Staff at Sidegate Primary School in Ipswich reveal why arts subjects are vital to the school day
PUBLISHED: 12:00 18 October 2016
Sarah Lucy brown
"It should be about creating memories for children. We want them to say 'remember when I was at school I sang that song, I was in that play' - that's something I feel very passionate about."
In a school world dominated by exam result percentages and Ofsted ratings, headteacher Wendy James is frank about how important the whole school experience is for kids at Sidegate Primary School.
Which is why over the last few years staff have taken a committed drive to bringing the arts into all walks of the school day, in a bid to foster creativity, unearth hidden talents, engage kids’ interests and develop their confidence.
From ensuring every Year 4 child learns a musical instrument, to performing dances about the Romans in history, the school is at the forefront in proving that the arts and core subjects are not mutually exclusive.
“People have seen how the arts can be used in the curriculum, but it’s very much about how the arts support all areas of the curriculum,” said Jane Ryder, arts and culture lead at the school.
“How can we use dance in science lessons, drama in maths, or history in the children’s writing? Year 4 had a lesson in geographical movement of rivers from its source to the sea, and they could show that through drama and understand that better than just being told it.”
And combining arts with other subject areas is also paying dividends at home, as the school lays on more interactive and creative homework tasks, which the school says is helping youngsters understand topics better, remain engaged with a theme and helps engage parents with their children’s learning.
So far, the Active Learning Trust-run academy has formed strong partnerships with local arts companies such as DanceEast – where a collective dance project funded by the Arts Council was held, and the New Wolsey Theatre which works with Youngsters in Year 5 and Year 6 in an after school drama club.
Other partners have included the Suffolk Music Education Hub, the Teaching School Alliance at Springfield Junior School and the Norfolk and Norwich Festival Bridge.
Another key partnership has been with Trinity College, where children can work towards the Arts Award Discover or Explore for nationally-recognised certificates, while the school has also achieved the Arts Mark gold standard run by the Arts Council.
As part of the Arts Mark standard, the school is required to build relationships with outside agencies, which helps bring industry expertise into schools and gives youngsters the chance to see where their skills could lead them.
And those tie-ups have already had benefits for both pupils and teachers.
“As teachers use the arts more and more, particularly things like drama, they see it help pupils understand terminology, or words, or ideas,” Mrs Ryder said.
“The children’s self-esteem is boosted tremendously and you can see them almost bursting with pride, which is lovely to see.
“The development of creative skills is good, but their confidence improvement is the key.”
Mrs James added: “We had a letter from a grandparent after the arts festival we had during the summer term. They said their grandson struggled academically, but seeing him sing in the arts festival gave him such an opportunity to shine.
“Their confidence develops so much and we are learning so much more about them as a person. We get so many ‘wow’ moments from parents who thank us for what we are offering their children, and I think it is going into their homes as well now.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by many parents (see panel) who have expressed how much their children have come out of their shells, and begun to develop talents their children may not know they have.
But its also good news for the teaching staff.
Mrs James said that involving teachers alongside the partner organisations is having a huge boost, and added: “For that teacher it is great professional development, it is up-scaling them and they can then do some dissemination of that to the rest of the staff.”
And while the core subjects of maths, English and science are still given the correct level of focus, it is as much about making sure other subjects are not left behind.
Mrs James concluded: “There’s a huge amount of pressure from the Government, and we are judged on English and maths, not just the arts.
“But there are so many jaw-dropping moments and we have high school children coming back to support us with arts classes. That’s something that is so worthwhile.
“People may think they are in primary school and too early to think about jobs, but that love of something comes from unearthing a talent and I think we have a real role in that.”
What parents think
Parents have expressed how much their children have developed thanks to Sidegate’s creative curriculum. Here is just a selection of what they have said:
“Since joining Sidegate in 2013, my son has had the most amazing time; he has been taught by passionate, dedicated teachers who have embraced his creativity and nurtured his enthusiasm for the arts, and has been given so many wonderful opportunities. I have seen my son grow in confidence and become a young man with a thirst for knowledge and well prepared for High School. My daughters, too, have had a fabulous year with Mrs Heaven and Miss Smee; both absolutely love school and have made excellent progress and adore their teachers. In short, what a fabulous school. Thank you “Team Sidegate” for all your hard work, your passion and for giving my children the most fantastic all round education. I honestly couldn’t ask you for any more.”
“We moved here from Finland a few weeks ago, and our eldest daughter is in Year 4. Finland has a world-famously-excellent school system, so as you may imagine we have been quite apprehensive about what kind of education our children would get over here. We would just like to say that the arts festival day was not only highly enjoyable, but also deeply reassuring to us both. The performances by children of all ages were a delight, and we were particularly impressed by the way that there was something for everyone to be good at; singing, dancing, writing, drawing, photography, sculpture; every child could probably find something there that they were good at. It was simply outstanding, all round.”
“You have some extremely talented students. The variety of arts that were on display was amazing. Seeing my son singing his heart out was wonderful. It actually made me cry! So many people have told him how good he was and that is a positive boost for him. Thank you for giving children the chance to shine.”