Artsmark, The Arts and Improving Attainment with The Grange Primary School

The Grange Primary School in Scunthorpe credits placing the arts at the heart of the curriculum as boosting engagement and attainment, leading them to be in the top 20% of schools nationally in most areas and in the top 10% for Literacy.

It’s not difficult to see why they scored an Artsmark Gold in May 2018. Everywhere you turn there is a vibrant display and a smiling member of staff. However, this is a school with many challenges. The Grange Primary School is in an area of high economic deprivation and, when Larissa Thorpe took it over ten years ago, the results were well below national average. As Assistant Head Francesca Mawson remembers it, the staff were working harder than the pupils and morale was low.  Larissa explains:

“I asked myself, ‘What can I do to get children to want to be here?’ I realised I needed to raise their aspirations and the best way to do this was to give all students the opportunity to achieve by broadening the curriculum.”

With her senior team, Larissa recognised where the strengths of her staff would lie if only they were given permission to be the teachers they could be. Very quickly they reviewed the curriculum and introduced a topic-based approach and this allowed for many more creative approaches to teaching. The results are now in the top 20% nationally in most areas and in the top 10% for Literacy. The school is Outstanding in all areas.

Pupil sculpting at The Grange Primary School

The arts now run throughout the curriculum. Every topic begins with an intervention: a visit to an arts or cultural venue, a visiting artist or speaker, or a creative performance or exhibition. Everyone at the school understands that, in order to bring about the best work from the students, they must first fully engage them in the theme or topic. What better way to do this than through an immersive and interactive experience?

Inevitably then, the desire to embark on the Artsmark followed. The school had held the Gold Artsmark in its previous incarnation and Francesca approached the new journey with some trepidation. She remembered only too well the data collection and reams of paperwork required prior to 2015. She was delighted to find that the new Artsmark allied closely to what she was already doing: a school improvement journey for the arts. There followed the self-assessment, and one new area which appealed was the Arts Award.

Andy Warhol Inspired Art at The Grange Primary School

The staff saw scope for utilising the Arts Award with their gifted and talented cohort. Starting with an inspiring visit to York Art Gallery, the students explored a wide array of genres of art and collectively decided on an Andy Warhol approach. They then decided what about the school inspired them and made them into a Pop Art piece.

Perhaps more significantly, the staff saw opportunities for the Arts Award to inspire a cohort of pupils who were struggling to socialise. They were finding it difficult to access mainstream provision. The Arts Award was used as the framework to re-engage the pupils. The staff started with the pupils’ interests and worked outwards. Soon a hot air balloon was being created and they were baking salt-dough fruits to fill the basket. Of the six pupils who undertook the Arts Award, all but two are back in mainstream classes full-time and the remaining two are back in classes for parts of every day. Conclusive proof for Larissa that the arts, supported by the Arts Award assessment framework, works.

Salt Baked Fruit at The Grange Primary School

This pupil-led approach permeates throughout the school. Each subject area has Pupil Representatives that help the staff shape their approaches to the next topic. For instance, the senior team are currently exploring a way of transforming the playground and the initial ideas are being presented to the school council to get feedback and steers on how it should look and be used. The Maths Representatives were involved in the decision to implement the CPA approach across the school. Each Maths topic is taught as a concrete, pictorial and abstract approach so that concepts and ideas are fully embedded for the long-term.

Equally embedded is the idea that professionals from outside of education are fundamental to inspiring the pupils and raising their aspirations. They regularly use a variety of local visual artists and the stunning displays are testament to the effort and attention to detail that they bring out in the pupils. They have a Chelsea Pensioner coming up from London in November to help them celebrate the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. Anything to help bring the learning to life.

Poppy Art at The Grange Primary School

The Gold Artsmark award was thus fully merited and has helped them identify areas in which they want to develop still further. They have identified the need to develop the young pupils’ resilience and have James Nottingham coming to work with the staff for a day in April. None of this comes cheap but Larissa is absolutely clear on this:

“We don’t let money rule.”

She is aware that the high numbers of students receiving Pupil Premium money has helped them in their pursuits but she works closely with her Business Manager to unlock funding to achieve their aims. Most of the time the money they bring in is used for creative and enrichment activities because they can see the direct correlation between such activities, engagement and increased attainment.

The dedication and the passion of the Business Manager is of no surprise because it taps into Larissa’s fundamental approach to leadership: communication.

“When staff, all staff, know what is happening, when and, most importantly, why, there is far greater buy-in and the sense that everyone is an essential part of the vital journey.”

At Grange Primary School, everyone knows how vital the arts are to success.

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