Tara Page on how creativity in schools supports self-expression and well-being.

When asked what I do, my official reply is Professor of Pedagogy and Praxis. But I am also an artist, researcher and teacher. In the many years I’ve worked in education, there’s been an increasing shift in acknowledging and recognising the value of creativity in all aspects of a young person’s learning, including SEN provision. There’s a clear focus on SEN in the work of Arts Council England. Their vision is that everyone should have access to creative activities and cultural experiences in every community in England. Many of the organisations in the Arts Council’s National Portfolio offer opportunities for young people with special educational needs, such as the Bamboozle Theatre Company, who have immersive theatre experiences for disabled children, with touring productions to schools and an excellent training offer for schools and educators. I also love the work of Open Up Music, which is a National Youth Music Organisation. Their Open Orchestras programme helps special schools set up accessible orchestras so that hundreds of young disabled people can access music education every year.

■ Pupils from Westfield Arts College engaging with music and drama.

The Arts Council’s work includes Artsmark, their award for schools committed to developing arts and cultural provision, which reaches nearly two million pupils across four thousand schools. Our past and present PGCE students often share their experiences of arts and culture in placement schools, commenting on how valuable they found the training, support, and continuous professional development of Artsmark and how engaging with the programme benefitted the whole school and wider community. Those benefits are at the heart of my work for Artsmark. In September 2023, Goldsmiths became the national delivery partner of Artsmark, with my team—who have decades of experience working in schools, supporting teacher education, research, arts and cultural support and practice—providing schools with an in-depth teacher training programme to help them develop, enrich and evaluate their arts provision. As Project Lead, I designed the new Artsmark support programme to be flexible, accessible and inclusive so that it can be applied across a range of settings, not just mainstream schools. I investigated the work already being done by Artsmark schools, and I was inspired to read about the enormous impact special education settings have on the children they work with.

■ Pupils from Westfield Arts College engaging with music.

For example, the Royal Free Hospital Children’s School in Camden is a leading practice school for mental health and wellbeing, working closely with various professionals including doctors, CAMHS workers, and other agencies. Their long-term collaboration with musician Matt Smith has developed across many areas of the school, including the Eating Disorder Intensive Service, where he facilitated a pupil-led radio play based on the theme of Aladdin. The young people worked together on all aspects of the production, including scriptwriting, creating music, sound recording, editing, and acting which strengthened the mental health and wellbeing of their pupils.

To drive comprehensive transformation in education, we must understand and navigate both the details and the big picture, in classrooms, across entire schools and beyond. Your understanding of the unique needs of your learning communities, including those in special education settings, makes you a vital contributor to positive changes in your wider school community. With this evidence-based approach, we’ll see schools and wider communities realise the power and impact of creativity and culture, like Westfield Arts College, a special school based in Dorset. The arts enrich so much of what they do and enhance the support they can give to their pupils and their families: they add colour and light to lives that can be, at times, quite tough. Craig Hart, Director of Arts Specialism at Westfield Arts College, said; “Many of our pupils have a combination of sensory and learning difficulties and our school has exceptionally committed staff. We believe that all our pupils should enjoy coming to school and have fun while learning. We aim to broaden their horizons through offering an exciting and stimulating curriculum which gives them opportunities to take part in a wide range of activities including music and performing arts.”

■ Open Orchestras Musician plays clarion
Credit – Paul Blakemore for Open up Music

These values are at the heart of Artsmark’s flexible training and support. We empower teachers, schools, and our wider learning communities to make these changes; to work together to develop creative, critically engaged, collaborative action research from the ground up, from within and that involves everyone. Learning and working with each other, we’ll drive change that will ensure all children and young people, wherever they live or go to school and whatever their individual needs are, can experience the life-changing power of creativity.

Tara Page
Author: Tara Page

Tara Page
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Tara Page is Professor of Pedagogy and Praxis at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Programme Lead for their Artsmark Project team.

Website: artsmark.org.uk
X: @artsmarkaward
X: @dace_national
Instagram: @tarapage_


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