“It has been lovely to have the opportunity to be a part of this project. I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly and really appreciate all the work that went on behind the scenes to create something that had such a positive impact on my children.”
Laura Montgomery, Class Teacher
The Art of Learning (AoL) in Ayrshire was a two year pilot programme devised and delivered in Scotland by a partnership comprising Creative Scotland (CS), Education Scotland (ES) and Creativity, Culture and Education (CCE). It was also supported in this pilot form by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation (PHF) and was one of seven initiatives being carried out across the UK through their newly established Teacher Development Fund (TDF). The impact of the pilots is now being evaluated for PHF by the Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education (CUREE) and the digital assessments used within the project that are designed to test executive functions were provided in partnership with CEDETI, a research centre of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile in Santiago. For a general overview of the Art of Learning programme click here.
The Art of Learning in Ayrshire has been a complex and multi-layered action research initiative with four key investigations:
1. Executive Functions – exploring the hypothesis that regular creative learning through arts activities is successful in developing the executive functions of learners (inhibitory control, working memory and cognitive flexibility) with the premise that developing these results in improvements to a child’s capacity to learn
2. High-functioning classroom – closing the attainment gap in disadvantaged areas by supporting creativity through the arts, using a model of the high-functioning classroom and creative approaches to teaching and learning that value the importance of physical, social, emotional and intellectual engagement
3. Professional development for teachers and artists – co-creating and using creative learning across the curriculum with the aim for teachers to deliver sessions autonomously
4. Embedding learning for national partners and funders – a) in Scotland for educational purposes with Creative Scotland and Education Scotland and b) for Paul Hamlyn Foundation to evolve their Teacher Development Fund across the UK
The project in Ayrshire involved:
• 5 Primary Schools continuing in year two of the pilot
• 4 Primary Schools acting as control schools
• 3 Local Authorities
Nationally, the pilot benefitted from:
• 3 partners (CS, ES and CCE) – interested in exploring and potentially scaling key concepts within their individual and collective contexts
• 7 pilots UK-wide – utilising various approaches and strategies to embed creative learning across the curriculum via the Paul Hamlyn Foundation’s Teacher Development Fund.
Internationally, the pilot is connected to:
• 3 other investigators in Chile, Norway and Australia – co-ordinated by CCE, in its role as international creative learning foundation and key partner at all levels of this two-year pilot initiative.
“It has changed my teaching by approaching things from a creative perspective; I’ve been bolder in my lesson choices, even changing the way I organise my classroom” Callie Dorward, Class Teacher
The project was an opportunity for the five Ayrshire Primary Schools to participate in a piece of multi-layered action research that employed the arts, artists and creative processes at the centre of the curriculum. Each of the schools is sited in areas of complex and multiple disadvantage, a key focus of the work with the PHF, and a core element of the CUREE evaluation strategy.
At its core, the Art of Learning is a continuing professional development scheme aiming to model capacity-building practice in line with highest teaching standards and current educational research.
There were five key adjustments made to the pilot in response to feedback between year one, 2016/17 and year two, 2017/2018:
1. A new model, teachers working closely with fewer artists
2. More time to plan, reflect and evaluate together
3. Focus on building capacity, capability and autonomy
4. Making more resources available
5. Thinking about embedding
• Busy schools, busy timetable, busy time of the year – a squeeze on planning and protecting planning time was acknowledged
• Pressure to deliver on curriculum and other initiatives – resulting in project squeeze and competition for teacher attention and energy
• All schools experienced challenges in staffing and sourcing cover, which is an ongoing challenge for many schools across Scotland
• The extended flexibility in lesson planning in year 2 of the project may lead to a dilution of the more powerful approaches set out in the CCE lesson plans
• In a few lessons, there was scope for communication between the artists and the children to improve. Many pupils showed signs of losing interest in lessons when initial explanations and directions were protracted or overly complicated
• In a few lessons, pupils with additional support needs were not able to do the work of their peers.
