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Child-led Learning

Giving young people a say in how and what they learn

  • Theatre & Performance
  • Music
  • Culture & Heritage
  • Dance
  • Literature
  • Visual Arts
  • Child Led Learning

We visit Birmingham and Northumberland to hear how young people are empowered to a lead in their education, and help create the curriculum from which they are taught.

Hear from Shirestone Academy and Mortal Fools about the work they do, the leadership opportunities they are giving in young people, and the benefit this brings to a young person's development.

Nadeem: My name is Nadeem Bashir and I'm the head teacher of a wonderful school in birmingham called Shirestone Academy.

Well we want to empower young people, get them fully immersed in arts and we want to really develop their leadership skills and give them a platform to share their arts. As a multi-academy trust we work together with all the schools within the multi academy trust who have got the same passion for arts as well, and we're working now with the three bridges as well which is really exciting at the moment.

The Arts Ambassadors programme is managed firstly when they come and sit down with me – some hot chocolate and biscuits – and they sit and discuss with me how they would like art within the school. They come up with some very good ideas, and we feed that into our curriculum, and we feed that into what the children want or how they want to be taught, what kind of art forms they'd like. And members of staff – we get together we have a training day, and we put into our our curriculum what the children want and that's really important because we should be doing what they want.

We do various forms of art with the children, some of the children really enjoy doing the drawing, some love the acting and of course some like the dancing like myself, but yeah we get involved and we get them involved in those conversations very early on. 

We've asked children to interview artists as well that come into the school because it's only fair for them to pick the artists that they need and that really develops their leadership skills as well, but we like to really build on our cultural capital and get children to get to theatres and have some art trips as well. What's really important is we like our children to take the art home because we want them to take them home to their parents and showcase to their parents the hard work they've been doing. There's no use to them sitting at school so we'd rather they take them at home and share that with their parents they want parents to be involved in part of this art journey that we're on as well on as well.

Jake: When I heard about the Young Arts Ambassador role I thought i would be really good at it because I'm really good at drawing dancing singing and tons more, so as I usually do I leapt towards the role. As a Young Arts Ambassador I get to do workshops with the younger years like nursery and reception. I have meetings with the head teacher and the arts lead and I also got to interview people who did projects in our school a few years back. My next step is I'm looking forward to seeing what it's like in secondary school and what they do in art. 

Arina: I wanted to be a Young Arts Ambassador because I thought I'd be perfect for the job since i love singingm sewing and just doing drawing in general. As Young Arts Ambassadors we get to do assemblies and we get to go to the early years to watch them do art and stuff like that and maybe give them ideas and help them. We also can promote arts around the school. The way the school supports young arts ambassadors is that we get to deliver assemblies, we get to have workshops to help us, and we get to have all these experiences. I think other schools should work with Young Arts Ambassadors because I think it's a skill that we all need and it really promotes like confidence and public speaking. 

Aisha: My name's Aisha and i'm the art leader at Shirestone Academy. Young Arts Ambassador programme is all about developing young children's leadership skills as part of youth voice, and it's also about giving children the opportunity to play an active role in the development of art curriculum. It also gives children a platform to share their love of arts, which in turn actually promotes arts within the school. So it's all about leadership skills giving children that voice, but also promoting arts within the school as well.

Young Arts Ambassador programme has been running for over four years now, and as a school and as a multi-academy trust we embrace arts, we endorse arts, because arts are very important for the holistic development of children so it's not about maths reading and writing, but actually arts are just as important because arts help to develop children's imagination, language skills, it provide context for writing – they help children in understanding what they're actually reading because they've had those different range of experiences through the arts.

When it comes to the impact on people you can actually see the children grow in confidence, how well they communicate and their love for arts develop in assemblies, working with the children – when they're teaching younger children arts. We also see evidence around the school where the children's work is displayed. We have art class folders.

In terms of challenges I would say currently it's the fact that children actually can't go into other classrooms, and bubbles can't mix up, so therefore in terms of the assemblies the children have had to deliver those virtually on Google Hangout. Similarly working with younger children going into nursery/reception the children have had to work in outdoor area where they could actually social distance but also communicate with children and guide younger children at the same time, but we've managed to actually work around that and it's been fantastic.

Now prior to the Covid pandemic we had three members of staff including myself train on delivering Arts Awards, and and that's again about giving children exposure to different artforms and developing their leadership skills through Arts Award and that's something we're looking to start very soon.

