How can you provide adequate opportunities for gifted and talented artistic students? Joan Hardy has found the Arts Award scheme to be an effective means of identifying and encouraging artistic talent

Gifted and talented students may have individual or unusual artistic skills and interests which can be difficult to nurture within the school curriculum. The lucky ones will be attending lessons or workshops outside school, but there will be others whose needs are not fulfilled. These students could benefit greatly from taking part in the Arts Award scheme. In recent years the Arts Council has risen to the challenge of providing a structure to channel the creativity of young people into a series of tasks designed to sharpen their critical skills and broaden their artistic experience. It is accessible to a wide range of students and can encompass all artistic disciplines.

About the Arts Award The Arts Award, launched by Arts Council England in 2005, is the first accredited award scheme to recognise young people’s development through the arts. The scheme can be run wherever young people enjoy the arts – in arts organisations, schools, youth arts projects, youth clubs or community groups. It’s aimed at young people in their teens and early 20s – whether they’re into opera, performance art, painting or hip hop! The Arts Award can be taken at Bronze, Silver or Gold levels, which are accredited at Levels 1, 2 and 3 on the National Qualifications Framework. The award encourages young people to develop arts skills, review the work of others, enjoy the arts in their community, and run arts projects with others. Young people get to explore future options in the arts, including training courses and jobs.

Sharing knowledge and skills

The Bronze Award asks students to complete four tasks, which require them to engage in personal research as well as share their artistic skills and knowledge with others. For example, students passing on their knowledge to others might take the form of a mini ‘lesson’ which could take place within the curriculum. My experience of this is that a great deal of mutual satisfaction and enjoyment can be gained from sharing. Take the example of Dan, who taught a group of four Year 7 students how to ‘beat box’ and street dance. All Dan needed was a microphone and speaker, a space and a friend to record the session on DVD; he provided the energy and dynamism necessary to create an impressive performance. As I watched this taking place I wondered how those same students would have responded if their teacher had not been an enthusiastic and committed youngster with obvious skill. Dan is a good teacher because he communicates his enjoyment of the activities in a spontaneous and unselfconscious manner. Other disciplines passed on to peers have included film-making techniques. A group of Year 7 students who had just completed a 30-minute pirate adventure were pleased to perform twice – once to enable Lucas to plan his shots and once for the recording. It was helpful that Lucas was able to explain why he was using the various techniques and angles and then to justify his decisions during a showing of the completed film. He was modelling learning skills without realising it and the younger students were learning simple ways to communicate meanings. There have been several occasions when I have watched a doubtful group of ‘guinea pigs’ become converts in minutes. Take, for example, the Year 6 students invited to try a few chords on the electric guitar belonging to an older enthusiast. The first attempts were hesitant and the sounds nothing short of painful, but the transformation was swift and remarkable. I heard one youngster say he couldn’t do it and the instant reply of ‘Of course you can!’ turned out to be absolutely true when recognisable sounds began to break through the cacophony. He was in an informal situation where there were few restraints; he quickly learned there was nothing to lose and everything to gain. This type of learning experience is a powerful educational tool.

The beauty of the scheme has to be its diversity. One of the set tasks requires students to review and discuss the life and works of an artist of their choice, and absolutely any artist will fit the bill. I have to say, I came across a number of artists and performers who were unknown to me as well as the more familiar names, such as Judi Dench and William Shakespeare. Some current artists will respond to email contact if told the purpose is to fulfil Arts Awards, such is its credibility. I witnessed quite a number of moments of jubilation as these were received!

Attending an arts event is another of the requirements and this can be a display, music or dance event and need not be professional. A live event is desirable, but a film is also permissible, so this unit should be accessible to all, particularly as the Arts Council has a fund available to subsidise a good range of visits.

