From HEAD to TOE

2 young professionals working together and smiling
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2 young professionals working together and smiling
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...and everything in between

The 'from HEAD to TOE' project, funded by Paul Hamlyn Foundation, aims to explore the role of the creative, moving body as a means to increase concentration, engagement and recall in English and Math, as well as produce memorable experiences.

It is being delivered by Blue Moose Dance Company in collaboration with 5 primary schools across Lancashire. In this guest blog for Curious Minds, Sarah Hall, Creative Director at Blue Moose, reflects on the first year of the project, what they've achieved and the 'new ways of working' which are in development.

Our Aims

The main priorities we were looking to explore through the this project are for pupils to improve their skills in retaining and recalling key vocabulary and subject knowledge, and to gain autonomy over their learning. For teachers, we were hoping to see a stronger understanding of arts-based learning, better ability to articulate and advocate for the practice, and for education settings to explore how dance and movement based strategies can be embedded across the curriculum, beyond PE.
For the dance artists themselves the ambition was to develop a range of new strategies and better understand how dance can support memory and knowledge acquisition, deepening discovery about the potential impact of arts-based practice on supporting children in overcoming barriers to learning.

The journey so far

To date we have explored a range of topics within the English and Maths curricula, including word class, descriptive, narrative and report writing, poetry, place value, spellings and times tables. Our research has resulted in a range of full lesson plans (ranging from one hour up to a full day), as well as short tasks and games to support recall and memory (for topics like spelling and times tables).

Movement interventions have been used to support pupils to maintain or regain focus throughout the learning day and before and after key transitions.

The practical delivery of this project has been planned as a partnership between the teachers and artists - uniting the expertise from both areas - and also through live collaboration in the moment. The content has been refined and is taken back to the classroom for further exploration. This approach is beginning to support strategies that can be embedded for both pupils and teachers, and sees us starting to shift towards a new way of learning.

Early findings

We are discovering - potentially as an impact of the Covid-19 pandemic - that pupils require more physical stimulation throughout the day and within their learning experiences. We have also noticed a real shift away from autonomy and self-confidence in learning as a result of having a more 1:1 learning experience at home, or contrarily, a distant relationship to the habit of learning during that time.

These trends appear to be a persistent factor for lower Key Stage 2 pupils, despite returning to a more regular school life, and appear to have a direct relationship with concentration and engagement.
We have therefore chosen to continue to explore two routes of enquiry:
  • Physical creative strategies for learning

  • Interventions to support the nervous system and regulation of the body

    Some pleasant surprises!

    The creative element and ethos of Blue Moose Dance’s work is centred on a participant-focused, youth-voice approach. This certainly had potential for a research project of this type and, indeed, was one of our key drivers. However, it has had a bigger impact than we first realised - both for pupils and teachers.

    Pupils are independently recalling rhythms, patterns, movements and visualisations from our sessions to support their application of learning in written tasks. Teachers, on the other hand, are identifying methods of assessment that utilise physical, creative strategies - opening up a new avenue for evaluating retainment and recall of key subject knowledge, whilst allowing pupils to be more engaged and interested in these moments (and to meet their ranging physical needs in the process).
    "Pupils are independently recalling rhythms, patterns, movements and visualisations to support their application of learning"

    What's next?

    As we shift into the 2nd year of this two-year project, we aim to further refine our strategies and methodologies and to empower teachers to take on this practice as a regular part of their delivery.

    We are in talks with schools to embed these approaches into future curriculum design and are planning to meet with Governors, Local Authority School Advisers and the wider arts and education sectors to share our findings and advocate for this practice further.

    Follow our progress

    To follow the journey further, or to get in touch for more information on how this project could support your school, please visit or @bluemoosedance on Twitter.
    From HEAD to TOE brings together a team of artists, teachers, evaluators and experts in the field including:
    • Sarah Hall and Sarah Gough (Dance Artists, Blue Moose Dance Company)
    • Laura Broome (Project Manager)
    • Dr Fiona Bannon (Evaluator and Critical Friend)
    • Justine Watkins Fife (Marketing Consultant)
    • Paul Hamlyn Foundation
    • Pat Cochrane (Evaluation support)
    • Chaucer Primary School, Fleetwood
    • Nateby Primary School
    • Pilling St John’s Primary School
    • Stalmine Primary School
    • St Josephs Primary School

    Sarah Hall

    Blue Moose Dance Company

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