Case study: A central role for the arts

Written by: Jane Ryder | Published:
Art attack: The arts play a central role across the curriculum and school life at Sidegate Primary School (Photos: Sidegate Primary School)

From changing classrooms into workshops to pupils curating their own museums, the arts play a central role at Sidegate Primary School. The school’s arts and culture coordinator Jane Ryder explains

At Sidegate Primary School a sustained effort is being made to weave arts and culture into our teaching and learning. Establishing the arts in our school is being achieved through a range of arts projects, some standalone and some integrated into specific subject areas.

Building and sustaining relationships with artists in the community is another way in which we are ensuring arts and culture become embedded in everything that we do here. Allowing pupils to develop the skills associated with these areas also ensures the development of an enriched classroom environment.

Embedding the arts does not mean we are purely focused on dedicating attention to arts lessons. We use the arts throughout all subjects, and even match them with our values. For example, awareness of British values is purposefully stitched into our classroom life. We help to make this interactive for our pupils by celebrating the richness of arts and diversity of culture in Britain.

Reconfiguring the classroom

Since making the decision to further integrate the arts more widely into life at Sidegate, classrooms have become recognised as workshops where pupils can learn through a range of innovative experiences. Actors, musicians, authors, artists and dancers regularly visit and work alongside children to develop creative skills.

These opportunities provide our pupils with the chance to learn from experts and, through such opportunities, the children are able to develop confidence, creative awareness and adoption of the language of the arts.

Classrooms become studios, workshops, museums and laboratories. These are places where children can collaborate with others and safely take risks. Allowing the creative mindset to be established in a classroom environment takes some thinking outside of the box. Furniture is moved, interactive displays provide stimulation, objects of intrigue are strategically placed, and a wide range of learning spaces are created. In addition, resources are made available to children to access as appropriate.

Books, artefacts and posters are displayed and children are encouraged to use these both inside and outside of lessons. A range of paper sizes and colours are provided alongside traditional workbooks. Homework projects use a variety of media, from comic strips to interactive displays.

ICT support, learning booths and group table clusters, as well as areas for children to work by themselves are made available. We are even eagerly anticipating the “opening” of our own museum, with each year group taking on a curating responsibility!

Student work is constantly celebrated, and expectations of high standards and good quality are acknowledged by all. Work is displayed around classrooms and the school to inspire pride while also extending the learning environment beyond the four walls of the classroom. Walls are no longer the only space to hang work!

The flat plane of a wall is manipulated and teachers, within the constraints of health and safety regulations, can take the eye of the learner to all available space within a classroom. No space is left unchartered as we explore the continuous development of the learning environment.

Developing new skills

Learning environments provide places where pupils are enabled and encouraged to become passionate explorers and risk-takers, and in doing so they can develop skills and talents that will have a lasting impact, preparing them to become innovative thinkers and problem-solvers in future.

In order to support and develop these skills, we ensure that pupils are regularly engaged in problem-solving activities through role-play, encouraging them to take on the mantle of the expert in order to explore ideas.

Questions are used to stimulate and motivate learning, which in turn generates the opportunity for children to take a lead in steering their own learning.

They are increasingly recognising themselves as authors, scientists, historians and geographers, becoming curators of their own learning as maths and literacy merge together with foundation subjects.

In our classrooms, while expectations for completion and presentation of work remain high, complementary skills are developed and pupils start to advance, deepen and contextualise their learning. Writing becomes meaningful as children are able to write from and reflect upon their own experiences. Allowing children to take control of their own learning ensures that we are producing active instead of passive learners.

Outside of the classroom

We place cultural experiences at the heart of our pupils’ lives for the duration of their time with us, providing opportunities that will inspire, inform, stimulate and challenge them to be inquisitive, persistent, imaginative, disciplined and collaborative learners. Visits to museums, galleries, theatres and musical presentations are forums that provide continuous points of inspiration.

Providing an inclusive extra-curricular arts programme, available to all children, ensures that they are given every opportunity to apply and practise skills in an extensive range of planned practical contexts, such as music ensemble groups, choirs, visual arts clubs, dance clubs, photography, multimedia and drama. Their achievements are celebrated and accredited through schemes such as the Arts Award and ABRSM Music Medals.

External support

Incorporating the arts at Sidegate is well supported and valued by those that work with us, such as our sponsor the Active Learning Trust, our governors and our senior leadership team and teaching staff. The arts are given priority in our school improvement plan and are central to action planning across the curriculum.

Subject leaders, in sharing visions for their own subject areas, demonstrate their commitment to using creative arts as a tool for teaching and learning. Finding that point of stimulation, and what essentially becomes the catalyst for learning, is key. Pupils need their interest to be sparked, and the teacher’s skill in igniting that touch paper is what helps to establish an infectious atmosphere of learning.

Equipping teachers

Our aim is to provide opportunities for our pupils to create, share and be inspired, thus inspiring others in turn, in order to sustain a culture of arts and creative learning. The teaching team is provided with support to allow them to facilitate these opportunities, such as modelling, CPD and INSET sessions, which are organised to empower them and equip teachers with the necessary skills and confidence.

A vision is clearly communicated and regularly referred to in order establish on-going creative teaching and learning. As such, the arts and culture become ever more embedded as more and more teachers gain confidence in their delivery.


Creating a learning environment that has its roots in the arts and culture will help our learners to flourish. Social, moral, spiritual and emotional targets are met, and pupils become excited about learning. Children are becoming increasingly inquisitive – they ask questions, form opinions and are able to give and receive criticism. Our teachers are becoming confident in championing and facilitating learning opportunities that encourage and reinforce these attributes.

Through the arts, richness and breadth of learning enhances opportunities to unlock creativity. Barriers to learning are cut through, and as such our pupils soar.

  • Jane Ryder is a year 4 class teacher and arts and culture coordinator at Sidegate Primary School in Ipswich, which is part of the Active Learning Trust.

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