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Newminster and Chantry Middle Schools’ Artsmark Platinum Journey  

Northumberland middle schools influencing and advocating for quality music education and arts CPD

Students performing The Lion King. Credit: Halo Photography Ltd

This case study celebrates the achievements of two schools in receipt of Platinum Artsmark award. Artsmark has provided the opportunity for these schools to assess their music and arts provision and embed a strong creative offer all throughout. Written by Culture Bridge North East.

This is one of 25 case studies highlighting the value of arts in schools and education settings, curated by arts education researcher Sarah B Davies. The suite of case studies illustrates the research The Arts In Schools: Foundations for the Future, by Pauline Tambling and Sally Bacon, due to be published in 2023.

About the project

Morpeth’s Newminster and Chantry Middle Schools have both maintained a high level of commitment to quality, arts-rich education through their consecutive years of achieving Artsmark Platinum status, from 2017 to 2022. This journey is across two schools in Morpeth where there are over 1000 young people aged between 9 and 13 years old actively taking part in creative arts and music education. The schools are supported by King Edward VI High School, (Three Rivers Learning Trust), Music Partnership North, Mushroom Works, Dance City, BALTIC, Creative Circus, Sunderland and Newcastle Universities, Software City and The Customs House. Both schools have taken on an advocacy role in sharing knowledge and detailing their Artsmark journey through CPD, blogs, newsletters and conferences to showcase their experiences and support social, moral, spiritual and cultural learning of other schools in the North East. Large numbers of pupils continue to be involved in their arts provision, which is key to the schools’ inclusive core values, and both schools work in alliance to encourage individuals to go outside their ‘comfort zone’ – which continues into other parts of the curriculum and school activities.

What worked well

Newminster and Chantry Middle Schools are both part of the Three Rivers Learning Trust in Morpeth. Their Artsmark journeys have built upon and enhanced relationships with Morpeth First Schools and King Edward VI High School by utilising expertise across the schools through transition days, training teachers, moderation, meetings and attending various arts events. Both schools have succeeded in achieving and maintaining Platinum status by creatively stretching students, advocating for quality arts education to embed this into teaching practice, and making a difference to the local understanding of cultural importance beyond the realms of their schools.

As a result of this, students have experienced varied and substantial creative arts opportunities open to all, some involving the whole school community and others involving smaller groups of students. This has promoted inclusivity and helped to sustain and re-establish community links post pandemic, which culminated during summer 2022 when all schools came together for a fantastic performance of The Lion King. Both schools’ collaborations with Music Partnership North throughout their Artsmark journeys has also provided a platform for developing musical performances, with both schools being able to fulfil the tuition offer of a full range of instruments for their pupils. Due to the success of Artsmark, now over half of students in both schools play musical instruments, and 246 pupils across the two schools are involved in this year’s upcoming musical Matilda.

Notably, levels of student participation and engagement are high within both schools and have increased during Artsmark journeys, with opportunities for all young people to take ownership of their creative experiences, build self-esteem and use their voice to impact and influence arts provision. The engagement of both boys and girls has become more evenly spread within the arts when compared with other subjects, and both schools continue to strive to retain engagement of boys beyond activities.

Throughout the five years of their Artsmark journey, students have had the opportunity to: attend art workshops and songwriting events; perform to audiences; watch live performances; become a member of a choir; enter a range of competitions; and be publicised via the school bulletin, website, Twitter and Facebook and local newspaper articles – placing the arts at the heart of their community. Pupils are now more confident, able to be creative and happy to experiment with ideas due to opportunities throughout their Artsmark journey. Singing in particular has become embedded into the culture of both schools with a slogan of ‘don’t be frightened to try something new’ promoting further engagement.

Regionally, Artsmark has enabled both schools to have greater involvement in promoting the arts on both a local and national level by actively participating in the Northumberland Local Cultural Education Partnership; speaking at conferences for Arts Award, Culture Bridge North East and recently government events (providing CPD to confidently teach arts subjects); and developing films for Artsmark and Arts Award. Newminster and Chantry are now regionally recognised as leading schools for arts provision, and both schools are regularly called upon to support other schools with Arts Award, planning assessment, choirs, ensemble expertise and use of music technology in the curriculum.

With this, Artsmark has created a CPD empowerment opportunity for staff and has further encouraged staff to participate in Arts Award training to give confidence in the arts. Ultimately, this has stretched and challenged students through confidence building, raising aspirations including promoting arts careers, risk taking and personal development. In particular, Charlotte Jones, the lead for Creative Arts for both Newminster and Chantry Middle Schools, has personally developed skills in leadership, public speaking and presenting, along with the ability to better articulate and advocate for progress made and the impact of the arts.

What was challenging

Newminster and Chantry’s joint musical, The Lion King, saw huge numbers of pupils attend rehearsals, and subsequently more staff were required to support. As both schools wanted to accommodate the demands of the performance and ensure that every student who wanted to had the opportunity to dance, the schools employed two local dance teachers and a past pupil to support, which contributed towards additional costs. Historically both schools had a Creative Arts Department fund, which ensured financial viability of arts provision that was largely self-funded from ticket purchases for performances. Due to the challenges of the pandemic, performances could not be held in person, and thus the fund became depleted, which meant additional costs such as the need for support with the Lion King performance were not always feasible.

In order to mitigate this, both schools looked into other means of funding, including applying for funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. Other means of attaining funding for the department were then explored and these included other grant opportunities, borrowing from other accounts until ticket money was recouped for performances, and speaking at conferences and events as a source of income.

What can others learn?

Artsmark has become a key contributor in terms of the schools’ core values and in meeting long-term goals, giving an inspirational lift more widely within the Three Rivers Learning Trust and encouraging cross-school cooperation.

Both Newminster and Chantry have established strong partnership links with feeder schools and have been successful in building the Morpeth Music Partnership, which will be involved in putting on Morpeth’s One Big Performance soon. The aim is to develop leadership skills and offer staff coaching to fully act as the link between the feeder first schools and the high school.

Charlotte Jones, the Curriculum Leader of the Creative Arts at Newminster and Chantry Middle Schools, details the impact of the schools’ successful journey throughout Artsmark and her own personal professional development:

“Since starting my role as the Curriculum Leader of the Creative Arts at Newminster Middle School I have gained confidence in both my teaching and my leadership through the Artsmark award structure. It has provided me with a really excellent basis to look at the provision we are offering our young people and see where the gaps are and opportunities to extend arts experiences. This is an ever-evolving process and collecting students’ thoughts and opinions (voice) is key to keep the opportunities authentic, current and relevant.

I now see every occasion as an opportunity to explore the arts with a view to involving and engaging as many young people and members of staff as possible. 

It has been a pleasure to watch the personal progression of the young people in the Morpeth community through the arts opportunities they have been involved in throughout their journeys through the Morpeth Partnership of schools, with many of them pursuing careers in the arts or keeping the arts as a hobby in later life.”