The Power of the Arts In Alternative Provision

The Power of the Arts in Alternative Provision: embracing uncertainty and non-conformity through creativity.

Education often seeks conformity, but doesn’t being creative actually challenge conformity? With this in mind teaching and learning can encourage non-conformity by embracing some creative uncertainties. In which case teaching creativity underpins the premise that education, according to Freire* , is liberating and empowering.

Artists are often seen as synonymous to rule breakers; risk takers; those who challenge and confront the norms. In Alternative Provision we have students who have been similarly perceived and for various reasons find themselves at our school. For students who haven’t or don’t conform to the predetermined “norm” discovering their creativity and inner artist is an important educational journey.

The arts challenge us to think differently and nurturing creativity, is an important skill for students to develop. As Sir Ken Robinson said in respect to learners’ creativity it’s important to “awaken them up, as to what they have within”, transforming the learners’ aesthetic experience. This he argues is through valuing individuals’ creativity not through conformity but diversity.

Behind every student is an individual story as to why they are with us and the arts provide a valuable teaching strategy to re-engaging some of the most disenfranchised students. Whilst fulfilling the human need for creativity the arts also help to build self-esteem, boost confidence and the autonomy to express ideas. Research from ‘The song room’ (2011) found the arts instil positive emotions about self; interpersonal relationships; decrease behaviour issues; increased resilience and students overall positive feelings about school. So, not only can the arts improve engagement through creative and inclusive practices, but these also maximise well-being.

The arts can offer hope, build connections and visions of better prospects irrespective of gender, social, racial, or ethnic backgrounds.  Therefore, it is important that we afford opportunities for equitable practices to ensure we don’t unintentionally disempower, marginalise or exclude our diverse students. Being ambitious about their creative and artistic strengths is integral to this.

For many of our students, their former experience of the arts has been inconsistent, for various reasons.  That is not to say that our students have any cultural deficit, it might be that their cultural capital has not yet been given value or been positioned within their educational experiences.  We recognise students own cultural interests and experiences by weaving these into our teaching to personalise learning. Whilst expanding their concepts and perspectives, opportunities are sought to create more equitable distribution and value of cultural knowledge. Therefore, being more cognisant to students’ diverse cultural heritage and lives, is key. Providing students with a greater sense of their own voices, their sense of belonging and valuing their ideas, contributes to their cultural confidence leading to better educational outcomes.

As educators we grasp the opportunity to inspire students with the benefits of positive experiences in being culturally and imaginatively engaged.  The trick is enabling our students to see that they have the potential to be creative. We foster and facilitate their creativity through valuing each learner in their creative journey. Our lessons encourage students to develop their interests, discover and master new skills and become actively responsible for their ideas. Inclusivity is enabled through learning which is co-constructed between teacher and student. This may include feeling safe to take creative and intellectual risks, resolving problems, managing failure, building resilience, developing concentration and experiencing success.

Key to nurturing these, is an environment with foundations built on relationships and belonging. An atmosphere that is non-threatening, instils courage, where elements of surprise, playfulness, freedom of thought and autonomy of ideas are the foundations of confidence. Building resilience, self-belief and character skills, will enable students to become more self-aware and self-regulated.

The arts give freedom to experiment, stimulate self-expression and move students beyond normative thinking into being critical thinkers, provoking new concepts and sensibilities where thoughts and feeling coexist. This approach will give rise to opportunities for a creative state of mind to navigate uncertainties. Where flexible thinking is needed so aims can be adapted as the work evolves and happy accidents can be exploited, so that innovative moments can end up transforming an outcome. With this process of creative learning, students have to accept ambiguity, learn to persist, be curious, critical and imaginative. As Eisner (2005) argued it’s an, “exploration and discovery of imagination rather than control and prediction, an openness to uncertainty needs a place in schools”. Our education system can sometimes be restrictive, the arts enable us to value moments of surprise over control; the unpredictable over the prescribed and the distinctive over the standard. Students learn to value the quality of the journey over the speed of arrival which in turn values personal mastery over comparative competition (Eisner, 2005). We are aiming to produce critical thinkers, not just knowledge banks.

If the arts were to be viewed in this way, it might be an end to the marginalised status the subject has historically held in comparison with what we know as the core subjects.

There is a need for the arts and creativity to have a raised profile and be given more value for promoting students’ intellectual growth in addition to wellbeing. The arts have the capacity to generate new knowledge rather than reproduce what is already known. For this, creativity needs to flourish by embracing uncertainties and non-conformity. Whereby, the power of the arts can enable students to reimagine other ways of being, by critically reinterpreting, reconstructing and transforming their world for the present and the future.

Jo Barber

Aspire AP

Associate Assistant Head of School, Chiltern Skills and Enterprise Centre(Leading Teaching and Learning, and Art Teacher)


Twitter: @Jo_cb_


*Paolo Freire advocated for education being emancipatory through critical consciousness and a co-operative teacher-student model. Renowned for his book ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’



Eisner, E.W. (2005). Reimagining Schools: The Selected Works of Elliot W. Eisner (1st ed.). Routledge.

