The UK development organisation and membership
body for community and participatory dance
Animated Edition - Issues 1996 - 2001
Getting hooked
Animated, Autumn 2000. Out-of-school activities, or what is now termed Study Support or Out-of-School-Hours Learning, represent a huge opportunity to begin to imbue some exciting and exemplar arts practice within the bloodstream of a school, creating a culture of raised expectations and standards that can cascade into the community. They also significantly increase opportunities for artists who want to work in, or with, schools. Mark Robertson believes we are now beginning to understand what good practice is and what it looks like
As most people cannot have failed to notice, the government have become extremely interested in - and committed to - raising standards in Education. The more high profile strategies for achieving this have been the introduction of literacy and numeracy hours in schools with a focus on key skills and standardisation of teaching styles.

However, the government clearly recognises that this alone will not do the job. In fact for a large number of young people these strategies may well create greater disaffection and failure. For most young people, the kinds of experiences and learning that goes on outside of the school day - as opposed to within it - can have as much impact on their ultimate success at school and in life. This is now recognised as a fact and the government - without perhaps the fanfare accompanying the introduction of more mainstream initiatives - have set about creating an environment in which young people can more easily get 'hooked' by activities out of school hours.

One of the simple truths behind current educational strategies is that education is too broad, too multi-faceted and complex to be simply left to schools to 'deliver'. What children need as they grow up is a stimulating environment inhabited by a wide range of passionate and skilled teachers, enthusiasts, mentors and facilitators - all using their own languages, up to date knowledge and skills - employing different styles of teaching and instructing. Clearly schools find this almost impossible to do on their own and need outside help.

Over the last two years there have been significant initiatives and pools of money created to support and stimulate a wide range of creative, informal and often self-directed learning activities that are about building self-esteem, confidence, and well-being. By March 2001 over 200 million pounds will have been committed to schools and partner organisations from the National Lottery and a further 20 million pounds by the government itself.

From now on we are going to live in a world where schools are not just encouraged but expected to develop partnerships with all kinds of outside agencies. The Department of Education is currently investing over 2 million pounds in piloting partnership projects (The Partners for Study Support Programme) which bring schools into creative relationships with museums, galleries, musicians, dance companies, theatres and a wide range of other organisations.

But how many people outside the education sector really know - or care - about these new possibilities. Not enough I suspect. And yet these new strands of money are just part of a range of initiatives which marks a step-change in the way that schools do the business.

So what are these new initiatives? Last year the government, having recognised the benefits that out of school activities can bring to schools, created a 200 million pound pot called the New Opportunities Fund (NOF) to fund activities for up to three years. Schools and organisations working in partnership with schools can apply and the money has been rolling out since September last year and remains open to bidding until March next year. At the same time 20 million pounds this year (and 60 million pounds next year) is being pumped directly by government into schools and Local Education Authority's (LEA's) to fund out of school hours activities.

The activities that this new money will bring life to have been drawn together under the banner of Study Support or Out-of-School-Hours Learning Activities. For practical purposes these phrases are interchangeable and now you have read them you will find yourself bumping into them almost everytime you get involved with schools. Although not exactly phrases to send your imagination soaring, the beauty is in the small print. Inside the Department for Education and Employment publication, Extending opportunity: a national framework for study support, the rule for the arts is made very explicit: "Study Support includes creative ventures, music, drama, dance, film and the full range of arts". And schools and all kind of other organisations - anyone actually - working with named schools are welcome to apply to the NOF. The activity can take place both within and outside of school premises but there must always be a clear and explicit link back to the school. The government intends the money to reach half of all secondary and a quarter of all primary schools across the UK over the next three years.

Standards Funds are bits of money that go directly from government into schools and LEA's. This year 20 million pounds has been pumped into schools and LEA's specifically to create new out-of-school-hours activities.

And in the last six months the government launched its Gifted and Talented Scheme, pumping large amounts of money into inner city schools to help them set up challenging activities to stretch those pupils with particular skills and interests.

