Teachers Claire and Carrie have been on an epic journey to inspire an arts revolution in their schools – they spoke with Real Ideas Organisation Programme Coordinator Holly Power-Brown to explain how they did it during COVID and what it’s meant for pupils and staff as they build back after three lockdowns.

Back in the academic year of 2017/18 two very different schools were looking for ways to develop their arts and culture. Cranborne Middle School – a setting for Years 5-8 in a rural area of Dorset – and Glenfrome Primary School – a large Primary in the middle of Bristol, both registered to begin their two year Artsmark journey.

Little did they know that the next two years would bring much turbulence and disruption for schools across the country, yet in the face of such adversity arts and culture not only survived but flourished and now plays a key role in their recovery curriculum.

Real Ideas, Arts Council England’s Bridge organisation for the South West, work alongside schools to offer support and expertise in Arts and Culture development. From resources on their website to 1-2-1 planning sessions, Real Ideas is there to bridge the gap between committing to Artsmark and achieving the award at the end of the two year journey. From creative art lessons to musical performances, dazzling school productions to performing in a real life theatre, it seems the opportunities opened up for children throughout the Artsmark journey were unforgettable.

Children commented on how much they enjoyed “the art in this school and all the different types too like drawing, painting and learning musical instruments.”

Despite the challenges of three lockdowns, the arts and culture offer continued to impact pupils, allowing them to stay connected and learn new skills at home – one child said that even during lockdown “we carried on our African drumming lessons by Zoom.”

The Artsmark Award is the only creative quality standard for schools and education settings, accredited by Arts Council England. It supports settings to develop and celebrate their commitment to arts and cultural education through a two year programme.

“Don’t see Artsmark as an end goal, see it as the start of embedding more creativity in your whole curriculum,” said Carrie, who teaches Year 5 at Glenfrome.

The flexibility of Artsmark allowed the schools to use the award as an opportunity to develop arts and culture across all subjects.

“We have always held the arts in high regard,” said Claire. “What our Artsmark journey did is help raise the profile even more, help us plan even more enriching and meaningful arts experiences for our children, both in class and extra-curricular. It gave all staff and pupils a common goal.”

Both schools reported an impact across subjects – from increased use of drama and art to support learning in English and History, through to developing the Forest Schools programme to utilise the natural environment for creative projects.

Claire commented on the sense of pride she felt when beginning to write the closing statement for Cranborne’s Artsmark journey; “I think reviewing the impact of the last two years of our journey and reading the results of our whole school arts survey, it was then that I could see, at a glance, the impact that all of our cross-curricular units, performances and arts clubs had had on all of our pupils. Reading the children’s comments about the effect that these have had on their lives was very emotional, especially over the first lockdown.”

Both teachers talked about how Artsmark will play a crucial role in lockdown recovery as much as it has in supporting some pupils during the pandemic. Claire says; “This offer can and should complement the ‘catch up’ curriculum of the core subjects. The Artsmark principles and the Artsmark will really help to keep the importance of the arts ‘in mind’ during these uncertain times.”

As well as facilitating valuable experiences for the children, Artsmark had a major impact on staff in both schools. Carrie mentioned how the readiness of staff and students to accept more creativity surprised her. Everyone was willing “to find room for the arts across the board and this helped support all aspects of the curriculum.”

When reflecting back on their two year journey, both teachers felt passionately that Artsmark changed their school for the better and, due to the flexibility of the program, could help develop other schools Arts and Culture offering too. “I would say the time is now, more than ever, to start your Artsmark journey.” Says Claire, “Post COVID, with different recovery curriculums beginning all over the country, it is essential that all children have access to the arts and culture in their schools, taught by passionate staff.”

“Artsmark opens up a whole new depth of learning for children” says Carrie, “It’s not something you’ll ever regret being part of as it brings so much to your school.”

If you would like to get involved with Artsmark, you can register your setting for the Artsmark Award here. If you would like to find out more about Artsmark you can get in touch with us at artsmarkhelp@realideas.org, or check out the Artsmark website here.

Children at Glenfrome Primary drew the digestive system on T Shirts and learned how to sew.