Sir Ken Robinson (2010) Changing Paradigms at the RSA

Vaughan T, et al (2011). Bridging the Gap in School Achievement Through the Arts

Reading Is Power

By Olivia Edmonds

Twitter – @MissOliviaReads


Books on a shelf
Books on a shelf in book shop

When you hear the word reading, what comes to mind?

Does it bring you a feeling of joy? A sense of excitement at the possibilities it holds? Or does it fill you with so much boredom that you really are not paying attention to anything I am currently saying?

I have worked with young people, specifically teenagers, for nearly 15 years at both Secondary and Further Education level and overall, the usual response to reading is that it something that MUST be done and will usually stick to a prescribed structure.

However, reading can be so much more than this. Reading can be magical, informative, eye opening, impactful, jaw dropping. I guess what I am trying to say is Reading is Power.

It can change lives and open doors to our young people that may not have been open otherwise, especially those from less advantaged backgrounds.

The question is, how we can we get this importance of this message across to young people?

I am hoping by sharing my ideas here today, I can give you all some ideas about how we as a collective can make a start on getting that message across, both on an educational and personal level.

Reading is Power when …

It is accessible to all.

When I took over the Library, one of the areas I was adamant about was having resources that could be accessible by every student, regardless of ability.

  • I worked with our Languages Department to purchase appropriately pitched materials for our ESOL students. I also set up weekly sessions for ESOL classes to come to the Library and practice reading aloud.
  • This has resulted in the confidence level in even our weakest students skyrocket and their engagement with the Library outside of lessons continues to grow.

Close up on shelf of book spines

It is relevant and engaging

Young people need to be able to see themselves in books. They need to be able to relate to characters who have both similar and completely opposite life experiences to them.

  • Students were directly involved in choosing new stock. This allowed them to become more invested in our stock, and also meant they brought friends along to show them what they had chosen.
  • Displays linking TikTok, TV shows, films, and music to reading were always so well received.
  • For those less engaged and reluctant readers, our Level Up display allows them to access relevant and challenging texts in a video game style display.

Level Up book shelf

It allows you to ask questions and challenges your thinking.

  • I curated a Wellbeing Collection for our students which addresses a range of topics including mental health, self care, identity and healthy eating. It is placed on the edge of the Library (as some students might feel embarrassed looking at it if it were visible to all) and the stock in this collection is backed up by materials from YoungMinds and NHS Choices

Wellbeing sign

  • We also have books that address a wide range of topics to broaden the knowledge of our students, including those relating to Black Lives Matter, LGBTQIA+ issues, racial and religious diversity and women’s rights.

Equality book display

It is a transferrable skill

  • All Departments were provided with posters (created by me) called Reading for Pleasure in your subject with a series of recommendations for our students that were subject themed.
  • We are currently building our subject related nonfiction collection to further reinforce the link between reading and the curriculum, after a phenomenal response to our initial “Reading Across the Curriculum” display.

I am really only scratching the surface of ways that we can truly show young people that Reading is Power. I am so pleased about all the strides forward my students have made so far, and I can only hope that continues for a very long time to come.

I would love to talk more about this, so if you were considering getting in contact, please do! Together, we can truly show young people that not only is reading is educational and life-changing, but Reading is Power.

Working Effectively in Partnership to Promote Creativity

Creative Educator logo
drums cartoon

Why work in Partnership?

Access to the arts is increasingly proving to be the preserve of the elite, with funding cuts often impacting access for young people with the least opportunity, as discussed in Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s interview for Black Lives in Music.  Effective partnership work has provided young people in a broad range of settings with the highest quality tuition and development for several years.

As a Head of Department for Music and more recently as a Strategic Board Member of a Music Education Hub, I have pursued a personal mission of bringing the best musical experiences to as many children as I have the capacity to reach.  This means working alongside the most skilled musicians and bringing their expertise directly to the young people in our school or community settings.  This means taking young people out to the most exquisite performance venues and arts institutes that some may otherwise never get to visit.  This often means introducing young people to arts experiences that they are unfamiliar with and showing them that there is space for them in this creative world, no matter their starting point.

We’re not always the experts

It also means recognising that no-one is an expert at everything!  Carrying out a skills audit within your department or team can highlight areas of need, in terms of provision.  Working with your local Music Education Hub will often provide you with access to orchestral, popular band instruments, or instruments from a range of cultures around the globe.  By connecting with your local Music Education Hub, you can filter young people into appropriate ensembles and chamber music groups, providing the powerful social experience that comes from group music-making.  For different arts disciplines you can apply the same process and get in touch with your local museum, performance venue or drama school.

Engaging a visiting Music Technician, Composer-in-Residence or Guest Composer allows your music department or provision to keep up to date with current trends and can open up creativity in young people, in new ways.  This is also a fantastic way to encourage the production of new music and new sounds in your students.

Best Practice

A brief trip to The Creative Educator website highlights a lovely example of effective partnership work for the Banded About Project back in 2009.  The story of the positive musical and social experiences gained from the project are beautifully articulated.

