A View from the Bridge: Jude Bird

A View from the Bridge: Jude Bird

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Reasons to be cheerful about creative arts subjects in schools

Last week saw another headline about creative arts in schools being squeezed… henny penny the creative arts sky is not falling in! Nor am I being Pollyanna about this, as head teachers and governors are daily having to make very hard decisions around budgets and what they can and can’t deliver. However we can talk ourselves into this and make it a crisis, or we can see what is actually going on in thousands of schools in the country and celebrate it; I’m for the latter.

My job gives me many reasons to be cheerful, not least the number of head teachers I deal with who themselves, as creative individuals, are finding ways to support, protect and even grow their arts curricula. I visit schools on a weekly basis. A significant number of these are secondaries where heads and senior managers along with teaching staff value, celebrate and find ways within their budgets to ensure that creative arts subjects are not just core, but also key to a broad and balanced curriculum. Our CEO is on record as saying that the poorest children deserve the best arts and culture and this is something schools take very seriously.

This week I’ve worked with several such schools, the first on a flipped learning programme with Whole Education, looking at how arts and cultural subjects can be made even more accessible through this process. Three schools have developed different approaches to art and design, drama and photography-all at GCSE level to provide students with an even richer way to engage with the arts. The commitment of the staff who presented, supported by their schools, was really cheering!

I also visited a newly built school in the region with wonderful amenities-a dance studio, theatre, music rooms-at the heart of the design of the building and they were full of young people actively engaging in these subjects.

This is just a snapshot of a far bigger picture. For five years now, Curious Minds has run Specialist Leaders in Cultural Education (SLiCE)®- a fellowship that takes lead teachers and really builds their skills to work with professional arts organisations, develop research, support other teachers, work with Initial Teacher Trainee students. We have skilled individuals supported by their schools - and again many secondaries - to research such areas as the impact of cultural education on pupil premium pupils. The evidence of impact is significant. Last year we researched the delivery of the British Values agenda through the arts and culture - an agenda that all schools have to deliver. One of our schools had an outstanding Ofsted report that noted this work. SMSC is also an area that can be delivered very effectively through the arts and culture. Head teachers know this. They see the evidence every day in pupils engaging in arts subjects who might struggle with other things but in the arts they fly.

We support Artsmark, the national flagship programme where schools sign up to validate their arts commitment. My colleagues are run off their feet with the interest this engenders. We also deliver Arts Award in schools, where groups of children can have their arts work certificated and we have reams of evidence of schools’ engagement with this.

The North West Cultural Education Awards, which Curious Minds runs, had many hundreds of nominations from schools or cultural organisations who had worked with schools, attesting to their commitment to the arts.

I believe the creative arts subjects are alive and well in our schools. That is not to doubt that things are being squeezed. I have been a school governor in several schools and we have had to make hard decisions-we have at times had to reduce Maths and English teachers – though the art department remained unscathed.

So move over Ian Dury, its now my turn to sing “Reasons to be Cheerful”.
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