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Animated Edition - Winter 2007
Not just another brick in the wall?
Jude Bird, Creative Producer for Creative Partnerships East Lancashire, describes her work in a school for pupils with Special Educational Needs
Developing a Creative Partnership Context
Established in 2002, Creative Partnerships (CP) is the government's flagship creative programme for schools and young people, funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Education and Skills. Creative Partnerships are now sited in 36 of the most deprived areas of England. The programme is managed by Arts Council England and is designed to build sustainable relationships between schools, creative individuals and organisations.

Ambitiously, it aims to transform the aspirations and achievements of young people, the approaches and attitudes of teachers and the practices of creative practitioners and organisations who wish to work in schools.

It is not an arts education programme. It seeks to redefine the way creativity can be placed at the heart of learning and find ways that teachers, pupils and creative practitioners can forge partnerships to allow this to happen.

Developing the Partnership
For the past year I have been working as a Creative Producer for Creative Partnerships East Lancashire, which is one of the third tranche of CP areas established in 2005. The appointment and pairing with the school was something of an 'arranged marriage'. Schools bid to be a 'hub' school of which there are 15 in East Lancs, and individuals/organisations bid to be producers. Schools and producers were 'matched' for best fit in terms of interest and experience.

I am working at Tor View School, the only Special Educational Needs (SEN) School of the hub schools. It has 114 students aged 5-19. The developmental aims of the school in relation to CP revolve around dance and total communication.

By their nature SEN schools are used to having a number of visiting professionals and of working creatively, however the role of Creative Producer, unlike a school nurse, is something of an unknown quantity. It has taken quite a journey for the role to be understood across the school. Equally, it has taken time for me to understand the corporate reality of the school.

The school has an active history of engagement with the arts and impressive ambitions in this arena. It has Artsmark Silver status and is currently applying for Specialist Arts College status.

Finding creative practitioners with the skills, confidence and experience to work in SEN schools has been key to the success of the work. I feel I have a smaller 'pot' of artist/practitioners to call on than mainstream schools though. In the planning stages of one project an artist decided the work was not for him and equated it to doing a black ski run having only just learned to ski.

We really do want to expand the range of artists who can work in these settings and the involvement of staff working to collaborate in a generous manner is all important. By that I mean respecting the skills, experience and approaches the artists bring but not expecting them to know everything about the children's needs and being able to make positive suggestions for working inclusively. An artist may be working with children with moderate, severe and multiple and profound learning difficulties, autistic spectrum disorder and challenging behaviour. This requires adaptability of approach and a whole range of different inputs including sensory stimulations.

It is fine to talk about risk taking, a key CP theme, however in school environments where planning, health and safety and a multiplicity of agendas preside, taking risks can feel very unnerving indeed. Tor View is already a 'risk taking' school and sees it's involvement with CP as an extension of that risk, pushing the boundaries further to engage pupils as well as support and teaching staff.

The first real breakthrough came with a dance and film project with the Further Education (F.E.) students. 'Window into the World of Work' looked at student's real life work placements and translated them into a creative experience with dance artists Andrea Buckley and Lara Lloyd and film maker Dan Williams. Our intended 'product' was a DVD. However at the end of the week-long project the Head felt it was really important for the whole school to experience the work. He proved to be absolutely right. Dialogue, flexibility and openness to change - another key CP theme. Staff and students alike were transfixed by the 'performance' which showed people doing things they had not done before and allowed people to get a handle on what the impacts of CP work could be.

We had reached a turning point.

At the evaluation of this project the head of F.E. who had been courageous enough to go with the improvisational approach of the artists, reflected on her own training and the inculcated need to have everything planned. Learning was taking place.

This term we embarked upon action research to develop a dance curriculum for the Secondary and F.E. students. Every project is designed to ask a question and ours was 'How do pupils, teachers and creative practitioners consult creatively in order to develop a curriculum area?' Pupil voice and partnership working are again a major focus for CP work.

Three companies with between them a wealth of skills and experience both in their artform and in SEN work were contracted to work with lead teachers across key stages 3 and 4 and F.E.

The pairings were mutually selected between staff and artist based on areas of interest. Touchdown Dance delivered a multi sensory approach, Chaturangan worked through dance and literacy developing narrative and More Dance! offered an improvisational framework. Collaborative working with teachers and artists, both reflecting and planning at the end of each session created a strong base for the project. Video footage and still images collected by Zumamedia Arts as the 'outside eye' or 'impartial observer', to gather visual data as to when and where pupils were enjoying, engaging and participating, fed back into the process. Many of the children we work with have impaired verbal communication so in this situation 'pupil voice' has to be interpreted differently. Feedback from pupils also indicated they liked working alongside their teachers and having adults physically and actively involved with them to encourage their learning.

We are in the process of creating a lively document that has images, symbols, video footage and words to allow a 'way in' for all the parties, something that has previously been the province of teaching staff has been opened up and created through collaboration and participation. By observation of and conversation with pupils, we began to invite them to lead on their own learning.

Working with artists and teachers we bring together two worlds: the largely structured hierarchy of the school environment, where teachers have career paths and promotion prospects and are part of an established profession and the largely freelance world of artists, many of whom have highly developed skills but do not have the status or the benchmarks afforded by an organisation. Promoting respect and understanding, and valuing the skills and knowledge each partner brings, begins to build bridges between these worlds.

As we progress I hope the aspirations of the pupils will also be raised so the 'stack and pack' jobs disabled people are often groomed for can realistically be replaced with work in more creative spheres: photography, video, dance, music. The world outside school needs to be ready for these inspired, enthused youngsters when they emerge from their hothouses of creativity.

In general initiatives take ten years to embed. CP in its current form has always expected to 'end' sometime between 2008-2010. More time is needed if the results are to be enduring. I often wonder if anyone has truly thought what revolutions might occur if CP really worked. Empowerment is an interesting one, as it means those who hold the power need to relinquish some of it and those who have less need to take more.

I believe we still have a journey to go for this work to fully get beyond rhetoric and into reality. Instead of producing bricks in the wall we have the possibility to choose from a wonderful range of building materials and create whole new structures. I wonder...!

contact jude_bird@hotmail.com / visit www.torview.lancsngfl.ac.uk or www.creative-partnerships.com

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Animated: Winter 2007