More recently, a two-year partnership with Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance saw our school students sitting side-by-side with Conservatoire students in big band rehearsals, young people performing as part of the creative composition-based Animate Orchestra at the CBBC Proms and composing with live electronics.  We were able to explore the possibilities of a distance learning ‘A’ Level Music course (identifying and addressing our own provision need) and a targeted group were able to achieve an Arts Award during the programme.

The importance of effective evaluation

When setting up your own partnerships remember to factor in regular slots for evaluation of the programme. It’s best to avoid waiting for a mass end of project evaluation and instead to pick up on what’s working well and what can be improved at regular intervals.  The priority of this process is to ensure that everyone’s voices are heard.  Talk to your young people, facilitators, guests, school-based teachers and parents.  How is it all going?  Are the needs of all stakeholders being met?  If not, how can that be addressed?

Your next steps

So, I’ll leave you with a few questions to consider about setting up your next partnership.

  1. What creative needs are highlighted in your department or curriculum skills audit?
  2. Who are your priority groups? Map out the provision that is most needed.
  3. Who can help you to address your needs and who do you most want to work with?
  4. Who are you going to reach out to? Be brave.  Take the step and reach out.  Your local arts providers are waiting to hear from you!

Sheku Kanneh Mason’s Interview for Black Lives in Music:

Banded About

Jenetta Hurst is a music specialist with 15 years’ experience working in secondary schools in a range of settings, and founder of The  Jenetta is currently Head of Department for Music in a large secondary school in East London and is a former senior leader.  Jenetta’s interests are staff development, CPDL, ITT and teacher induction and she graduated from UCL Institute of Education with the MA Leaderhsip in 2019.  Jenetta is also an Honorary Member of the Birmingham Conservatoire.


twitter: @TheCreative_Edu

IG: thecreative_educator

Diversifying the Canon: Stagnation and Sensibility

In February 2020, Black Frankenstein was born. He graced the cover of a new diversity collaboration by Barnes and Nobles and Penguin Random House entitled Diverse Editions, rendering main characters on the cover to be ethnically diverse. The project was spearheaded to highlight how characters within classics were “assumed” to be white – attempting to show the racial bias in classic novel reading – and the series soon got cancelled. If the aim was rooted in trying to achieve diversity, was this outrage even justified?

The short answer is completely.

This campaign is just one in a long list of case studies to show that canon literature – and as a knock-on result the publishing industry – is attempting to treat the symptom, not the root problem. The symptom? People’s rage. The actual root problem? Systematic inequality. Readers are taught from a worryingly young age that the default is white, able-bodied, cis-gendered, straight…the list goes on. This is not, and cannot, be untaught by a provocative marketing campaign; readers do not assume that characters in novels are white out of nowhere. By teaching classics that perpetuate these viewpoints – or, worse, having a classics syllabus with only a slice of reading considered “diverse” just for performative points – we are making the genre of classics obsolete.

Classics have a long history of exclusion; from their lexical stem being associated with roman tax bands, to the discipline of “Classics” as we know it today being associated with only those of substantial socio-economic status, the way we have viewed the classic novel – as something that meets common high standards of quality and influence – affects how we view ourselves. There’s a reason there’s a huge market for listicles around Classic Books That Teens Will Actually Like, and why literature enthusiasts are often branded as pretentious – we seem to have forgotten that “good” literature can also be fun.

How exciting would it have been for Penguin Random House to have had authors of colour rewrite classics in a modern, intriguing way?

Cannibal by Safiya Sinclair, a poetic retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest exploring themes of postcolonial identity and the female body, is one of many examples of engaging with this dialogue of classic literature and diversity. With just as pretty a cover as Diverse Editions, this approaches diversity in a way that celebrates differences. We need to replace the idea of the literary canon as something antiquated and immoveable, instead allowing it to ebb and flow with the current debates that are happening now. In a recent article published by Disabled journalist Myra Ali, it was revealed that more than 80 actors and entertainment industry professionals such as Amy Poehler and Jessica Barden have signed an open letter around including Disabled actors in Hollywood. How many Disabled main characters can you name in a classic book? Do they have full, varied lives?

This is not the say that the typical Classic is useless – diversity is a complex, multifaceted issue and so there isn’t, unfortunately, a simple solution – but the dialogue of diversifying the canon has to keep moving. It is not enough to have one Black author on a syllabus. If, as perhaps Hamlet would suggest, literature is a mirror to our society – why, then, are we not letting students see themselves? With such a growing mental health crisis in young people today – and Covid-19 seeing us consume the Arts at a ravenous pace – isn’t it worth revaluating how and why we teach classic literature?  Teaching a wide range of diverse pieces of work in an accessible way will allow us as a society to recontextualise the classic – after all, even Frankenstein was once viewed as a “minor horror story”. Perhaps the best stories out there are not being heard.

Literature by a white man is art, separate from himself. A piece written by a marginalised woman is a political statement, whether on purpose or otherwise. This is not something we can fix with a syllabus; the issue is wider than a novel, or a film, or a person writing a blog about the subject. But what we can do is take little steps towards recontextualising the idea of a “classic” – which has, for far too long, upheld ideals of class, race and ability – and engage with the long-lost idea that literature can be enjoyable, diverse and exciting as well as informative and challenging.

