Exploring magical myths and legends through the medium of dance can bring a whole new perspective to creative learning, says Lisa Symonds

Callington Sports College is part of a mixed comprehensive school in central eastern Cornwall attended by over 1,250 students. The college was awarded sports college status in 2000 and strives to make the entire educational experience “challenging, stimulating and worthwhile”. It is with this ethos in mind that the college embarked on the ‘Virtual Hurlers’ project in 2003; a large-scale study in creative learning in conjunction with a cluster of other local schools, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), Cornwall Outdoors and – a first for Creative Partnerships – the British Museum.

History in the making

In October 2003, Callington Sports College forged links with Liskeard Community School and four South East Cornwall primary schools (Braddock Church of England Primary School, Darite Primary School, St Neots Community Primary School and Trewidland Community Primary School) to embark upon a unique project – Virtual Hurlers – that would:

  • break down subject-specific curriculum barriers
  • challenge traditional QCA units
  • modify core tasks to find a method of delivering facts and ideas introduced in history lessons effectively and creatively through PE.

The Virtual Hurlers project marked Creative Partnerships’ initial work with the schools involved and was key in introducing them not only to a rich tapestry of visual and digital artists, storytellers, film-makers and dancers but also the unique historical, geographical and cultural heritage that resided on their doorstep – a magical mix that blended myth and legend with historical facts.

Virtual Hurlers key objectives

  • To create an extended school community – each of the individual primary schools involved in the project were rurally based and fairly isolated. The creation of a new series of partnerships between them would stimulate long-lasting relationships and overcome distance to create a vibrant, creative community.
  • To access new information – by bringing on board the British Museum, local schools would now have access to previously unavailable sources of information that linked to the wealth of ancient history that surrounded them.
  • To establish and maintain new and creative methods of cross-curricular activity.
  • To offer teaching staff the sustainable means and ways of introducing creativity into the classroom.
  • To stage a performance of professional standards that wasn’t merely created for and then delivered by the students but one in which their input was intrinsic throughout.
  • To dispel the amateurish preconceptions relating to the standards delivered by primary school performances.
  • To encourage citizenship and custodianship of local heritage sites among participating students and to open their eyes to the uniqueness and historical and cultural importance of their immediate physical environment.

The key curriculum areas that Virtual Hurlers would link together via the process of creative learning were:

  • art and design
  • CPD
  • citizenship
  • dance
  • design and technology
  • English
  • geography
  • history
  • mathematics
  • personal, social and health education (PSHE)
  • physical education (PE)
  • sociology.

Curtain call

In February 2004, the exciting and revelatory Virtual Hurlers project culminated in two moving performances – a magical mix of dance, storytelling, multimedia and visual art, in which students tapped into the tales born from Bodmin Moor and attempted to understand local culture and the lives of the region’s early settlers. With the help of the British Museum, teachers and students were able to indulge a major study of Bodmin Moor’s ancient monuments – the Hurlers Stone Circles, the Cheese Wring and Caradon Hill – each soaked in fascinating myth and legend and central to the region’s mining and industrial past. Key to the storyline was the 3,000-year-old  solid bronze Rillaton Cup, discovered in the 1800s and unearthed at a local barrow, which – with the British Museum currently hosting it on behalf of the Crown – fostered crucial ties between the museum, participating schools, the landscape and the latter’s intriguing tales.

Key creative partner: C-Scape

C-scape, revered storytellers and one of the South West’s leading dance companies, was invited on board the project to help students relay their new found knowledge to an audience. The company’s critically acclaimed combining of movement, film and text was ideal for introducing both teachers and students to innovate methods of learning.

C-Scape has worked with Creative Partnerships for over three years and is dedicated to helping them establish innovative methods of National Curriculum delivery.