Make no mistake. These initiatives combine to create one of the most exciting opportunities there has been for a long time to increase professional opportunities for artists of all kinds who want to work in, or with, schools. At the time of writing the great majority of LEA's across the country (and many individual schools as well) have either received or will receive substantial amounts of money to develop new study support programmes. Many of these LEA's are urgently seeking out 'partners'- organisations and specialists, who can offer something fun and different, working outside of the formal curriculum but at the same time supporting the aims of the school. Ultimately all of this represents a huge opportunity to begin to imbue some exciting and exemplar arts practice within the bloodstream of a school creating a culture of raised expectations and standards that can cascade through the school and into the community.

So how is this really relevant for dancers and dance companies and why is it an area that should involve you? In order to answer that let's take a small step back. Education Extra, The Foundation for After School Activities, was set up by two people in 1992, and since then has helped and supported schools, teachers, artists, pupils and parents - anyone really who wanted to do something extra -either before or after school or during the holidays. As well as being stunned by the amount and quality of activities that were already being organised around schools all over the country, we have been able to stimulate and help sustain a lot of new and innovative projects. Many of these have forged new partnerships that have become models of good practice across the country. At present we have an Arts for Everyone grant from the Arts Council of England to set up exciting and innovative arts partnership schemes across England and we now have a network membership of over 2000 schools. During these short years extra curricular activity has crept out from the shadows and become a central plank not only of school development plans but also the government's strategy to raise standards and achievement.

Although extra curricular activity is as old as the hills, a growing body of new research (National Foundation for Educational Research, the Royal Society of Arts (RSA), Education Extra) backs up what teachers and schools have known for years - out-of-school activities can bring real benefits and real movement forward for the whole school community. We are now beginning to understand what good practice is and what it looks like.

In my role as arts development officer I have become increasingly aware of the power of out-of-school hours arts projects to motivate and change attitudes. Principally I believe that these activities begin to dismantle some of the boundaries that exist to inhibit successful learning. The boundaries between formal and informal education; the boundaries between in school educators and out of school educators; the boundaries between art forms and subjects that the curriculum demands; the boundaries that exist in many young people's minds between play and fun on the one hand and learning on the other.

Out-of-school-hours activities give schools a wonderful opportunity to reposition themselves in relation to young people, particularly with reference to the arts. Too many young people have a negative view of school and feel that they must simply endure their education. The benefits to them are huge. Out-of-school-hours learning introduces a voluntary component to learning and immediately forces participants to examine and take responsibility for their own choices. No one is forcing them to attend and they can no longer delegate responsibility for their participation.

After school activities are largely free of formal assessment and exist in an atmosphere that rewards adventure and risk rather than punishing failure. Teachers, artists, parents and pupils alike are able to develop projects and activities more organically with a focus on process, teamwork, enjoyment, fun and personal achievement - and not on passing a test. Research carried out by Education Extra (The Hartcliffe Report) shows that after school activities can help pupils and teachers to improve existing relationships - and in other cases allow pupils to develop a learning relationship with an adult other than a teacher or a parent.

Because of the fantastic range of activities, collaborations and experimentation, extra curricular learning can help widen our definitions of achievement, children who may be failing to achieve in school can get 'a second chance' to experience success - a prerequisite for the development of self-esteem and motivation.

One of the great challenges that faces the NOF and all the initiatives that spring from it, is that of encouraging harder to reach schools to come forward to grab a piece of the action. These schools for a wide variety of reasons will have obstacles, some perceived, some real, which prevent them from expanding and broadening their curriculum. What is encouraging is that those schools who have traditionally been difficult to involve, those that serve particularly disadvantaged communities in inner cities or perhaps collapsed mining communities where the focus has been simply on achieving the basics and surviving, are beginning to see that breaking down the boundaries between the in-school and out-of-school curriculum can be the answer to their problems, not just another problem.