The PERFORM Model for Better Mental Health of Musicians

Outline: The PERFORM Model has been developed by writer, musician and positive psychologist Tabby Kerwin as part of her research to support the mental health of musicians.

Based on statistics following research by herself into the mental health of musicians in brass bands and wider evidence collated by the University of Westminster, Tabby concluded that the issue of mental ill heath is very real in the music industry, but by focussing a spotlight on the issue and creating strategies to promote  a greater level of wellbeing and putting support measures in place in organisations, an impact could be made which would lead to a reduction in levels of depression and anxiety.

The PERFORM model

One in four people will be affected by a mental health condition during their life, 1 with musicians reported to be three times more likely than the general public to experience mental ill health. 2

A key part of being a musician is the ability to perform whilst experiencing a state of ‘Flow’ 3 and whilst experiencing Flow on a regular basis can lower levels of anxiety, many musicians appear to be experiencing increasing levels of mental ill health.

As part of my research into the mental health of musicians (particularly in the field of brass bands) and my work as a performance coach, it has become evident to me that the application of positive psychology coaching techniques to all areas of a musician’s life promotes high-performance and emotional fitness whilst supporting the mental health of musicians for life satisfaction and as a consequence, I have developed The PERFORM Model 4 based on this premise.

As a musician, the focus should not just be on what we perform, but how we perform it and this means prioritising our wellbeing in order to make sure we are emotionally fit enough to sustain the mental strain of high-performance demands.

The PERFORM Model is based on seven stages:


P          Positivity

E         Enjoyment

R         Resilience

F          Flourishing

O         Openness

R         Reality

M        Make it Happen


Each of the seven stages focusses on a positive psychology coaching exercise with an outcome that will help boost emotional fitness and become a tool as part of a wider toolkit to act as a protective factor for mental health.

The model construct looks like this:

Stage Coaching Exercise Outcome
P Positivity Identifying Strengths Hope, possibility, ability to work with pre-existing strengths
E Enjoyment Meditation focus, flow, engagement, self-care
R Resilience Grounding connection, confidence, pathways thinking
F Flourishing Journaling gratitude, intention, happiness, reflection
O Openness Visualisation optimism, goal identification, imagination, agency thinking
R Reality Mindfulness honesty, assessment, appreciation, thought disputation
M Make it Happen Kindness & Creativity Preparation, management, creative thinking


The purpose of The PERFORM Model is to guide musicians through a series of established positive psychology coaching techniques which form part of a wider wellbeing toolkit. Through consistent action, musicians can develop good habits which will act as a protective factor for mental health, thus helping them to manage uncomfortable emotions, anxiety and adversity within an already volatile and pressurised industry.

With the application of coping strategies such as those featured in The PERFORM Model, which not only focus on the performance of music itself but apply to all areas of a musician’s life, it is hoped that individuals will not only become more emotionally fit and better able to support their own wellbeing and mental health, but we will see a reduction in cases of mental ill health in the music industry.

© Mode for… Tabby Kerwin

April 2021


  1. The World Health Report 2001: Mental Disorders affect one in four people. (2001, September 28).
  2. Gross, S., & Musgrave, G. (2016). Can Music Make You Sick? Music and Depression A study into the incidence of musicians’ mental health Part 1: Pilot Survey Report Help Musicians UK.
  3. Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1998). Finding flow: the psychology of engagement with everyday life. Choice Reviews Online35(03), 35–182835–1828.
  4. The PERFORM Model © Mode for…Tabby Kerwin (2021)

All the World's Our Stage - Let's Play

From our very early beginnings we learn to make sense of our world through play and exploration. We mimic and re rehearse the everyday situations we encounter, and revisit our favourite stones in imaginary games, casting ourselves in various roles . It is from these early experiences our brain develops connections, frames of reference, and we develop language patterns. This is not in isolation from our feelings -we learn by the emotional connection that enables us to notice, think, reason and make choices. So, it stands to reason drama strategies are a natural vehicle for enabling the link between concrete experiences to generalised thought.

In our new era, post Covid, the focus on well-being, or emotional capacity has never been more prominent. What we have recognised as essential to this are connectivity, creativity, innovation and connection. These are all key elements of play, of exploration and in developing communication.

In this development of communication, physicality is so important. Our earliest forms of communication involve the whole body-babies may be vocal, but much of their emotion comes from physical connection to voice. As they develop, the expression of language connects with physical and facial gestures. It is only as we learn about the nuances of social expectations we begin to inhibit or suppress these.

Anyone who sings knows the importance of connection to body. The same goes for spoken expression.

Try it now. Say ‘I am amazing’ now try it again, but stand up and put your hands on your hips. Imagine you are someone you admire-or your favourite superhero. Now say it. Connect with that role. Try it again – no-one’s looking (unless you’re on a train-and who knows who may join in!)

