With increasing pressures to achieve academic success through rigorous examination processes, I will look at the balance that students can achieve through engaging in an arts-based course, enrichment activity or project. This reflection considers the rationale for engaging students through creative opportunities and an enrichment programme, in conjunction with a broad curriculum offer.
Creative projects can enable students to communicate a range of emotions, to explore a range of disciplines and to collaborate with each other. The choral project led by Gareth Malone to support grieving students at the Kensington Aldridge Academy, the school sitting underneath the Grenfell Tower and impacted by the loss of five students, was watched by many in the BBC series The Choir (2019). We witnessed the significant impact on young people of expressing their emotions, fears and hope for the future through song, rap and composition. The power of this project was in the collaboration of students who might not have normally considered taking part in a musical ensemble but who gained so much from using the process to communicate feelings, to express grief and to find a voice. The process of songwriting can provide a hidden voice for some young people. Creating lyrics, taking inspiration from other musicians and communicating feelings should not be underestimated.
The Arts Council England have undertaken research looking at the impact of mental health and wellbeing in the elderly in relation to involvement in cultural activities such as painting, dance, theatre and singing. For example, the hospital rooms project in Tooting aims to engage patients in choices for art, creative installations and talking points to open dialogues. (Arts Council England, 2016)
Whilst this example is specific to medical settings, we can observe the benefits of similar arts programmes in school settings. These examples suggest that schools may be able to promote wellbeing through singing for both students and staff. Collective enjoyment of singing can bring energy and a sense of cohesion within a classroom.
Schools that encourage an ‘arts for all’ approach enable many individuals to access opportunities that might not be provided as an opportunity out of schools. At Sandringham School in Hertfordshire, every student in Year 8 takes part in a highly ambitious ‘Musical in a day’ project. Students work on an abridged version of a well-known West End show and develop choreography, live music, dramatic excerpts, set and costume, alongside some students gaining an insight into aspects of technical theatre. The work culminates in a performance later in the day that involves all 240 students in the year group presenting their production. For many of the students, this is their first experience of performing on a theatre stage to a large audience. The sense of cohesion from the students, combined with the apparent sense of pride and enjoyment, validates the importance of the event in the school’s artistic calendar. Many students comment on the pride of achieving their accomplishments and, in turn, this leads to an increased uptake in regular arts enrichment activities. This type of full arts immersion, where students can opt into a range of creative disciplines, can be scaled down into a whole-class setting with equally powerful outcomes for the individuals involved.
The vibrant arts provision at Sandringham School caters for many opportunities for students to take time from their busy, often pressurised schedules to engage in art- related activities that we hope will enhance their wellbeing in terms of fitness, collaboration and interaction. The opportunity to perform in large-scale musicals, plays, concerts or dance shows or to develop creative pieces in photography, fine art or textiles opens up creative doors for many of the students within the school. However, it is the space given in a small group, classroom or workshop setting that can provide essential headspace for our young people to communicate feelings, emotions and new ideas. We must ensure that we give time to this in our curriculum at all key stages and beyond in our adult lives.
Student leadership of rehearsals or workshops also helps to develop increased self-esteem and confidence, which some students find difficult to demonstrate in a standard classroom setting. A creative outlet can provide essential emotional support to the challenges presented to students.
Arts Council England (2016) Hospital rooms: Helping mental health with art. Available at: www.artscouncil.org.uk/news/hospital-rooms-helping-mental-health-art (accessed 20 June 2019).
BBC2 (2019) The Choir: Our School by the Tower.