Our Artsmark journey: The Bridge School, London

The Bridge is a rapidly expanding Special Educational Needs (SEN) school, based over two sites in Islington. They have recently been awarded Artsmark Platinum. Teacher Ryan McClelland reflects on the process and shares his top tips for success.

At a time of great change within the education sector, I get the sense that the arts are becoming marginalised and undervalued. Programmes such as Artsmark open a dialogue with schools and people in the wider creative sector.

Having been through the Artsmark process previously, I was pleasantly surprised by the new format. It was much less about number-crunching and was more self-reflective, which I found much more enjoyable and useful as a teacher.

Throughout our Artsmark journey, we’ve found the support of our Bridge organisation – A New Direction – invaluable. They helped us to audit our existing arts provision and delivered training sessions, along with group and individual support. They helped us identify areas of strength, and aspects of our arts offer we could improve on and plan to develop accordingly.

"We focussed upon three main areas of sharing practice - Training, Partnerships and Publicity." 

I felt that this aligned nicely with our school ethos - being a teaching school, we deliver a lot of training to teachers and other practitioners. Artsmark also dovetailed nicely in with coaching for creative and expressive arts staff, giving them personal areas for development. The Artsmark training was a real plus, as we met other schools going through the same process and this made us feel part of a wider community.

After the initial training sessions, we were confident that we were meeting the Gold level for a second time, but we decided to aim high and go for Platinum – and were delighted when we discovered we’d secured the award.

"I would say that Artsmark has brought about quite a significant change to our schools." 

All our staff have become more aware of the different types of work in art subjects, as we have become a lot more active in sharing them through newsletters and websites etc. We have designated a governor with responsibility for the arts who I liaise with, as well as including arts development within the school improvement plan.

We have developed more arts based training with an SEN focus, both through our courses at the training centre and within the school community through INSETS. We ran one to tie in all the creative subjects through story-telling, with five different practitioners and teachers delivering one-hour slots using everything from clay to iPads, which was really successful for everyone involved.

As the senior teacher responsible for the bid, Artsmark has given me a much clearer focus for what I aspire the creative and expressive arts to deliver to our students and how I would like to move forward. This includes training and involving teachers who may not be from an arts background, to use the arts more actively as a tool.

"Through Artsmark, we have developed a creative ethos that provides a framework for teachers to operate from, whilst giving them the confidence and trust to experiment and try different things out."

If I were to pass on my top tips to other teachers going through the Artsmark process, I’d recommend designating a teacher and a leader to work towards the bid - this gives a rounded and honest judgement about a school’s arts offer.

We also found that starting with a survey to all staff allowed us to capture examples of creativity that are used to deliver other curriculum areas, as well as any arts related training or hobbies they might have. Incentivise them to fill it in (we found a raffle prize of wine worked well!)

And finally – it’s an obvious one – but be really visual in how you share students’ work. Use display boards and school newsletters, but also consider online platforms – we developed an expressive arts blog which was really successful.

Good luck!


This blog was originally produced for A New Direction


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Cultural education gives children and young people the opportunity to develop their creativity, both individually and collectively, and that's why our goal is for every child and young person to have the opportunity to experience the richness of the arts.

Darren Henley
Chief Executive
Arts Council England

It's vital that children have the opportunity to learn and enjoy arts and culture from an early age. It develops their creativity, inspires future careers and enriches their childhood.

Artsmark Award does brilliant work in schools and education to ensure young people access a broad and balanced curriculum that includes high-quality arts and culture.

Michael Ellis MP
Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism
Department of Culture, Media and Sport