The power of connection between physical actions, emotional connection and language can be transformational and enables us to empathize with situations, understand characters and access meaning as well as developing our own emotional awareness.

Engaging with and exploring stories using drama can offer a change to engage with emotional issues in a safe but exploratory environment, inspire ideas and offer a chance to develop emotional capacity to interact with our own ideas and those of others to innovate, to adapt and to create our own stories.

I once described drama strategies as akin to Maths modelling. Words, actually written symbols can be as mystifying as digits- particularly for those children who don’t have experience of context and frames of reference to decipher their meaning from. I am now reminded of a tea towel my Mum had trying to explain the rules of cricket to a non-cricket fan. It comes across as gobbledegook to someone who has no idea of the context or rules.

So for whatever reason, if children have not encountered the vocabulary, or the context before, role play and drama can enable them to access the themes effectively and enable them to emotionally connect in the same ways our early play can. I am reminded of a Maths timetables lesson I was teaching. When I had no responses in relation to how long broken journeys took, I realised none of the children had travelled on public transport. Many of them had not travelled more than 5 miles from home. Cue a train station scenario with chalk in the playground. We had loads of fun and accessed the understanding of how timetables worked. We also devised our own form of a tube station map for homework and planned routes! This also inspired a few model trainset birthday requests.

I’m taking Shakespeare as an example today, mainly because of the work I have done with this within the RSC Associate schools Network and the incredible transformations I have witnessed in all learners, including disaffected learners, learning with SEND and in staff who have reported these strategies revolutionised their teaching across the curriculum. I’m also considering some of you may understand how you may associate with Shakespeare’s language as mystifying, demotivating, or you may even have anxieties relating to your own school experiences of Shakespeare. The fact is, he created so many words, there are bound to be bits we don’t know! However, Shakespeare wrote for everyone, he had diverse audiences and  addressed issues of the day by using historical stories. He explored prejudice in many forms and a whole range of emotional journeys. There is something for everyone. His stories are varied and address universal themes, and his rhythms and language link physically with our own heartbeat, so let’s not get too worried about meaning too quickly.  No-one is asking you to read the whole text straight off.

That doesn’t mean we can’t reveal the meaning in playing with his words though.

First, we need to warm up – a great place to meet some characters.

Normally, if I was with you in the room I’d connect with all of you, the characters in the room, and play a game in’ a circle where we are all equal,  have a chance to play, laugh and feel ok with making mistakes, but here we are and I am laying myself bare, so come and play. This would be a circle game and start off simple, adding in layers of challenge -anyone who’s played Splat, or count to ten in a circle, these are both great options. Something geared towards group co-operation is often a great one. A leveller that creates laughter, connects us physically to our bodies and where it’s Ok to go wrong is the intended outcome. What we’re doing is establishing expectations, creating a safe space and developing relationships. What a great way to start a session in class, even if this is all you are doing-you may even link it to the subject of the lesson…I can think of some great Maths examples.

Let’s explore our characters. If we had the luxury of groups we could move as if exploring a land we had not visited before. As our story is The Tempest and our setting is an island just off the Italian coast, then we need to get a feel for this. You may have already looked at this geographically, or in Art, or Science. It would be a great way to connect with prior learning , but also a way to notice what the children know about islands, beaches and contrasting localities.

Let’s have a go:

You are on the island. You choose where on the island, now walk carefully through this island. ( This is a great opportunity to reinforce adverbs by switching the ways of walking, you may also invite emotional responses or point out facial/physical shaping and explore what this means in relation to the stories they are creating).

Maybe you’re on the beach, walk as if you are walking on sand, imagine how it feels, what sounds you may hear. Now STOP (you might choose to use a sound signal for stop)

I’m going to take some photos. ( You can actually take them or just use your hands to symbolise this)

Now show me:

Miranda: a daughter.

Move again as if you are Miranda, now stop, show me.

Prospero : a father master/servant a  powerful magician Duke.

Move again as if you are Prospero, now stop, show me.

Ariel: an airy magical  spirit of the island

Move again as if you are Ariel, now stop, show me.

Caliban: a strange creature

Move again as if you are Ariel, now stop, show me.

We will all have used signs and symbols to help us create these freeze frames. You can unpick how it felt to be these characters, how they felt about the island where they live? What they noticed, what sort of characters you think they are.

This could lead into creative character portraits and work around how the characters interact with environment as well a physical appearance.

We’re connecting with context, making links with reference points, with the ability to link with this when we explore plot and relationships. We can share, explore, question in relation to our’ learner’s thoughts and ideas-adding in layers of vocabulary further info where appropriate. Imagine how this could work with any of the texts you use to interact with the creatin of atmosphere. You could even layer in soundtracks for characters, or musical motifs.

I’m going to shift to our focus text for now. We have met the character who says these words – Caliban, show me this character again.

Let me tell you a little more about him.

A long time ago, a witch called Sycorax lived on this island, She  ruled the land and the spirits that lived across the island. She only had to raise he magic wand and they would hum, howl and sing. Sycorax  had a son: Caliban. He was bent and twisted and ugly. He made strange noises. After Sycorax died, he was alone on the island , free to roam and explore.   