Iman: As well as a Young Arts Ambassador I wanted to inspire other children and help them understand that art is important in our life and that life will be very boring without art. Our school lets us share our ideas and let us make decisions, and lets us bring new activities for the school. I think that should promote children to do arts and help them build up their confidence, and make art a skill in their life.

My next steps for Arts Ambassador are to arrange clubs for children who don't contribute with children at play times and to deliver assemblies to other schools. 

Mark: I wanted to be an Arts Ambassador because I liked to draw write and sing, and I wanted to inspire younger children to love art as much as I do. You get to deliver assemblies to the school, you can help younger children with their arts and help younger children have more confidence.

The head teacher told us his story about when he went to drama school, and he inspired me and helped me develop more confidence. 

Nadeem: I think what's next for us is building on what we're doing already. I want to: develop the young people into really confident young people to be able to express themselves as much as they want to, get other children passionate about arts and hopefully those children when they're in younger years will grow up and be as passionate to have that same level of confidence – I want them to excel in everything they're doing. And actually, what's next for us as a school is I want to continue working with lots of different schools and looking at all the wonderful talented young people there are different schools and put projects on together. And of course what I really want to see is more young people out there working as artists, working as producers, dancers, actors, and yeah and just see them excel in everything that they do

Eliza: I'm Eliza and I'm from Mortal Fool's ensemble, but I also do their young leaders project as well at the moment, and I help a little bit out with the current project writing. I get to share my ideas and interests kind of through every project we do, so I think with theater it's like a massive part of the process to sort of be able to sit in a room and be like "this is what i'm thinking and i think this is how we could perform to an audience," so we're always sort of working as young people in a way that makes sure that we're expressing ourselves but in the context of theater. So it's being able to articulate yourself in a way where you can then put that in a scene or this idea that you've had, and then to sort of be able to perform it, and i think that's really important because there's quite a lot of trust and like empathy and also a little bit of like humor in it, because when you're in a scene it's like "okay we're going to get this really awkward thing across." 

Working online was definitely helped by Mortal Fools, because we'd started the new term thinking that we were going to perform our show 'Relentless' but we ended up kind of having this whole national pandemic thing and that had to all go online, but we ended up learning quite a lot of online skills and how to work as a team online which is really important because then when we all went back to school in the following September after the summer and everything kind of was online – especially in this new year that we've just had. 

So Iweigh was the first ensemble show that I did and it was in 2019. We toured it around the northwest of England and we'd you know all contributed to writing it, devising it – just the whole thing and I remember i really enjoyed that, and it definitely has impacted like my soft skills if that makes sense? So being able to just like express ideas and articulate them. The themes of Iweigh meant that as we were going with sort of understanding them all and how to address them in conversations with each other and I think, you know, being a teenager with insecurity, that sort of thing, it just comes up quite a lot and I think being able to just have someone to go every week where it's like I'm still going to talk about this but not in depth a lot.

Sometimes I think you need to give young people a space to practice things and get them wrong before they can then go out and get them right and I think this is – this is a place to fail, but it's in a good way because you learn from it.

Valentina: I'm involved with Mortal Fools because I like acting and it's very fun. At Mortal Fools, we get to share our interests and ideas by discussing them and playing games and doing acting. Mortal Fools helps me explore the creative industry by letting me be more confident in front of other people and it helped me pass the audition of Sound of Music in the Queen's Hall, Hexson. 

We get to play games and try things new things out and discuss them as a group.

Tom: I'm Tom, and I've been a member of Mortal Fools for three years now. Mortal Fools has supported me in exploring the creative industry because it's given me so much confidence to go out and actually take these opportunities. I recently finished working with Netflix and the only reason I was able to do that is because of the confidence Mortal Fools has given me to just talk to people more. Like, before Mortal Fools I was –I  was very shy and very quiet and since joining and taking part I've managed to become a lot more professional in both how I act and how I communicate with people. 

