Our Arts Award Journey through Lockdown
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Wirral Hospitals' School Arts Award Journey Through Lockdown

Arts Award can be a highly adaptable way of enabling young people facing acute challenges to develop and achieve. But what happens when its your school's first year of delivery and unprecedented circumstances threaten to interrupt students' work at a critical stage of learning? Head of Music at the Wirral Hospitals' School, Sofie Steff, charts their Arts Award journey through lockdown.

The Wirral Hospitals' School is an alternative therapeutic school, serving young people and families on the Wirral. Our students have highly complex needs. Students have been medically and/or CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service) assessed as unable to access mainstream education.

These young people may suffer from mental health issues, gender dysphoria, many are diagnosed as having an Autistic Spectrum Condition and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder),others are living with multiple medical conditions and a significant number of our students also suffer from conditions such as selective-mutism, sensory issues and language disorders. As a result of these medical issues they are at an increased risk of isolation and limitions to social mobility and employment, which in turn increases the risk of ongoing mental health problems.

Our school changes lives. It helps children to re-engage, enjoy their learning and be successful.

Our vision in introducing Arts Award was to incorporate it into the school curriculum. This would help us to highlight the great work we already do in school and to celebrate individual successes.

The Arts subjects are some of our most popular GCSE options. Music, whilst decreasing in popularity nationally, has continued to grow in our school where we usually see at least 30% of KS4 students taking Music at GCSE level. We provide a practical approach to music making, where theory and appraisal are all taught through performance and composition. Our focus on the use of visuals, speech and language theories has helped us develop key resources suitable for the needs of our young people.

A lot of our families may not be able to offer the opportunity of private music lessons or be able to afford a musical instrument, so delivering the arts in a school setting is invaluable for these students. Some may not get the chance to go to art galleries or live performances outside school time but working towards Arts Award through school allows them to make and reflect on visits, creating further learning through direct experience.

Our Arts Award journey through lockdown
In the academic year 2019-20 we enrolled 25 students for Arts Award Bronze. Sadly, the Covid-19 pandemic meant we were unable to enter all the students, so we opted for the youngest pupils in the cohort to delay and instead complete the Award this academic year. However, it was imperative that we supported our Year 11 students to complete their Award utilising distance learning. Due to the complex and vulnerable nature of our pupils, we applied for the Extraordinary Regulatory Framework (ERF) adapted assessment arrangements. This meant we had to evidence 50% of the students' completed work.

We communicated with our students as much as possible, via email, telephone calls and some face-to-face work (as our school remained open throughout lockdown). Naturally, we were delighted when every one of our entered students passed; giving them an additional, fully recognised Level 2 qualification.

In this subsequent academic year, we aim to complete the work we had started with our other KS3 and KS4 students, so that they too can gain the Award and the recognition.

What did we want our students to gain from doing Bronze?
We wanted students to have the opportunity to achieve a well-recognised and accredited arts qualification. A specific trait of autism is a young person’s ‘special interest’. We have used Arts Award as a way of getting to know our students and helping them explore their interests in the context of a school setting. This has helped to improve resilience, confidence and attendance.

For Example

PART A
The whole-school Christmas production – this incorporates learning new skills that all students can access; from performing to stage craft design and management, costumes and make-up and front of house and PR tasks.
PART B
Trips to Liverpool Philharmonic and the Tate Liverpool. We asked the students to complete a reflection of their trip after the events.
PART C
We set aside lessons for the research task but realised some students really needed prompt questions and a step-by-step approach to support their independent learning. We have now created a differentiated set of support materials for Part C.
PART D
Skill shares: Students chose the areas they felt most confident in to share with either their peers or teaching staff. New songs have been taught, dance routines worked on and drama warm-ups led by older students to younger year groups!

During lockdown
For some students it was hard to complete the work during lockdown, however, for others the focus on completing the Award worked amazingly.

One girl came in to school because she was having a hard time at home, and the task of completing the Arts Award boosted her confidence. Another pupil delighted in the sense of achievement he felt when he came in to complete sections of his work.

I took to personally telephoning students to ask them about their Arts Award work, which gave them a sense of value and self-worth. They were able to see their skills as valuable and increased their self-esteem during this very unpredictable time.
"I have enjoyed developing my skills as a teacher and leader through learning and delivering the Arts Award. I find such importance and enjoyment of the Arts. I see the new benefits of delivering Music, Art and Drama and now being able to gain a qualification from this work is invaluable. It has been particularly important to me, as I have been able to progress my leadership career, through organising the delivery of the Arts Award, I have used this as my project for my leadership qualification."

Sofie Steff, Head of Music

Reflections
We need to improve on capturing student responses more frequently during the process of each area of work. We know we can use both digital and written responses, but now also know we need to up skill our staff in the collation of such information. As it was our first year of delivering the Arts Award, through reflection we also realised that we could deliver Part A and D together, and so we look forward to improving our delivery this year.

Impact
Our teachers, Teaching Assistants and pupils formed strong bonds and were able to enjoy a real focus on their chosen subjects, such as Dance, Music, Drama and Art. One of our students, who is a selective mute, began to sing and found she had a lovely voice. This turned her life around and gave her real confidence.
“I am keen to develop the expertise of our staff so we can deliver Silver Arts Award and ensure that a significant number of our young people can achieve a Level 2 Arts qualification.”

Sarah Marrion, Deputy Headteacher

The school as a whole
Our journey through lockdown affirmed why we are doing Arts Award and we better understand the process now. We are still learning, however delivery will be more straight forward for this and future academic years. We are now really excited about continuing with Arts Award and would like to incorporate running the Silver Arts Award for our Year 11 students.

We continue also with our Artsmark journey. We are currently awarded Gold level and our school has high aspirations to be an ambassador for the arts; achieving Platinum level. We are already leading, disseminating and sharing good practice and have contributed to Artsmark research into hospital schools.

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