities for the students. As an opportunity for professional development, the lead teacher will support the implementation of these strategies into another year in September.
Tier 2 vocabulary was explored through looking at the emotion the mask represented and generating different vocabulary which was then used in the writing.
As the study was still active during the Covid-19 pandemic, schools and practitioners used a range of blended learning approaches to adapt to the restrictions in place and support each other whilst learning new digital skills. For several partnerships, this enabled additional learning opportunities that were not expected at the start of the study and supported all parties during the beginning of an unknown period.
Working with ROHB has helped to develop my own confidence in supporting schools with implementing their School Development Plans, working with an evaluator and in managing finances for larger scale projects.
Roebuck Academy has since been asked to share how we use the arts to improve mental health in our curriculum at the Herts For Learning Wellbeing conference.
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