So originally I didn't actually have any interest in acting and my parents wanted me to get involved with Mortal Fools on a technical standpoint and do it in terms of doing like lighting and that because my sister used to do it, but once I went to one of their shows and and I got kind of caught by one of the practitioners by the end and they just basically advertised it to me and I was like, "Okay i've been looking for something new to do, I might as well try and do some acting." I'd probably start a tad bit and i'd always kind of enjoyed it, but it was never something I'd taken seriously and then going in Mortal Fools it was still a case of finding my footing and not being entirely sure where I fit in, but since then I've learned to absolutely adore it and now it's something i'm going off to university to study, and it is genuinely one of the most fun things, and that's why i keep coming back. Even at the beginning of each term where it's kind of like "Oh this is a big commitment i don't know if i'm exactly up to this," especially in terms of like having A-levels and GCSE's I keep coming back because of just the general love of acting it's given me and the general love of the entire atmosphere and vibe, and I love how organic everything feels, like it feels like it's built around our interests without sacrificing anything to include them. 

My favorite project was definitely Iweigh, which was I think two years ago because we got to go on tour, and we got to go and like perform to all these different venues, I got to meet so many people and see the impact the show had on so many different people, and one of the proudest moments of my life has been having my grandparents come and see the show. It's a shame that there's only so many weeks in a year and there's only so many sessions per week because we come out doing maybe two or three shows but I would just love to do more – I love performing so much. I mean obviously I think it varies on age but I think every single kid no matter how old they are and no matter how creative they think they are has something to give, and I think giving everyone the space and the platform to make their ideas known – and I think that's the biggest advice i'd give, is is just don't see an idea as pointless, because every single idea it's come from a place of sincerity from the kid, and so running with it and trying to make something from it is the single best thing you can do. No matter how many ideas you end up with in the end, no matter how many to be scrapped, having more is always better than having less.

Shirestone Academy and Arts Ambassador Schools Network

Shirestone Academy is an OFSTED outstanding primary school in Birmingham. They aim to ensure children are given a world class education to help shape them for the future. The school is part of The Elliot Foundation Academy Trust (TEFAT). TEFAT is a successful multi-academy trust specialising in the Primary sector, building a thriving community of converter and sponsored primary academies. TEFAT maintains a family of autonomous schools and is uncompromising in its search for excellence, and strives to be the best academy chain in the UK. Since joining TEFAT, Shirestone Academy has benefited not only with outstanding professional development for teachers but also a common goal which puts young people first.

Shirestone Academy is also part of the Arts Ambassador Schools Network programme. The programme seeks to develop quality arts and cultural provision across a network of schools, developing teacher leadership skills and practice, empowering young people, and placing pupil voice at the heart of arts activity.

Working with Arts Connect, each school in a network nominates at least one staff member to act as an Arts Ambassador, who then takes lead in developing the arts. The network commits to regular joint working, planning and learning to collectively improve the provision of arts. Each school identifies a group of young people to train as Arts Ambassadors, who will take on leadership roles and contribute to Pupil Voice around arts and culture in each school and across the network.

Furthermore, each school in the network registers for Artsmark and uses this framework as the backbone for school improvement of the arts. The network co-commissions inspirational artists, or an arts or cultural organisation, to work across all the schools in their network on an agreed theme, leading towards a sharing and celebration event. This is co-funded by the schools and Arts Connect.

Mortal Fools

Mortal Fools is an award winning theatre, drama and creative learning company (charity status) based in Northumberland, North East England, working across the North with partners nationally. For nearly 10 years they have specialised in genuine and authentic co-creation of theatre and creative projects with young people and professional artists and theatre practitioners. All of their work explores contemporary subjects that mean something to young people, and are the enabling folks that support the young people to make sense of the world around them through theatre.

Youth Voice is not only embedded into every area of their work and projects, it also sits at the heart and the head of Mortal Fools. From the young leaders and youth theatre groups, to their board, which has youth theatre alumni on it aged 18-22, young people are placed at the forefront.  

The work at Mortal Fools is entirely democratic – they don’t see themselves as a benevolent organisation with a hierarchical structure, but instead see the real value young people add to their organisation and learning on a daily basis. Young people are encouraged to challenge, give feedback, be honest and express themselves. 

A participatory framework is used across all of their work, to help understand the level of engagement they’re having with young people and the type of relationships the organisation is developing.  Mortal Fools has a core group of 70 young people, but their reach is much wider.

A core charitable objective of Mortal Fools’ is around supporting young people’s mental health. They support lots of young people and help them to find their voice, explore their identities, make sense of the world around them, develop opinions, increase confidence, support their resilience and well-being. Mortal Fools enables young people to grow into who they want to be across the period they engage with them, and to find a safe space and sense of belonging.

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