The government?s Education Action Zones aim to raise standards of learning in deprived areas and encourage innovation and change in schools and colleges. How can the arts contribute to that development and improvement? Jane Bryant finds out.
The Department for Education and Employment (now Department for Education and Skills) established Education Action Zones (EAZs) in 1998. They are intended to encourage innovative and flexible approaches to raising standards in schools and overcoming barriers to learning in areas of high social and economic deprivation. They take as a starting point two principles:
? that in deprived urban and rural areas more needs to be done to ensure that all pupils have a chance to succeed,
? that it is essential that the schools system has built into it the capacity for change and innovation.
EAZs therefore are about improvement and embedding change in particular areas, and are about discovering models of improvement which can be shared with the rest of the education system. Each EAZ is led by a strategic independent action forum (comprising representatives of key partners) and managed by a project director. A zone generally involves 15 to 25 primary, secondary and special schools. There were some 99 EAZs created in the first round of the initiatives with some further 82 ?small? EAZs developed within the ?Excellence in Cities? initiative.
EAZ status has brought substantial investment: the larger EAZs received up to £500,000 from the DfEE as a baseline, with a further £250,000 available to match funds raised from the private sector. Much emphasis has been placed by the government on the role of private business in EAZs, providing financial contributions, leadership, management expertise or services under contract.
Whilst there is much anecdotal evidence available about the benefits of the arts to young people, the Arts Council of England (ACE) recognises the need for empirical research into the effects of the arts and arts learning opportunities on young people. It has invested substantial funding into a three-year research and development programme, the Arts and Education Interface (AEI) initiative, in partnership with Bristol and Corby Education Action Zones, East Midlands Arts and South West Arts. The National Foundation for Educational Research (NfER) has been commissioned to design and undertake the research programme, which will focus on the interface between the arts sector (artists and arts organisations) and primary and secondary schools. In essence, the AEI initiative will explore what really happens when artists, arts organisations and schools work together to create or enhance arts learning opportunities for pupils from the Foundation Stage to Key Stage 4. Fourteen schools in Bristol and Corby EAZs, as well as a number of renowned artists and arts organisations have agreed to work with ACE, allowing NfER access to both teachers, pupils and arts projects.
The results of the research will be launched in 2004 at the Arts Council?s International Arts Learning Research Conference.
In addition to this major programme, regional arts boards have developed a range of modest but equally formative and innovative approaches to arts education development with EAZs.
Southern Arts has established a Partnership Education Programme with Leigh Park EAZ. This partnership brings together representatives of Havant Borough Council and Hampshire County Council as well as the EAZ and Southern Arts. The early work has been about undertaking an arts education audit and working towards the development of an arts policy and strategy for the EAZ. ?Music Machine Extra? is a specialist research project established as an integral part of the programme and funded by the National Foundation for Youth Music, Southern Arts and Leigh Park EAZ, and supported by Artswork (National Youth Arts Development Agency) and Education Extra.
Artswork was invited by Southern Arts to meet with Leigh Park EAZ to outline the benefits of using the arts with young people and young people at risk. At that time, Ruth Jones, Director of Artswork, was developing a music research initiative aimed at 11 to 16 year olds, (young people at risk ? irregular attenders/non-attenders at school) and preparing an application to Youth Music. Having secured both the funding and the commitment of the EAZ, the action-based research element is based in Leigh Park. Its main aim is to explore potential for schools and youth and community/independent music providers to work together and exchange meaningful information about young people?s progress and achievements.
The action research element was designed by Artswork to bring Park Community School (the hub school for the arts within the EAZ) and the Original Place Youth Centre together, to recruit and work with young people who were experiencing challenges in their lives. There was emphasis on planning, monitoring and evaluation and the importance of an aftercare strategy for the young people. A musician was appointed whose brief was to work with the schools? behavioural unit and the youth centre to recruit young people, and then to work with them to create and record new music, and learn new skills. None of the participants had any previous music experience, and the musician worked closely in partnership with the youth workers to build confidence through taster sessions, discussions and demonstrations about music. They went on to learn music and songwriting skills, and each participant wrote and recorded a song in a professional recording studio.
The project has been a success, as the school and youth centre have recognised the benefits of working in partnership for the first time, and have made a commitment to develop a minimum two-year programme, with the support and encouragement of Education Extra. Young people involved in the project are proud of their achievements, and teachers have commented on the profound difference in attendance and attitude within school. The young people have sufficient confidence in themselves that they are currently planning a VIP performance of their work, and have spoken on national radio (BBC Radio 3?s Music Matters) about the project.
Feedback on the project has been very encouraging ? from all parties involved. Tony Watson of the behavioural unit at Park Community School said ?The school has enjoyed national publicity over its involvement in the music scheme, and our pupils who have been involved are bursting with pride in their achievement ? the school is reaping the benefit in the classroom with well behaved pupils.?; and participant Trudie, said ?I?d love to show all the people in Leigh Park that there?s people here who can sing and do stuff instead of drinking and hanging about. We?re showing people Leigh Park is not as bad as they think it is. I?d like to go places to show people what we?ve got.? Using the Havant project as a model, further Hampshire-wide research commissioned by Artswork will involve mapping out of hours/out of school music-making opportunities for young people aged 12 to 16 (especially opportunities that serve young people who have been excluded from school, or who are irregular or non attenders).
Jane Bryant is Education Officer at Southern Arts. t: 01962 857716; e: firstname.lastname@example.org Thanks also to John Conlon, National AEI Director, and Ruth Jones, Director, and Karen Shaw, Marketing and Finance Officer of Artswork. More information about Music Machine Extra from Artswork, t: 023 8071 2246, e: email@example.com