Students are encouraged to make a personal response throughout the process. This can take the form of notes, discussions or formal talks – all are accepted as evidence of the task being completed. If a student’s best method of communication is not the written word, that is not a problem – arrange for a video interview. I have on tape a startlingly personal response to the work of Akon, a rapper whose work had escaped me before I trained to be an arts adviser. The student had agreed a set of questions with a friend and they had taken the list and a video recorder to the school’s drama studio. Given the privacy of this oasis within the school, he had been able to open his heart about the fears and violence in his own life, which had enabled him to identify so strongly with the lyrics of this young man.

The Arts Award is a versatile tool for the gifted and talented coordinator. It takes good organisation and can be time consuming, but the results are well worth it. I found that it became easier as I experimented with different ways of collecting evidence. Students are generally happy to interview each other, film others’ work, respond with evaluative comments and give an honest appraisal of their experience. With good organisation, much of the evidence will present itself during the process and the arts adviser’s task will be to provide a summary and arrange moderation. I am certain that experiences such as these make a real difference to everyone involved and time and energy spent is well rewarded.

Case study: Bronze Arts Award Kirsty and Bethany organised a whole-day event for primary school children during last summer’s Enrichment Week. They asked students, who were also working on Bronze Arts Award, to teach a specific skill or activity to a small group of Year 5 pupils. In addition to this, they would prepare lesson plans and sample activities as evidence. Remember, these do not have to be written; with a modicum of technology, and some imagination, presentation of evidence can take many forms. They eventually came up with the following:

  • Learn how to play a few chords on the electric guitar with drum accompaniment.
  • Create a ‘mood board’ using paint and collage.
  • Learn the basics of music through counting and rhythm.

As these activities were being prepared, Bethany and Kirsty took on the task of planning the day. This included a ‘warm up’ period where the older students organised games and fun activities, after which they moved from group to group, each activity having an allotted time. Kirsty and Bethany moved around the work areas, talking to the children, advising them, working with them for a while to consolidate new skills, praising their achievements and recording the activities with photographs and notes. Afterwards they controlled a session of verbal feedback and handed out certificates, which they had designed with the help of technicians. Their input was spontaneous and individual. For example, when two boys – who were interested in becoming chefs – asked about our catering suite, they organised an impromptu tour. Similarly, a group of creativity enthusiasts were shown the impressive displays in the school’s art barn. This kind of immediate feedback was a feature of the day and truly catered for individual needs. The organisation of this event earned all the students involved one unit towards their Arts Award and, judging by their total exhaustion at the end of the day, it was well earned!

Case study: Silver Arts Award Jo, Lucy and Rachel are all 12 years old and have more than a passing interest in the arts; their skills include acting, dancing and singing and they are dynamic and creative youngsters. Having already achieved their Bronze Awards they have begun working for their Silver. They are preparing a piece of interactive theatre, aimed at Year 6 pupils in our local primary schools, called Movin’ On Up! – no prizes for guessing what they will use for a soundtrack … The aim of this piece will be to reassure those students in the final primary year that the ‘big school’ is not quite as scary as it seems. Their plan is as follows:-

  • Visit the Year 6 students in order to find out any worries they have about the impending move.
  • Use this research material to inform our drama performance.
  • Create the drama, looking at ‘big school/little school’.
  • Rehearse and perfect the drama, building in opportunities for volunteers to join in the action.
  • Prepare a school map with fun questions to help familiarise pupils with the layout of the building, eg ‘Select the quickest way to get to the dining hall from the library.’
  • Take video footage showing normal school activities.
  • Prepare a feedback form to facilitate their self-evaluation.

A good number of these tasks are now completed and Jo, Lucy and Rachel are keeping a diary and log of their progress. (We provided sturdy, personalised notebooks, but this is optional.) In addition to this, I am collecting evidence in the form of photographs, pieces of script, letters and dates when each section is completed.

They are hoping to complete the project by the end of May and I am confident that it will be beneficial to all involved.

Joan Hardy is arts adviser, G&T coordinator and head of drama, at Belper School in Derbyshire