What sort of language/voice might he have? what makes you think that?

All the time, you are making connections, engaging and exploring ideas with what the children know and think and what their contextual knowledge is.

What might it feel like to be Caliban? Maybe draw him,

Prospero was banished to the island with his daughter Miranda and made Caliban his servant, He taught Caliban to speak. ( This is a whole other area of enquiry). Here is what he says about his island.

Now let’s see our piece of  text –

Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,

Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not. /

Sometimes, a thousand twangling instruments 

Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices,

That if I then had waked after long sleep

 Will make me sleep again:/ and then in dreaming

The clouds methought would open and show riches

Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked

I cried to dream again.

Initially I might ask what words stand out after a minute’s glance. I’d then invite everyone to stand and walk, changing direction on punctuation points-not line breaks. Try it now. Try it again. How does it make you feel? What words are speaking to you now?

How do you think Caliban feels about his island? Why? What do we know about this island?

Now you’re creating an island space.

I’ve used / to split the speech into sections. This is where you could invite groups to use noises, body percussion and the words to explore the  dynamics of the language. All of this connects with emotional response, empathy, connecting with language and expression of this. Whilst the children are free to explore, it offers opportunities to justify and explain by simply questioning relating to ‘Tell me more about your choice of sound, instrument, or ‘which words make this stand out for you?’

The you can bring everyone together to play the whole piece with the words. By this time they will all have connected and you, you can play an ensemble recitation. Try this a few times, record it, write feedback on what stands out and why- Then open up the chance to walk in the space, or use the recording as a soundtrack.

 Using two groups

One group speaks and plays, the other moves in the space, then alternate.

Before any discussion, have them write ideas on separate sheets of paper-descriptions, features, what they felt, heard, noticed on the island.

You can now add in some of the text (courtesy of Miles Tandy from the RSC teaching notes)

 Cloud capped towers, Fresh springs, Brine pits, Hard rock, Yellow sands, How lush and lusty the grass looks, Dig thee pine-nuts, A jay’s nest,  The murkiest den, Toothed briar, Filthy mantled pool, Cloven pine, Midnight mushroom, Stout oak, Prickling gorse and thorn

Arrange these around the ‘island space! Spend some time playing with and tasting the words. Get the children to repeat them, enunciate them, even clap to them, or gesture-what might they mean? What do we know…what do these words sound like? Here you are playing with meaning and trying things out-no need for dictionaries right now, but you can steer a little. Lusty may be a tricky one, so make your own judgement!

How do you feel about this island? How does Caliban feel about his island?

This could lead to exploration of how we feel about our homes, or into an-in-depth exploration of colonisation and power  if we were  to advance further into the plot. What we have done is lifted ‘the play’ off the page, brought it to life and connected with language and emotions, while at the same time. developing inference, deduction and comprehension-extending dialogue. We’ve played with the language, and felt it rather than worried about deciphering and defining. But we’ve achieved that along the way, scaffolded and structured by the activity.

We’re now at a place where we can use all of this to enable writing.

We have an island, labelled with ideas. If we add in some of the actual text  extracts we can invite partners to tour the island, ideally blindfolded, but at the moment, maybe one speaks, one listens and they can use the written prompts to describe what the island is like.

The vocal rehearsal this brings about may prompt the need to add ideas – or challenge , eg.  you use a simile to enhance the atmosphere? How could you describe that sound using adjectives/adverbs? You may even add some examples as the children tour your island. Here we now have a bank of  scaffolded prompts that have facilitated developing challenge supported access and not a withdrawal group in sight.

Now is the fun part. You may want a setting description and the children could certainly write a travel blog right now, but maybe you want a poem. Allow them in groups  to collect a fixed number of sheets of paper to collect.

Now challenge them to layer, arrange these to perform their poem however they like- layering in sound, instruments, voice however they like to present a poem about their island.

Once you’ve all performed, reflected on, taken feedback on their decisions, there are a multitude of options, but imagine how much more investment this will inspire for further geographical enquiry, what happens, and maybe artistic representation. The children will now they have a hand in the creation and they have lived the language- and it’s Shakespeare!

Shakespeare wrote his plays to be played and experienced, not read. Much of his writing is written in iambic pentameter which mirrors the da dum of our heart beats. If we listen to his rhythms, and where they differ,  we can get a sense of emotion, a sense of calm or tension- we just need to be brave enough to play.

I could write for days, and I am busy with a longer book version of this work, but the key points are that when we play with stories and language we empower:

  • accessibility for all
  • invested connection with language and meaning
  • emotional response and opportunities to explore this
  • connecting meaning with frames of references, connecting ideas
  • enabling reasoning.
  • enabling reading and writing
  • interaction with challenging and unfamiliar vocabulary in context

What you might not get a sense of here is pace. Exploring playfully can facilitate deep learning at a much quicker pace, and in memorable contexts. The children are empowered to connect at such a level that they commit much of this work to memory easier, and this enhances’ their ability to interact with higher level vocabulary, texts and understanding.