• In a few lessons, artists used more advanced and abstract language than class teachers and this made listening for understanding difficult for many pupils
• Leaders and staff found the evaluation/assessment approaches to be overly complex
• Leaders felt that there were too many visitors to schools and too many emails about the project
• Leaders said that they could not attribute any improvement in pupils’ attainment to the impact of this project alone as there were many other initiatives in place at this time with the aim of improving attainment
• In some schools, Head Teachers priorities have over-ridden the joint planning time scheduled for teachers and artists
• The primary schools had very limited ICT resources.
“If you get it wrong it’s OK. You don’t have to go in a huff or go crying, you just stand back up and say I’ve got this; I can do this” Eve, aged 8
• Young people were enthused and energised by art of learning principles; it was engaging, freeing, motivating and fun
• It was particularly beneficial for young people who can often have low self-esteem, seem quiet, disengaged or require different stimulus and encouragement to do well
• Teachers cited reluctant pupils as having less inhibition, greater likelihood of taking part, speaking out and expressing themselves, and with confidence
• The project placed a high value on reflective activity and understanding of process. Most lessons observed included a plenary which involved aspects of pupils reflecting on what they had learned. A Head Teacher reported that this was a significant feature of the project and that pupils following the AoL programme were much better at talking about their learning than others
• Teachers specifically cited improvements in listening, talking, collaborating, co-operating, attention to detail, ability to articulate views and opinions and new vocabulary amongst improved literacy and communication skills.
Pupils and Teachers:
• The project developed creativity skills for teachers and pupils alike, building an openness to try new ideas, take risks, create the confidence to improvise, adopt / adapt, experiment and to test and try things together.
• It employed high levels of collaboration, group-working and problem-solving between class and teacher as well as between pupils
• It offered a framework to support both class and teacher creativity and explored creative learning potentials of self and others
• It built expressive arts and other subject knowledge and skills
• The framework was designed to challenge and motivate teachers and their pupils, one that encouraged freedom, creativity, adaptability and flexibility.
Artist & Teacher Relationship:
• Artists and teachers reported that the pre-week one visit of the artists to the schools facilitated planning and provided the basis for a good start to the project
• High levels of problem-solving and collaborative practice were evident between the artists and the teachers.
• Teachers who were involved for the second year of the pilot felt confident and assured in delivering the session plans creatively and autonomously
• The model of Principal Teacher as a broker and champion for the project within the school and in support of artists and teacher development was successful
• Staff reported that the flexibility in planning lessons enabled them to tailor AoL lessons to fit in with the class project/topics. Staff reported that this enabled them to make lessons more relevant for pupils and hence they thought that lessons in year 2 of the project were better at meeting pupils’ learning needs, rather than delivering the ‘off the shelf’ lessons from year 1. This is true too with session plans being adopted and adapted to suit settings and individual classes
• There is evidence that the methods used in the AoL project are helping to extend the repertoire of teachers’ strategies and that some of these strategies are being applied in other curriculum areas
• It provided a model of teacher professional development that was able to encompass key principles of learning by enquiring, collaborating, deepening knowledge and understanding.
“I think it has been a growing process; from introducing the Art of Learning to teachers to the point we’re at now, where teachers are working autonomously and embedding key ideas”
Kate McAllan, Artist
• Artists formed positive relationships with pupils and there was a strong sense of mutual respect between pupils and artists
• Artists reported that they were better equipped in year 2 to deliver lessons as they knew much more about the project, had already gained knowledge of the schools and knew some of the teachers and pupils
• The artists reported that they were more assured in exploring and supporting their non-specialist art-forms
• In conversation with the project artists we explored the roles they felt they took within the project. These included: coach, mentor, teacher, researcher, collaborator, observer, critical friend, learner, facilitator, supervisor, facilitator, disruptor, artist, consultant, designer.
• Head Teachers were very supportive of the project. They reported that the tasks and activities engaged most pupils and consequently they were motivated by the AoL lessons. They also commented on how this project was motivating for the teachers involved.
“The Art of Learning has changed the children’s problem-solving skills and I think that’s because they’re working more as a team and having to listen to other people’s perspectives before coming to an ultimate decision” Liz Ness, Head Teacher
The digital assessment tools are in the form of an app for a tablet, designed by the Development of Inclusion Technologies (CEDETi), based in the school of Psychology of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.
