Exploring the National Arts, Creative and Cultural Education survey, July 2020. 
 
The Bridge England Network spent the summer months surveying UK schools. Their aim; to gather information about the needs and creative aspirations of children in the UK from autumn 2020. 
 
The resultant report showcases the importance of creative activities in learning. The value of the Arts for mental health is also highlighted. A large amount of data was collected around home learning during lockdown, and this shows the resilience of schools in devising creative learning activities despite, unprecedented obstacles. So how have schools managed to keep teaching, and where does creative learning and the Arts fit in to this ‘new normal’? 
A snapshot of teaching during lockdown 
 
At both primary and secondary level, creative activities were identified as the best tactic for home learning during lockdown. Project-based approaches were also successful. There was a noticeable lack of uniformity between schools, as educators responded and adapted to rapidly changing circumstances. 
 
Most of the teaching examples submitted by schools involved digital approaches. Only a small number of paper-based tasks or resources were delivered to pupils. There was a more ‘live’ and collaborative approach to digital learning for secondary school students. 
 
Primary schools tended to favour a thematic approach to learning. This was found to be effective, encouraging home learning in primary age children. Schools typically used weekly themes, fortnightly themes or half-termly challenges. Whole school cross-curricular activities allowed families to work together. 
 
How did teachers use the Arts to engage pupils during lockdown? 
 
Some primary schools used “investigative, challenge-based tasks”. Teachers reported that Arts, Design Technology and Science activities engaged students and their families the most. Other popular topics were the natural world, and life skills such as cooking. 
 
For secondary students, teachers used a range of activities: from simple activity packs or weekly tasks through to detailed term-long plans with live or pre-recorded lessons. These lessons were sometimes combined with small group tasks, class debate, follow-up personal learning and one-to-one tutorials. 
 
“Practical and vocational tasks” were also popular. These included projects such as music composition, radio shows and creating online galleries of work. When students were given creative activities rather than written work, teachers noted that they were better able to share and celebrate their work. Celebration of work was identified as key in lockdown learning. 
 
One teacher reflected that lockdown had given extra time to analyse and discuss streamed theatre and dance performances; a luxury that would not normally be possible: 
 
“Watching short dance works and answering questions about them… was particularly successful for KS3 as it enabled us to give them a broad range of dance works to watch….we wouldn’t normally have had time for this.” 
 
The report states: 
 
“There were very few examples of direct contact with the creative sector, though one respondent described a class watching a live stream of an artist working in a studio and another school commissioned materials directly from an artist.” 
 
Teachers surveyed were open to collaborations with the cultural sector and interested in developing new ways of working remotely. In primary settings, the biggest need was for help developing new creative projects and cross-curricular resources. Teachers felt this was important to “bring topics to life and widen teaching”. For secondary settings, the comments focussed on improving student engagement with learning. 
 
Despite this interest, there was an apparent lack of engagement with cultural sector resources. Only mainstream cultural bodies such as V&A, Crafts Council, Royal Opera House and BBC Teach were specifically named. 
 
Mental health during lockdown 
Across primary and secondary education, the most pressing learning need on return to school was identified as mental health and wellbeing. For secondary schools, the second most pressing need was to prioritise strengthening engagement with learning. In primary schools, socialisation was rated second only to mental health. 
More than half of primary schools surveyed said that the Arts would be used quite often as a vehicle to aid recovery. But as many as 40% suggested that they would expect to use the Arts to a great extent. 
 
In secondary schools, 52% indicated they would use the Arts to a great extent. This may reflect the higher number of specialist Arts teachers amongst the secondary school staff surveyed. Arts teachers understand the importance of their subjects in supporting the wellbeing of pupils. 
Will arts subjects be given space in the curriculum? 
 
Nearly 60% of those surveyed said that their school intended to continue with their usual arts offer. Analysis of the comments (81 from primary; 76 from secondary) showed “key modifications, concerns and creative responses to government guidance for the return to school in September”. 
 
The greatest number of comments from primary settings involved “concerns over music provision, namely: not being allowed to sing; loss of music tuition and singing assemblies; sharing instruments and health risks with wind instruments”. 
 
In secondary settings, many concerns were linked to KS3 and the implications of teaching in bubbles. 
 
These differed between schools but included: 
• Lack of access to specialist arts spaces as KS3 classes will remain in a single classroom 
• Limitations on materials that can be used and activities that can be undertaken, as working in a regular classroom 
• Loss of one or more arts subjects from the KS3 curriculum 
• No face-to-face contact with arts teachers who may 'Zoom into classrooms' 
Key findings 
 
• One particularly positive finding from the report is that, especially for primary children, lockdown has increased family engagement in children’s learning. The arts were noted as being particularly popular with families. 
 
• Another positive is that remote and live access to arts and cultural practitioners could enhance the curriculum. This potentially represents an exciting way for children to access vocational learning. And it provides schools with tools to offer authentic and challenging learning opportunities. 
 
• On a practical level, it was found that provision of live online sessions works well for a customised partnership (for example, one school with one artist). For open sessions, such as webinars, recorded sessions are more useful, so the session can be accessed at any time. 
 
• Schools need support from the Arts sector to maintain and develop these new relationships. Partnership working with cultural organisations and practitioners, and curated creative learning resources were judged to be the most useful forms of support from the cultural sector. However, the ever-present need for relevance and tangible learning outcomes is heightened in the current landscape where many schools are concerned about bridging the learning gap in core subjects. 
 
• For the majority of schools, Spring term 1 will be the earliest they are likely to make off-site visits or welcome visitors into school. There may, therefore, be a need to continue working remotely with schools for at least one term. 
 
• At KS3, many arts teachers will face challenges to deliver a meaningful and engaging curriculum within the limitations of a regular classroom with students facing forwards. Creative activities for sequenced learning that could be delivered under these conditions would undoubtedly be welcomed. 
 
What does this all mean? 
 
The Arts sector is itself struggling due to the cancelling of live events and the closure of Arts venues. At the same time, the value of the Arts for mental health, wellbeing and engagement has never been more important. Perhaps now is the time to build meaningful creative cultural partnerships, answering a need for schools and their students and providing an outlet and lifeline for the Arts industry in the UK. 
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