By crafting approaches that involve deep interaction, exploring themes, employing dialogue and sophisticated language and invoking personal responses and reactions, we enable children to making sense of complex situations by proxy. They have been able to access learning the language related to complex relationships and issues and then reflect on what this tells them about themselves and what they know about the world. In other words, the true creation of meaning from experience in which they become the experts, adept at negotiating complex emotions and being able to articulate them as they negotiate with the world.

It’s also tremendous fun, bringing relationships and learning to life. At this point I need to share my favourite quote about stories from John Connolly’s Book of Lost Things:

“Stories were different, though: they came alive in the telling… They were like seeds in’ the beak of a bird, waiting to fall to earth, or the notes of a song laid out on a sheet, yearning for an instrument to bring their music into being. Once someone began to read them they could begin to change.”

Stories change us, and depending on our cultural background, we alter the nuances of meaning in our interaction with them. Goodness, each time I come back to one of Shakespeare’s stories, I notice something new! We all make sense of our lives through the stories we tell ourselves and others, so it follows that stories and language are the key to enabling our learners to understand their own world.

Stories ignite imaginations, play is the expression of this. Why do we relegate, or limit play to our youngest of learners when making sense of meaning gets harder? In order to create our own stories, we need to be able to play with the ideas. Let’s release our inner playwrites, let’s rewrite the script in our classrooms and get creating our worlds, our stages.

Going Back to My Roots

I loved working in various schools in Bradford – as long as there was a balance between time with children and their families, colleagues, as well as external individuals and organisations. These people – artists, dramatists, musicians, choreographers, film makers, animators and sports coaches – added true value to the school community, whether it was on or offsite. They helped raise aspirations, not just the children and their families, but teachers too.

The lead artist on the programme was Dave Hulston, whose mantra for ‘Roots & Routes’ was:

  • Who are you?
  • Where have you come from and where are you now?
  • Where do you want to go and how can you get there?

Sadly, when funding for Cape UK Creative Partnerships was axed, I lost my mojo. I was back to being a puppet of various education ministers, more interested in their own careers, government manifestos and their data-driven, narrow curriculum. Accountability meant that in some schools, curiosity and creativity was simply shunted to one side. Studying for the test works for some children, but it doesn’t work for all. Children simply cannot live on a staple diet of Mathematics, Reading, Writing and SPaG! Our bodies are designed to move – not sit, sit, sit.

Creating Something New

This was the cue for my jump out of the mainstream into the unknown. While teaching in Bradford, the local rugby league team, Bradford Bulls were in their ascendancy. Watching their coaches work with children during tag rugby sessions, I marvelled at the way girls and boys could play at the same level. A perfect level playing field. I asked myself:

  • What if the tags had colourful numbers and letters on?
  • Could they then be used for creative thinking challenges?

I decided to try out the ideas – I rediscovered the joys of play.

The playfulness resulted in Physically Active Learning (PAL) approaches with Tagtiv8. Successes were measured purely by smiles and anecdotal evidence:

  • “With PAL, you don’t get a chance to get bored – or zone out.”
  • “That was great – it takes a lot to get me to enjoy Maths.”
  • “I used to think I was rubbish at Maths, but now I know I’m not.”

Dr Andy Daly-Smith from Leeds Beckett University demonstrated impact with a gold-standard RCT, which went to NESTA, where Tagtiv8 received a 5 star rating. His initial research proves that PAL works as well as plays. Not only does it decrease sedentary time and increase activity levels, PAL also helps raise attainment. Following the success of this research, Andy and I shared our initial work via this TEDx Talk – with reference to my personal creativity guru, Sir Ken Robinson.

Aspire Power Arts

Thanks to the wonderful Dominic Traynor and Adobe Spark, Tagtiv8 had connected on ‘Playful Poetry’ with the equally wonderful Michael Rosen:

The invitation from Dr Emma Kell to explore and share further playfulness with poetry via Aspire Power Arts was too good to resist. It’s definitely an ongoing process – with a collaborative pilot involving:

The work in progress can be viewed on Google Drive here. Be warned, it will involve a few mazy runs.

With Tagtiv8, the difference between PLAY and PAL is small. It’s only one letter – Y.

Thinking of Simon Sinek, and his seminal book, ‘Start with Why’, we know our Why.

What’s yours?



According to a 10 year old child at a school in London, “Bryn is a genius.” However, his friends and family know the truth. Bryn worked in various UK schools for over 20 years as a teacher and school leader. In 2013, he founded Tagtiv8 Ltd. His pioneering approaches to Physically Active Learning (PAL) help schools take learning beyond the classroom walls – crucial when challenging the increasing problem of sedentary lifestyles.

Bryn is co-director of Move & Learn (CIC) – as well as advising the BBC and the Premier League on their education content.