These schools are being forced to look beyond their own walls for help. In many cases they are astonished at the resources - human and physical - that lie close to hand. One scheme that Education Extra has funded in Lincolnshire involves three small rural primary schools who have linked together to form a three school dance company. The local bus service provide a cut price service to transport 30 children from the three schools to the new arts centre in Spalding where they are taught by local dancer and choreographer Eusebia Suffren founder member of Irie! Dance Company, who had recently moved out of London. After one year and a successful performance at the Lincolnshire Schools Dance Festival, the schools involved have set up a four venue tour for the group - some of whom have never been out of their own village! At Hartcliffe Secondary School, the well known boys dance company not only continues to go from strength to strength, performing in the UK and Europe, but the boys in the school have also started to outperform the girls in academic tests - a remarkable twin achievement.

And this last point is important. However much artists and practitioners understand the value of participation in the arts for its own sake - we do have to find ways to talk about and measure success in whatever shape it comes. I would, for example, like to see much greater use of some kind of common evaluation tool that allows us to collate experiences and outcomes from the myriad of projects and activities across the country. Regional Arts Boards are currently promoting an extremely practical evaluation tool devised by Felicity Woolf which fits the bill perfectly. It is in our interests to understand and relate to targets and frameworks set by educationalists and government. Where the aims of arts projects overlap with them we should make the most of it - and of course it can help us to begin to shape and influence these important policy areas. Conversely, there is, I believe, a growing realisation amongst teachers, managers, education authorities and government ministers, that in order to raise academic standards throughout a school community, to actually turn round a school at risk of failing, it is often necessary to tack against the wind and not attempt to sail directly into it.

To paraphrase Tim Brighouse - director of education for Birmingham - to improve standards and raise achievement for an entire school you cannot just do more of the same thing with the same people in the same places. There has to be a change of attitude and approach amongst both pupils and staff. This is where the arts and particularly dance come in. The arts are about challenging, changing and reinventing ourselves, and are an extraordinary tool in the process of raising self-esteem. The arts are the only area of learning and exploration that can change attitudes. No amount of exciting and relevant mathematics, geography, or foreign language teaching will help pupils change their attitudes towards themselves, their peers and learning in general. The truth is that as well as being valuable in their own right, the arts often offer the only real way for a school to go about improving its health - and this will be reflected in results across the board.

A recent research project by the RSA entitled The Effects and Effectiveness of Arts Education in Schools asked pupils what they themselves saw as the main outcomes of participation in different art forms. In the case of dance the pupils highlighted the unique contribution that dancing makes to "self realization and confidence, especially body awareness". It is interesting that the University of the First Age - a high profile project exploring accelerated learning - is employing movement and dance to exercise and stimulate the mind and to improve left and right hemisphere brain co-ordination. Interesting, also, because this is being seen as mainstream and not some whacky idea.

Whatever your point of view on the art for arts sake issue, things are changing at an ever increasing pace within education. For all artists there is a now a unique opportunity to develop partnerships with schools - free from the restrictions of the National Curriculum - to develop sustainable creative opportunities for young people.

My advice is - arm yourself with knowledge, talk to those within the schools you know and offer support and project ideas. Involve parents, governors pupils and local business. Partnership is crucial and will help sustain any new schemes. A crucial first step would be to contact your local Study Support coordinator (every LEA in the country has one: contact Education Extra for details) to let them know what you do and to find out what funded opportunities exist locally for you. As I said earlier many LEA's will be looking for partners to help them deliver the arts activities for which they may already have received money. A huge number of schools have still not grasped the scale of the opportunity and you might be able to do them, and yourself, a big favour.

Mark Robertson, Education Extra. Contact +44 (0)20 8709 9900.

For more information about the New Opportunities Fund contact +44 (0)8457 0000120.

Mary Eusebia Suffren, artistic director, Eusebia and Company can be reached on +44 (0)1775 840045.

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Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001