How a creative curriculum can unlock pupils’ potential

Published on: 
17 Jul 2018

By placing creativity and cultural experience at the heart of learning, one head explains how his failing school achieved outstanding outcomes in just a few years

Applying for an Artsmark Award is an opportunity to plan, develop and evaluate arts, culture and creativity across the school curriculum. Artsmark aims to “unlock the potential of children, develop character, talent and confidence, and increase their knowledge and understanding”. Over several years, with all our staff understanding that these are our goals and guided by the highest possible standards and expectations, we turned our school from one needing immediate improvement in 2006, to one achieving outstanding outcomes for all our children a few years later.

At Farnham Primary School, arts and cultural experiences are embedded into a high-quality creative curriculum that maintains a vital focus on literacy and maths. Our attainment and achievement continues to meet or exceed national expectations but, more importantly, our children are well prepared for their secondary education and the working world ahead, learning a lot about their own interests and skills along the way.

The buy-in from the teaching team is key to Artsmark’s success in a school, so we made sure our teachers had opportunities to develop skills in the arts through training sessions. It’s their energy and enthusiasm for the subjects and activities that really makes the connection with our students.

Artsmark’s guiding principles are fundamental to a 21st-century education that creates rounded, appreciative and thoughtful young people. Providing a rich and stimulating curriculum ensures all pupils have the chance to experience success and find things that interest them. Integral to this is the creative curriculum, which for us includes visits to Bradford’s museums and galleries to broaden experiences and extend the learning in school. 

By using different art forms, we provide the opportunity for all pupils to reach their full potential. For example, using drama has instilled a love of reading in many pupils as well as helping them develop empathy and other vital social skills. We’re convinced that exposing pupils to the arts helps us to narrow the inequality gap in society.

So how do we do it? We use a range of organisations and individuals to help us embed the arts in the curriculum, but the underlying elements of success are visits out, having an artist-in-residence and showcasing the children’s work.

We aim to engage pupils through new experiences, including visits to places of interest that provide authentic works of art that develop their skills and aptitudes in a variety of subjects. Fortunately, we raised sufficient funds to acquire a minibus, which has been vital in helping us ensure both children and parents can easily visit the many places that can lead to a stream of creative work in school. 

We utilise connections with organisations such as the Brontë Parsonage Museum, Historic England and Bradford Music Services to stimulate the curriculum. Local groups like Bradford West Rotary Club also provide encouragement and funding and our children love to perform at their charitable events. When arts and local heritage visits happen, we promote the “We Belong to Bradford” and “From Bradford with Love” themes, which helps to bolster pupils’ sense of place and self-esteem.

Behaviour has improved and our pupils regularly tell the teachers how much they enjoy their lessons, visits and visitors. Parents also express great satisfaction at parents’ evening for their child’s progress and happiness in school.

Using the arts to engage pupils with their learning has increased pupil confidence and motivation, making them open to learn in all subjects. They also have more opportunities to talk and develop their communication skills and acquire new vocabulary. They are excited to present and tell others about their learning and the activities they’ve been involved in. This has resulted in improved literacy skills and raised standards in English.  

We’ve also involved parents through home school projects set by teachers each half term. The project themes were often open-ended to allow families and pupils to branch out in whichever way the project takes them. As the projects develop, we were able to make wider links and network with a host of organisations, which in turn opened doors and gave pupils further opportunities and experiences. Pupils in key stage 2 were involved in Arts Award and for the very first time, they achieved this prestigious qualification.

Farnham Primary is a special place to learn with a strong emphasis on creativity, collaboration and leadership skills. The children are challenged to question and think, and develop the self-belief to become confident learners. There’s no better way to make the Artsmark vision a reality. A school building is a blank canvas and schools are full of artists. You’re only limited by your imagination. 

Richard Edwards is the CEO of Pennine Academies Yorkshire and headteacher of Farnham Primary School in Bradford

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Richard Edwards for Tes

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Cultural education gives children and young people the opportunity to develop their creativity, both individually and collectively, and that's why our goal is for every child and young person to have the opportunity to experience the richness of the arts.

Darren Henley
Chief Executive
Arts Council England

It's vital that children have the opportunity to learn and enjoy arts and culture from an early age. It develops their creativity, inspires future careers and enriches their childhood.

Artsmark Award does brilliant work in schools and education to ensure young people access a broad and balanced curriculum that includes high-quality arts and culture.

Michael Ellis MP
Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism
Department of Culture, Media and Sport