Virtual reality

The Virtual Hurlers project, which ran from October 2003 to April 2005, achieved its pre-project objectives and more. A highly creative process brought together a cluster of previously isolated schools and precipitated further like-minded ‘community’ projects. Creative, sustainable cross-curricular learning was introduced into the classrooms and the use of digital technology in each of the schools evolved as a result of the project. Students were left with an indelible sense of ownership and responsibility in direct relation to their immediate environment and its ancient heritage and a new found confidence having taken part in a high quality, well received performance.

Post-project, developmental relationships between the region’s QCA and Creative Partnerships Cornwall had been forged as well as artistic unions between local creative practitioners and schools. The linking of local primaries and Callington Sports College took great successful strides to bridge the gap between Key Stages 2 and 3. The raw materials on which Virtual Hurlers based its storytelling would also prove instrumental in the success of the region’s 2006 World Heritage Site bid linking to Cornwall’s Caradon Hill and similar sites. For Creative Partnerships Cornwall, the success of Virtual Hurlers laid down the foundations for future projects, expanding beyond the initial cluster of secondary and primary and encompassing schools within the wider region. A two-year plan was put in place to develop this broader remit. Virtual Hurlers was coordinated by Sarah Waller on behalf of Creative Partnerships Cornwall and Cornwall Outdoors and she believes its success – particularly in stimulating students creatively – lies in its inspirational delivery of education. She told PE&ST: “This is a brave and challenging project that opens up the curriculum and delivers it through dance, storytelling, art and new technology in performance. One of the schools deliberately chose to champion this project in the face of their Ofsted inspection because the headteacher believes wholeheartedly that the future of real, inspirational education lies in opening up these kinds of creative doors for children. These children learn far more naturally because they are enjoying it so much – these are children who are excited by their school work every day.”

Opening young eyes

Caroline Cleave is a visual and textile artist based in north Cornwall who, as a creative practitioner working with Creative Partnerships since 1998, worked alongside Callington Sport College, Liskeard Community School, St Neots, Darite, Braddock and Trewidland to transform the Virtual Hurlers vision into a successful reality.

In an interview with Kernow Education Arts Partnership, Caroline revealed that one of her five principal career ambitions was “to have some influence in the way the curriculum in schools could be taught through the arts”. Caroline also explained how getting involved with Virtual Hurlers not only opened young people’s minds to the endless possibilities of new media as a learning tool but broadened her personal appreciation of it too: “My recent work on the Virtual Hurlers project totally opened my eyes to the tremendous possibilities of bringing art work to life through video using blue screen technology and superimposing with chroma-key. It completely changed what I believed was possible to achieve and made me very excited about combining the two in future projects.” When asked about the most rewarding aspects of working creatively with young people, Caroline was quick to champion the students’ latent abilities and how they can be unearthed creatively: “The best aspect of my creative work in schools is to never underestimate what can be achieved at any age – as a consequence, I feel liberated, excited and challenged when I plan a project.”

The power of dance in curriculum delivery

For the past four years, Creative Partnerships Cornwall has worked with several creative development agencies and individual dance practitioners and companies to effect ‘positive change and deeper learning’ in the region.

One such dance practitioner, Sarah Waller (an advanced skills teacher with a dance specialism), speaking with the Foundation for Community Dance, explained the pros and perceived constraints of creative learning through dance: “The challenges to working in schools are usually physical space, timetables, fears, preconceptions about ‘dance’ and working with curricular subjects. “Dance as a creative art form has been a very useful tool for us – as well as firing up imaginations, it has allowed us to engage with places and spaces differently. In a region where rural schools have small or often no school halls, working in a risk-taking manner using dance has really allowed us to shift perceptions of what you can and can’t do in school spaces, as well as beyond into the natural environment through site-specific working.

“Curriculum pressures are another set of challenges that can be worked round with a little inventiveness – we’ve worked hard to investigate ways in which statutory subjects such as literacy and numeracy can be delivered within creative, dance-related projects and often with unexpected benefits such as raised attendance rates and higher attainment.”