Artsmark in Special Schools case studies

These case studies are taken from nationwide research A New Direction conducted for Arts Council England into how Artsmark supports SEND schools in their arts strategy and delivery

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Arts Council England (ACE) commissioned research from A New Direction, the Bridge organisation for London, to ensure that the new Artsmark Award meets the specific needs of Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Schools across England to allow them to fully engage with the award and make a success of their journey.

Below are two case studies which formed part of this research.

Case Study 1

Using Artsmark to create an arts policy for SEND schools - The Village School, Brent

Jenny Cooper is Arts Lead at The Village School in Brent, a school for students with moderate, severe or profound learning difficulties as well as medical needs and autism. The school wanted to enrich and strengthen their arts and culture provision and celebrate the school’s commitment to the arts.

The school had already prioritised arts provision in their school to ensure that even the most profound SEND pupils can access the best arts and culture provision. The creative arts team have formulated a policy called SAFE ARTS, which sets out the process and defines the working relationship between artists and arts organisations working in partnership with their school. The framework was created in line with existing school policies and ensures that everything from safeguarding to monitoring and evaluation of the project are discussed at the inception of the project. This framework also ensures that all children, not just the most able, are able to access arts and cultural projects within the school year.

Using this framework, the Village School has now completed two years of successful arts partnerships with up to 10 organisations per year, ranging from one-off projects to long-term arts residencies.

Through the Artsmark process, the Village School identified areas of development in their existing framework to better support the transition of their students once they leave school and to profile the arts as a credible career option for some of their pupils.

We had this Eureka moment at the Artsmark Development Day where we realised that by working in partnership with arts organisations who employ learning disabled artists, our students would be able to see the arts as a future progression route.
Jenny Cooper, The Village School, Brent

The Artsmark Award has enabled the school to identify gaps in their current provision and focus on career pathways to ensure that their students have access to the best arts and cultural opportunities before their transition from school to the community, and take part in activities led by artists who represent the diversity of the students. After the Artsmark Development Day, Jenny and her team led a presentation with the school governors to ensure that they were on board with the overarching aim of developing future pathways for students. Once this was agreed by the governors, The Village School commissioned Facefront Theatre Company and Blink Dance Theatre, who employ performers/facilitators with physical, sensory and learning impairments, to come into the school to work with their students with a view that the arts organisations would also explore potential further opportunities for students with their companies.


Case Study 2

Using the Artsmark process to develop a positive partnership with an arts organisation - The Garden School, Hackney

Deborah Snowden is Arts Co-ordinator from The Garden School, Hackney, a school for children with autism spectrum disorder. The school wanted to utilise the Artsmark Award to champion their long-term arts partnership with the Barbican Centre, London. The Garden School had only just registered for the Artsmark process but had already developed a way of working with the Barbican that adds value to both partners and could be replicated across other settings.

The school have found a way to work closely together on logistics and content of sessions to ensure that the SEND students can visit and perform at the venue. There are opportunities for Barbican facilitators to come to the school and for the school to visit the Barbican.

One of the first projects they embarked on together was a photography project which Deborah describes as ‘utterly authentic, [and] a fantastic way for our children to show how they see the world differently from the mainstream’.

Barbican Centre acknowledged that not all of their artists had experience of working in SEND settings, so they arranged for those artists to visit the school in advance to spend time with staff in the school planning sessions and meet students.

We had one amazing drummer who came and worked with our children and was able to use the rhythm of the drum to communicate with those students who cannot communicate in the usual way. My students now keep signing ‘B’ which means Barbican. They want them back and they want to engage!
Deborah Snowden, The Garden School, Hackney


After each session, the teacher and the arts practitioner debriefed and shared observations. This feedback is then utilised to strengthen the delivery of the next session, ensuring each session was tailored to the needs of the students.

When the school visited the venue, as well as undertaking the usual risk assessments, Deborah visited in advance and filmed the route through the building that the students and staff would take to identify any barriers. This also enabled students to see the venue beforehand to allay anxieties. The Barbican was open and flexible to the needs of the students, offering two rooms, one for workshops and one as a quiet space that had accessible toilets nearby. When the school was invited to take part in a performance at the Barbican, students were scheduled to arrive only 30 minutes beforehand, to be taken to their quiet room for a snack and comfort break and then came straight onto the stage to perform. They left in a coach immediately following their performance. This pre-planning ensured that the performance was a success for all involved.

The Garden School is keen for their whole school community to engage in the partnership, and send video and photos of pupils engaging in arts project home to parents and carers, who are also invited to watch performances at the Barbican so that they are included in the process.

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