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Animated Edition - Issues 1996 - 2001
Arts zones
Animated, Autumn 2000. Education Action Zones encourage innovative ways to raise achievement in schools. Their success is measured by SATS and GCSE results and by a range of other targets and objectives. Middlesbrough Education Action Zone (EAZ) took a radical decision to include participation in the arts as a key objective. Pilot programmes based on dance and on music confounded expectation, leading to increased funding - extending EAZ's arts initiative for a further two years. Project director Dee Palmer-Jones explains

It is perhaps because of my own professional background as a teacher that I feel strongly that the arts play a significant role in young peoples' development, intellectually and emotionally. I have experienced first hand how the arts can underpin young peoples' learning and the ethos of a school. So it was inevitable for me that the inclusion of the arts should be pivotal to the development of the EAZ initiative.

One of my first tasks as project director was to audit existing provision and achievement in the Middlesbrough zone collating a range of data including OFSTED reports, interviews with headteachers and support services, such as the Music, and Arts and Leisure services. A striking feature was the very small percentage of pupils who were learning to play a musical instrument - less than four per cent. Of those learning, few continued beyond the first year or two. By July of this year having widened young peoples' access to a diverse range of instruments and music, this number had increased to 12 per cent. An important component of the programme is enabling young people to participate as both audience members and performers. Crucially, some 1000 parents have also become involved as audience members, thus firmly confounding the doubters.

Dance was also underrepresented. At the same time as we were expanding the peripatetic music provision in the zone, we were given the opportunity by the Arts and Leisure department to have Tees Dance Initiative (TDI) working in our schools. The dance artists operated in a range of ways from taster sessions in curriculum time, to longer residencies, and after-school sessions. Teachers were also offered workshops to improve their skills base. For example, Sue Gott from Berwick Hills Primary School, approached TDI with a problem - how to make religious education more interesting. In response TDI devised a short contemporary dance piece with year 5 and 6 children, based on the story of the Widows Mite, and artist Abi Barker helped the children create sets and personalised tickets. After four workshop sessions, the children performed to a packed hall, in front of parents, councillors, officers and friends.

The feedback from all schools was astonishingly positive: they valued the input, the pupils loved the dance sessions, the parents turned out in larger than anticipated numbers to watch performances, and the demand was for more.

It seemed clear that the arts enrichment strand was meeting a need, and that an unexpected outcome ie. the response from parents, both at school level and more widely in the community, reflected one of our aims in the zone which is to increase parental involvement in schools. This was encouraging.

We set up a series of meetings for 'teachers of the arts' in the zone's schools, which became the group which determined the programme for the year 2000-2001. In addition to the activities already described, it was decided that we should employ two full-time artists for a year to help teachers deliver the arts curriculum, but also to enable each school to develop a whole school arts project. The teachers wanted their own skills updating, and wanted to work together and share ideas. Each secondary school was given funding to run an Arts Week in July and a special event was organised at Morrison's supermarket, which included individual banners made by every school, crafted with the help of another artist. TDI worked with primary children on a dance piece, which was performed outside the supermarket at the launch.

From this September we have a team of six artists who offer dance, drama, painting, sculpture, creative writing, circus skills, etc. and can work in different combinations to meet the particular needs of any school - primary, secondary and special. TDI are to provide the equivalent of one full-time artist, and Wyrd Arts company, the equivalent of a full-time post. There is also a full-time visual artist. In addition, money has been set aside to enable artists from other specialisms to be employed for short periods as required.

Our objectives are that every child in the zone experiences an arts project, that teachers develop new skills and greater confidence in teaching the arts, and that we build towards an EAZ Festival of the Arts in July 2001.

This August, we ran our second Arts Summer School, which offered 60 pupils (30 primary and 30 secondary) the opportunity to work intensively for a week with Ensemble Bash (music), Mark Payton and Vicky Hackett (drama, dance) and Chris Litherland (digital artist), to produce an original piece, which was again performed to parents. This built on the success of the 1999 Arts Summer School, which had a strong dance focus. The young people learned contemporary and street-dance, digital art, set-making, vocal music, and film-making and this two week event generated a further week-long dance workshop, for the same youngsters. In fact we are hoping that a youth dance group will be established in the coming year.

The arts enrichment activities complement a successful and exciting project we have been developing during the last 12 months, called Literacy through Technology. Gillian Shaw, formerly of the Design Museum, now artistic director of the Bluefish company, has developed a programme which teaches the objectives of the literacy strategy through a carefully planned, innovative design and technology programme, in year two and year six.

The central stimulus is a selection of objects from the Design Museum, linked by the theme of the environment. A display box was commissioned, which enables the pupils to view and handle each object through an aperture, describing what they see and feel. A story was commissioned and presented in 'big book' format, to fit in with the literacy hour structure, whereby pupils learn the vocabulary of design and technology, whilst evaluating each object in terms of function and design. In year six pupils learn a variety of techniques to apply colour and design to fabric, and each is given a gilet to work on. The project requires participating teachers to attend a training course, and the evaluation of the training is very positive indeed. These lessons have been praised by OFSTED as innovative, well planned, and well taught, and we are awaiting an independent evaluation by Goldsmith's College.

The project has demonstrated that by bringing the expertise of designers into the school curriculum, teachers reassessed their expectations of what children can learn and understand, and the arts enrichment programme will, we hope, do the same. We want the artists to work in partnership with the teachers to raise achievement. One project already planned is an intensive course on 3D art for GCSE art students, to help them achieve higher grades, by demonstrating a wider range of media in their portfolios.

There are many reasons for having a major focus on the arts: firstly, that the arts engage children because they are accessible immediately to all pupils. Crucially, they involve kinaesthetic learning - essential for all pupils. They enable young people to develop a sense of achievement and so raise self-esteem. They often require co-operative working, developing concentration and social skills. The arts are important as subjects in their own right, but they are a vehicle through which pupils can learn other subjects.

In my discussions with teachers and head teachers, I have heard concerns that the arts are being squeezed out of the curriculum, to enable more time to be spent on literacy and numeracy. We want to see the arts given a fair allocation of time, and to expand the range of arts experiences for pupils and teachers. We believe that our enrichment programme will support teachers in planning the curriculum. And it will ensure the arts are well represented, encouraging a wider range of learning opportunities for all young people.

Dee Palmer-Jones, project director, Education Action Zone. Contact +44(0)1642 245432.

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Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001