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Bradford’s Digital Creative Crusaders

A snapshot of a teaching for digital creativity pilot led by two Bradford Secondary teachers

Year 8 pupil discussing the design and development of their digital game making to the Head Teacher at Beckfoot Upper Heaton. Credit: Victoria Bone.

This case study explores the partnership between two secondary schools to develop an exciting digital offer for students, leading to the development of games and animation work and honed the students’ creative skills. Written by IVE.

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

In Spring 2022 IVE brought together Vicky Bone of Beckfoot Upper Heaton and Tom Howell of Belle Vue Girls’ Academy offering some support and funding (£2000) to co-develop a programme to test some of the ideas detailed in their applications to the Creativity Collaborative programme. With the help of IVE, Tom and Vicky arrived at a shared enquiry question to drive the work in both schools: how do we harness students’ interest in animation and short-form digital storytelling and start to embed it in teaching and learning?

It is a good time to be exploring digital creativity in Bradford: Bradford Cultural Education Partnership (BCEP) has a particular focus on developing and advocating for digital creativity; the Born In Bradford programme is shaping a digital storytelling intervention for children in every secondary school in Bradford; a partnership is developing between Bradford City of Film and Viborg, a Danish UNESCO City of Creative Media with a particular focus on animation  and, of course, there is much excitement about Bradford 2025. Vicky and Tom are well connected into all these initiatives and keen to make sure their students reap the benefits of these connections.

What worked well

The lead teachers sought advice from the National Science and Media Museum about potential partners to support teaching in the classroom and to facilitate skills development sessions with other non-arts staff in both schools – their wider mission being to influence curriculum planning for future academic years.

Beckfoot Upper Heaton commissioned Impact Gamers to work with ten year 8 students, the Creative Arts and IT teachers to establish their first games creation club.

Belle Vue Girls’ Academy (BGVA) commissioned InspirED Workshops to run an animation masterclass with staff from across the school and support the introduction of animation to art teaching in Years 7 to 10 for the remainder of the 2021/2022 academic year. Tom identified 12 members of staff who had expressed an interest (via an internal skills survey) in knowing more about film and animation. Through the training these members of staff became designated BGVA Animation Champions – one champion in nearly every subject taught. Tom’s ambition is for BGVA to be a school that uses and creates digital content across all subjects, all the time. BGVA is going to offer a Level 2 course in Creative Media, this project also aimed to build up a student take-up for this as an option in Year 10.

Visiting both schools on the afternoon of 24th June 2022 you could find Year 7 BVGA art students working in small groups to animate their own artwork. Using the schools’ visualisers (containing a camera that can capture, record and save images and videos) and editing software the students were working in teams to storyboard and then edit their short animations populated by mythical beasts and colourful backdrops and incorporating music and voices. In summer 2022 there was a sharing of the animations created by the 60 art students for parents and the wider school community.

Immediately after school that day eight year 8 students attended the fourth session of the new game building club at Beckfoot Upper Heaton. The students had been selected and invited to join the club by the IT and Creative Arts teachers. These are students that teachers perceive to show a genuine interest and commitment to ICT at Key Stage 3. These students may not be as strong in the visual arts but showed creative thinking, problem solving and leadership qualities that the teachers thought would work well.

Previously the students had learnt how to use games development tool Clickteam Fusion to make their own mini games. In this fourth session they were collaborating to devise one big game featuring different animal and human worlds. The students had decided that their game would be aimed at players aged 11-15 and would be something that could be played online and simple enough to be used on mobile ‘phones too. They all agreed that their game should also support controllers.

In pairs they looked at developing characters, designing backgrounds for the six different levels of their game and assigning values to characters. This work entailed a mix of on-screen and paper-based work (the game would feature the student’s own artwork). It required complex teamwork and negotiations between the groups to make decisions about how all their design elements might fit together, what might be abandoned and what modifications might be made to accommodate the different ideas. Of course this also represents a honing of creative competencies – collaboration, refining, problem solving – as well as the art and coding skills being developed. At one point one of the Impact Gamers facilitators shared with a group that what they are doing mirrored “real-world games design and that a lot of concepts for games start from an initial drawing or set of drawings.”

At the end of the session the students were set some homework to move away from any stereotypes they might have drawn on for their initial ideas about the countries they have chosen to feature in their game. They were asked to do some research and study images of streets and landscapes from these countries for inspiration.

“You can let your brain go on to the paper and develop your imagination.” (Student)

“We are learning independence because each time we can’t do something we have to sort it ourselves; we can’t ask the teacher every time. We are learning not to give up if we fail with something.” (Student)

“We are learning how to present things carefully.” (Student)

“It has expanded my creativity.” (Student)

What can others learn?

The main learning and discoveries from this pilot include:

  • It is possible to influence curriculum development within a range of departments through work piloted in the art department.
  • Students were excited by the opportunity to support with influencing curriculum innovation. At Beckfoot Upperheaton the year 8 students will now support with the further development of gaming within curriculum and after school provision. Our pupils showed a high level of creative thinking and leadership skills throughout the collaboration and this has been the foundation blocks for moving forward. Working closely with Impact Gamers our new creative ambassadors aim to lead the next cohort of game makers, setting high expectations of creativity, innovation and risk taking.” (Vicky Bone, Beckfoot Upper Heaton)
  • Artists working alongside teachers in the classroom is a powerful form of CPD: Having a professional artist work alongside me in the classroom was the most effective CPD I have ever had and really enabled me to apply the skills I had picked up from her initial training. Art staff have now added animation and digital communication to their schemes of work for next year and excited about using animation in the classroom” ” (Tom Howell Belle Vue Girls Academy)

Questions for others:

  • How can you further enable creative digital opportunities for students?
  • How or where might your next curriculum innovation be best seeded within your school MAT or Trust?
  • Who might be involved internally, where might you look for external partners and which networks might support you?

Further information

  • Impact Gamers is a Bradford based community interest company that exists to inspire young people away from just game playing to become games makers.
  • InspirED Workshops deliver film & animation workshops for schools, museums, charities & the corporate sector.
  • To find out more about Tom and Vicky’s crusades then please follow: BGVA Academy and Bush Art