The evidence from the digital assessments suggests that the intervention has had a positive effect upon the pupils from the participating schools. Executive Functions naturally improve by age and when a child is in formal education, which may account for the reported improvement in the control school pupils, but the differences between the groups in two of the more complex games shows relative improvements in the participating children. Importantly, although the differences between the two groups is not significant in terms of numbers, the trend is consistent. This evidence suggests that significant improvements could be made with a longer-term intervention.
Further analysis is planned to interrogate the data to provide an insight into the results of children by age-range and also provide a comparison with children on an international level. In addition, further Executive Function assessments are planned with the current participating and control schools on the 2018/19 Spring Term.
“I’m really keen for the whole school to embed this project as I think this style of learning will really benefit the children that we have in this school”
Hazel Roddy, Class Teacher
Art of Learning was an ambitious and multi-faceted project which required continuous review and reflection. The changes made to the delivery model in year 2 appear to have been beneficial in increasing the autonomy of teachers to deliver learning through the arts using creative approaches; a primary goal in the second year of the project. There is no doubt that the project has added value to pupils (engagement, enjoyment, making their learning fun and visible), to teachers (enhanced repertoire, risk-taking, collaborative skills and creative confidence) and to school leaders (meeting pupil need, providing a balanced curriculum, empowering middle leaders and managing change).
The challenge for the schools and for the project partners is to understand how to efficiently and effectively replicate the positive attributes of the Art of Learning for wider access and participation. This next stage of knowledge exchange will focus on what qualities, connections and developments will benefit the widest range of future participants.
At the start of the project, goals were set and a summary is provided below, drawing on a range of voices, reflections and reports:
Goals met for learners:
• Increased opportunity to develop their creativity skills and understand their own creativity
• Improved engagement with and enjoyment of learning
• Improved awareness of expressive arts and creative practice by and with artists
• Improved awareness and knowledge of Executive Functions (EF) generally and their own functioning specifically
• Increased ability to reflect upon and articulate their progress and learning
• Improved levels of confidence and their ability to express their views to their classmates
• Improved inhibitory control as a result of using specific learning strategies
• Improvements in executive functions in participating pupils, particularly in cognitive flexibility and working memory.
Goals met for teachers:
• Improved understanding of creativity skills and how they can support learning and learners creatively
• Increased capacity and confidence in using creative learning across the curriculum
• Enhanced repertoire and toolkit from which to teach, including adopting and adapting plans to suit learner, subject and curriculum needs
• Improved capability to deliver the suite of session plans autonomously and with creativity and confidence.
Goals met for school leaders:
• Improved understanding of the potentials of creative learning in class, in the curriculum and across the school
• Increased knowledge of how the arts and creative processes can impact on raising attainment
• Improved awareness of the skills and talents of teaching staff, new and established, and of disadvantaged learners.
Goals met for artists:
• New knowledge of how creativity and Executive Functions are connected
• Improved understanding of how creativity skills can support learning in a classroom setting
• Increased confidence in using the creative process, rather than art-form expertise, across the curriculum.
In line with the expectations of the funding from Paul Hamlyn Foundation (PHF) the project was successful in:
• Supporting teachers to autonomously deliver effective art-based learning in the classroom by building skills, knowledge and confidence in their practice
• Engaging disadvantaged children in learning in and through the arts
• Creating strong and dynamic partnerships between teachers, schools and artists.
Some schools are now actively considering creative learning developments and will be including these within their school development plans. Artist in residency approaches as part of their strategy for embedding learning beyond the life of this pilot initiative are being developed and several of the participating artists have already been engaged to continue working in schools.
“We’ve included creativity on our improvement plan for next year so that it’s not something we leave behind; it’s something that’s kept alive within the school and will be developed.” Liz Ness, Head Teacher
Paul Hamlyn Foundation Teacher Development Fund Case Study: Heathfield Primary School
This case study was produced for PHF by the Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education (CUREE) and focuses on the journey of AoL journey of Heathfield Primary School. Read the full report.