Students go radio gaga for arts-in- education drive
Innovative Creative Schools project expanding after resounding first-year success, writes Katherine Donnelly
The gap between arts education and arts in education goes well beyond two letters of the alphabet. The distinction is clearly defined in the Arts in Education Charter jointly published by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, and Department of Education in 2012.
Arts education is the mainstream teaching and learning of arts, such as music, visual arts and drama.
Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.
Arts in education involves an artist, or artists, coming into a school, allowing students and their teachers to work directly with, or under the guidance of, professionals. It allows a school to harness that access and knowledge to play to its strengths and bring it to a new level or, indeed, tap into something new. It could be anything from visual arts to music, from theatre to dance, and everything in between.
While the difference is well recognised, funding to support that leap has been a long time coming.
So arts in education in Ireland has a patchy history, generally, through initiatives supported by the Arts Council. The National Association of Principal and Deputy Principals (NAPD) has pushed strongly for it and, in 2005, established its own Creative Engagement programme for post-primary schools.
Finally, the aspirations of the 2012 charter are starting to be realised through Creative Schools, a strand of the Creative Ireland programme led by the Arts Council in partnership with the Department of Education and the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
Some 150 schools were included in a pilot last year and have the option of extending it into a second year, while another 150 are being added.
Schools are allocated a Creative Associate for nine days in the year to develop a Creative School Plan and to forge links with artists and arts and cultural organisations locally and/or nationally. Schools can also avail of a grant of €2,000. Last year, there were more than 40 creative associates.
As well as supporting students directly, it allows for professional development by teachers and the fostering of links with the wider community to support creativity.
The initiative has a long way to go to cover 4,000 schools, but the long-term aim is for every school to be supported to fully embrace the arts and creativity.
It is art for art's sake, but also a lot more: engagement with the arts stimulates curiosity, imaginative thinking and innovation, and underpins learning.
The first 150 schools are celebrating the benefits.
Inspiration can be staring you in the face as they discovered at Creagh College, Gorey, Co Wexford, where the school's bare walls were the starting point for one of its projects.
Gorey is well known for excellence in the arts and so it was no surprise that local artist and former primary teacher Laura Ní Fhlaibhin was chosen as a Creative Associate. She is now working with two Gorey schools, Creagh College and Loreto Secondary, as well the primary level Gaelscoil Osrai in Kilkenny town.
She left teaching to study at the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) and recently completed a master's in fine art at the world-renowned Goldsmiths, University of London.
Creative Schools piqued her interest because. "I wanted to find sustainable ways to connect my education background with creativity," says Ní Fhlaibhin. She starts the process with an in-school survey to elicit ideas about what they want to do: "The student voice is central."
One of the big ideas to come through was for students to curate an art exhibition to hang on the walls of the relatively new school.
"Students and staff also wanted to reach out," she says, so links were created with the local council arts office, culminating in students selecting art in the ownership of Wexford County Council to display in their school.
The students engaged in visual thinking strategies workshops facilitated by Dublin artist Claire Halpin, inspired by a programme in New York's Museum of Modern Art.
"Rather than a gallery facilitator giving a lecture on what an artwork means, it is a much more open-ended process, where students can give their opinion and it becomes a wider conversation and more of a collaborative critique of the work," says Ní Fhlaibhin.
The art is not hanging yet - that will happen in the current school year. "We are having a workshop looking at the installation of art in the context of the architecture of the school and how they will relate to each other and the school environment," she says.
In a school with a group of Syrian pupils, the inclusion of photographs of the Syrian conflict strikes a particular chord.
Turning students into art curators is only one of the Creagh projects, while Loreto Secondary and Gaelscoil Osrai have their own variety. Creative Schools looks quite different at the 440-pupil St Peter and Paul JNS Balbriggan, north Co Dublin.
According to Principal Siobhan Whelan, Creative Associate Ann Cradden "got together with the student council and they discussed what they would like to do, and I did focus groups with children and staff members. We figured out what creativity was and what it meant, that there are actors and processes and how we could help our school to be a creative school".
Much of the focus here is on music and voice. In one project, they have linked up with the musician-in-residence scheme, working with music educator Helen Blackmore to put a new structure on their music programme.
But "the big one for now", according to the principal, is the forthcoming launch of the school's own radio station and podcasts, scripted and delivered by seven-year-olds.
The principal's master's degree in creative music technology is a great asset here. Once selected for Creative Schools, it tapped into its Active School identity and pupils were heard over the tannoy system announcing activity breaks.
For the radio station - the naming and logo for which will be another feature of the project - the four first classes are broken into a total of 28 teams, each charged with producing their own one to three-minute podcast on a topic of choice. Teamwork comes into play immediately in seeking agreement on the topic and approach.
Apart from the practical skills being developed, Whelan sees how it is building confidence. "It is allowing them to think outside the box, to be able to fail, and learn that if you do, it's not the end of world."