020 3370 4272 or 07506 523354

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Designing the Leeds Curriculum

Pupils in Leeds Discovery Centre

Designing the Leeds Curriculum: building a place-based cultural curriculum

Kate Fellows, Head of Learning and Access, Leeds Museums and Galleries

Everyone loves a story. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin… Once upon a time, there was a city in Yorkshire, England called Leeds. Magical things happened in Leeds. Prehistoric hippos once roamed where now there are houses. An elephant got stuck in a small alleyway – how did it get out? In Leeds, brilliant people built a vibrant city that shouted out to the world, opened its doors and welcomed people back. Leeds makes things like Monopoly boards full of tools to help prisoners of war escape in the Second World War. Leeds greets people from across the world, across the centuries. Leeds celebrates having the one of the largest West Indian Carnivals outside of the Caribbean. These are just some of the stories we uncovered as part of the development of the Leeds Curriculum.

What is the Leeds Curriculum?

Leeds Museums and Galleries led a city-wide consortium of over 50 arts, cultural and community organisations and over 30 primary schools to co-create the Leeds Curriculum. The Curriculum provides primary teachers with the resources they need to teach using a place-based, local approach through which they can teach any subject and any age group. The Leeds Curriculum is focused on the action research question, ‘what stories do we want our children to know about Leeds before they leave primary school?’ It took two years to develop, and launched in June 2018. The Curriculum is openly and freely accessible on, a website hosting free national teaching resources, managed by Leeds Museums and Galleries. It can be found on:

Each story contains a ‘hook story’, something interesting and curious about the city. Many of the stories are based on objects within the LMG collections. The stories cover a geographical, chronological and diverse range, linked to the past, but also highlighting a contemporary issue. They are co-produced with communities. They contain images, films, oral histories, archives, access to accessioned museum objects and resources drawn from all the arts and cultural providers across Leeds. Teachers told us they didn’t want lesson plans, they wanted progression-linked, suggested cross-curricular arts activities and experiences, and links out to all the organisations who host information, workshops and resources.

Why did Leeds choose a place based approach?

A place based curriculum is about a place, for a place and by a place. It is designed to enhance the learning experiences of our children by ‘giving them roots to give them wings’ (First Nations proverb). Research indicates that grounding children in their city through place based learning addresses local challenges, raises attainment because they develop a greater sense of community ( Research also shows that primary age children engaging in arts and culture are three times more likely to get a university degree, more likely to be active citizens engaged in democracy through voting, and experience better mental and physical health in later life. Combining research and expertise in the city, we are aiming to raise the educational achievement of all 170,000 school age children in Leeds.

Currently, only 56% of children aged 8-11 achieve the standard of education required by central government. This is below the national average of 61%. The difference in the achieved and expected standard for children is known as the ‘attainment gap’. The attainment gap is particularly noticeable for children living with special education needs and disabilities, those who are looked after by the authorities and those living in poverty. The Leeds Curriculum is not a magic bullet to solve these issues, but we can raise aspirations, foster enjoyment and achievement in school, and raise attendance. We can do this by targeting a culturally based curriculum at all 232 primary schools in Leeds. Sallie Elliot, Head of Swillington Primary, reflected: “every child and young person should have access to a high-quality arts and cultural education and all of the proven benefits it brings. As a Headteacher, I think that the Leeds Curriculum is a fantastic idea and one which will benefit our pupils for years to come.”

How did we do it?

We began consultation with directly with schools, academy trusts, teaching alliances, universities with teaching training provision and arts and cultural organisations in 2016. We piloted one story in early 2017, then held story gathering workshops in autumn 2017. We fostered buy-in through strategic conversations and advocacy with schools, local government and arts organisations. We employed a freelance Project Developer to add capacity and give a unified voice to the Curriculum. Throughout 2018, we worked closely with teachers and pupils to sift the stories, looking through the lens of the National Curriculum objectives, and giving a chronological, geographical and diverse spread of stories. We launched the Curriculum on 14 June 2018 at Leeds City Museum.

What did it cost?

Development has cost many hours un-costed of staff time in building relationships and trust and gathering resources. However, this has built partnerships that make the city stronger culturally, foster an embedded positive attitude to arts within formal education and position Leeds Museums and Galleries as a strong, sustainable service. The only funded costs were the freelance Project Developer (around £20,000 over 2 years), and the launch event both funded through Arts Council England.

What’s the size and scale of the Leeds Curriculum?

We want to reach every child aged 5-11 in the city. That’s about 55,000 young people. That’s a tough ask, but a good ambition! Through the development process we have gathered over 300 stories and questions, worked over 80 arts professionals and members of the community from 40 organisations, and a further 210 Yr1-6 children, and 80 teachers from 30 schools. We had over 100 teachers and cultural professionals at the launch event. We know the curriculum is currently being used, at least in part, by half of the primary schools in Leeds (approx. 100 schools), reaching around 10,000 children so far. The dwell time for Leeds resources as part of the Curriculum had increased by 44%. LMG and partner organisations have seen rises in engagement for story strands from the Leeds Curriculum. The curriculum will grow over time, and we will truly only see the impact over the next 5-10 years. 

Image captions / credits:

Image 1: The Leeds Curriculum on – a free to access teaching resource website.

Image 2: Pupils at Leeds Discovery Centre finding out about, and writing, their histories. (Credit Sara Zagni).