What’s the secret to learner engagement?

At the RSA Family of Academies we are working with four schools in the West Midlands who are about to embark on an arts audit.  By reviewing what activities are already taking place across their schools they will be able to examine the ways that the arts and arts experiences could be woven through the curriculum and the school day.

One of the priorities for RSA Academies is ‘enabling learners to achieve a broad range of qualifications, skills and competences’ which poses some interesting thinking.  How do you enable learners to achieve not just qualifications but also a broad range of skills and competences – and further still, confidence.  And how do you get the disengaged interested in learning again?

A new report from the Arts Council of Wales explores arts and creativity in schools and the impact that arts experiences which take place in schools have.   The headline figures are conclusive and striking.  Of the 42 schools and colleges involved in the research, 99% said they felt that an involvement in arts activities had improved learner engagement.  Dai Smith, Chair of the Arts Council of Wales follows this: ‘teaching in and through the arts, far from detracting from literacy and numeracy should be seen as an enabler to driving up standards in academic priorities’.

The research also identified that 98% and 99% felt that the arts developed emotional wellbeing and interpersonal skills of the pupils.  The report provides evidence of the enrichment and progression of learners as a result of arts organisations coming through the school gate and through outside visits to theatres, galleries and exhibitions.

Which thinking about it, most of us will have our own experiences for which this rings true.  I can still vividly remember a trip to the Barbican to see Romeo and Juliet with Tim McInnerny just mesmerising as Tybalt.  The act itself of the trip to a big city, visiting the vast concrete megalith that is the Barbican and then to be wowed by the strange language of Shakespeare is the sort of stuff that stays with you at the tender age of 13.

Ben Kelly with Arrow Vale RSA Academy students

Ben Kelly with Arrow Vale RSA Academy students

Beyond this, the arts enables young people to explore identity and self-expression, to create and to experiment.  Last week one of the RSA’s Royal Designers of Industry, Ben Kelly joined Arrow Vale RSA Academy in Redditch for the day.  Designer of the interior of the Hacienda, Ben is a real life example of a rule breaker and innovator, and he inspired years 9 and 12 students with a new sense of what’s possible and attitude to success.

Whitley Academy head boy, Prince Chivaka leads a series of podcasts in a project with RSA Fellow Fran Plowright called Frontline Voices.  Across the RSA Family of Academy schools, Prince and his fellow students explored questions of what it means to be a young person today growing up in an uncertain and changing world.  Fran explains more about the project in her What about tomorrow? blog.

And take a look at Whitley Academy in Coventry.  Their art website, Whitley Arts was created to showcase and sell their unique student artwork.  It has also opened students’ eyes to the possibility of their work being in the public realm.  The site acts as a focal point, a potential destination of work whilst underpinning learning and personal development.

We are working to create more of these moments of inspiration and practical projects where creativity is fostered as a core skill, and where hopefully more learners become more engaged as a result.

Comments

  • Rich Pickford

    It was great to see RSA Academies students and teachers taking advantage of the opportunity to be engaged with thought leadership from Shami Chakrabati of Liberty at the Birmingham Literature Festival in the new Library of Birmingham tonight. Debate and discussion can be a brilliant tool to engage young people about important issues and ideas. I hope it was a rewarding experience for them and it has created questions they can seek to answer.

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