St Bede’s and St Joseph’s in Bradford is a Platinum Artsmark School that enter an entire year group through Arts Award Bronze every year. IVE spoke with the school to see the benefits of this approach to using Arts Award.
St Bede’s and St Joseph’s is not only the largest Catholic school in the country, it is one of the biggest schools full stop and it has a very diverse cohort, with 30% of its pupils being Muslim. It is a split site school with over a mile between sites and is a recent amalgamation between two single-sex schools. So when we heard that they enter an entire year group through Arts Award Bronze, we wanted to find out more. Because if they can do it, under those circumstances, and go on to achieve an Artsmark Platinum, it provides an excellent example of how other schools could overcome any potential challenges.
“Pedagogy in the arts departments is having a huge impact on students in a cross-curricular way.”
Beckie Voller, who leads the arts subjects at the school, initially established the Bronze award for Year 11 students within Drama and Performing Arts BTEC. However, two years ago she was asked to consider what the arts could contribute to a new initiative in the school – a KS3 Diploma. Students would be undertaking the English Speaking Board exam, the Young Leaders award in PE and so all 300 Year 7 students now do the Bronze Arts Award. Beckie’s approach to the award was to ask teachers from Drama, Dance, Music and Art what they already did that would fit with the Bronze structure. She was keen that the award would add focus and status to their curriculum, not create a lot more work for teachers.
Quite quickly, the structure emerged. In Art, students study a variety of famous artists and research their work, style and form. Artwork is then created. Thus researching the work of an artist/craftsperson that inspires them is done easily and efficiently. In Drama, students actively participate in a series of skills and narrative-based workshops, linked to the Charles Causley poem, What Has Happened to Lulu? In Dance, they pass on arts skills. This year they studied skills based on the Gobstoppers characters in The Nutcracker and then devised warm-ups using these skills to teach to their peers. In Music and Drama they experience art as an audience member and write reviews for the portfolio.
All portfolio evidence comes from homework tasks that not only evidence the students’ participation in the requirements of the Arts Award, they also provide the required evidence of learning for the rigours of the school curriculum. Students are encouraged to be as creative in their approaches to the portfolio as they are in the practical work.
The students are challenged throughout the Arts Award work both in the breadth of their knowledge and in their assumptions about what the arts are. This year some students reviewed the school production, others reviewed live professional theatre and some went to view the artworks on display at Cartwright Hall.
“The arts departments are very good at channelling what they do into the whole school learning muscles.”
St Bede’s and St Joseph’s refer to their core learning skills as learning muscles. They want their students to thrive and understand that qualifications without life and employment skills will not serve their students very well. Thus they focus on teamwork, creativity, aspiration, independence, reflection and resilience. All six of these skills are demanded within the Arts Award.
The Arts Award at St Bede’s and St Joseph’s is funded through their exams budget. Since it sits within their KS3 Diploma, this makes perfect sense. An increasing number of schools are following suit and, as a result, are taking the financial burden away from arts faculties capitations or enrichment budgets. The Arts Award is a nationally recognised award that is examined so, again this makes perfect sense.
Beckie acknowledges that they have benefited from admin support to collate the 300 portfolios, first from the arts technician and now from a newly appointed Division Manager. Without them though she insists it would still be very possible to manage. As it is, each trained advisor in the school takes responsibility for assessing one tutor group’s work. That would still be the case if the files needed collating as well.
There is already one member of staff who is trained to deliver and assess the Gold Award and the school is finding the funding to train two more. Once trained, St Bede’s and St Joseph’s sixth form students will do the Gold Award as part of their A Levels in either Drama, Dance, Music, Art or Photography. The UCAS points that come with the Gold Award will significantly enhance the students’ university chances and employability in the future.
But Beckie’s ambitions don’t stop there. If all Year 7 students have the Bronze Award by the end of their first year at the school, then why not the Silver? And that’s exactly the plan. Students will undertake the arts practice and pathways elements of the Silver Award across their Year 8 arts lessons, and then do the arts leadership elements in Year 9. Not only does this provide huge amounts of rigour and challenge to the St Bede’s and St Joseph’s students, it also boosts the status and importance of the arts. This takes us full circle. With such a belief in the power of the arts to both deliver the learning muscles and to boost students’ attainment across the school, the senior leadership team are certain that their investment in the arts pays off. As Mark Sneddon, Assistant Headteacher says,
“The arts definitely deliver transferable skills. The way in which students collaborate and reflect has a huge impact across the school.”
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