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SEND Settings Excelling in Creativity

In this section

  • A Culture of Creativity
  • Building Communication and Confidence
  • Collaboration and Partnerships

A Culture of Creativity

Many special schools are creative in the way they deliver the curriculum to their pupils and students.

Through our DfE programmes, we worked with a range of SEND settings to support and extend creative and innovative practice. Schools seized the opportunity to respond to the specific needs of their pupils through arts, culture and creativity and to enrich the great work that was already going on. The examples shared may also be of interest to mainstream settings with SEN provision, such as additionally resourced provision.

Pupils’ art, craft and design work can be used to create vibrant and stimulating learning environments both inside buildings and within grounds. Michael James, Lead teacher of the Arts at The Loddon School, a residential setting in Hampshire, made a film for our CPD session on Arts Rich Schools. In it he explains how the arts and creativity are at the centre of their curriculum, how they embed arts partnerships and how they have developed their approach.

Creative and artistic activities can provide purpose and authenticity, enabling young people to apply their learning and skills across the curriculum. We found the SEND settings we worked with very open to working in this way and the impact on students clear.

“Staff often share good practice with each other and collaborate… For example, collaborating with a maths teacher to work on a maths unit for a non-GCSE student… Teachers were able to work together to produce some creative maths challenges for the student. The impact of this was substantial and led to the student achieving more in lessons, having a more positive attitude to learning and remaining focussed for longer. In addition to this, maths and art have collaborated on a summer project responding to the theme of Mandalas. Students worked on shape, line, pattern and colour in Art lessons and worked on symmetry and measurements in maths.”
– Mimi Gabriel, Art Lead, Cornfield School, Surrey

Building Communication and Confidence

Several of our DfE-funded projects focused on how arts, cultural and creative activity can provide purposeful opportunities to develop and use communication skills and confidence.

The Wyvern School in Ashford, Kent has an established partnership with local inclusive dance organisation Confidance. Artswork supported a collaborative research project to develop robust ways of integrating communication tools into dance practice, supporting students’ development. Observation, research and collaborative choreography sessions with Wyvern’s Speech and Language team and Confidance staff have led to the co-creation of a new inclusive visual resource for supporting communication.



Battle and Langton Primary School, part of our West Sussex Creative Steps group, focused on developing speaking and listening skills and boosting confidence. Their pilot group of Year 3 children, with additional speech and language needs, worked together to produce a film, engaging them in script writing, performance, filming and editing.

“The children were able to access more than anticipated and all the children produced work which exceeded teacher expectations. The children’s confidence was really boosted, and they were so proud to show their work with others. They were also able to share the process of filmmaking.”
– Kiran Kortana, Arts Lead, Battle and Langton Primary School, East Sussex

The project was such a success with this small group, the teacher gained the confidence to run it with a whole Year 1 class. The following term she planned and led a week-long film project with the whole of Year 5 through our Creative Careers Year 5 Film making programme.



Collaboration and Partnerships

A partnership cited as a best practice case study in the Durham Commission Report on Creativity and Education (October 2019) featured in our CPD Establishing Effective Arts and Cultural Partnerships; the Iffley Academy in Oxford and Oxford Universities Gardens Libraries and Museums (GLAM). Staff from GLAM and senior staff at the school co-constructed a programme designed to familiarise the students with cultural venues in an accessible way and facilitate their participation in creative projects. Sustained over several years it has resulted in close and dynamic relationships between the school and GLAM and significant impacts for students and staff at both organisations.

“This project has made a significant and sustained impact on both the school as a whole, individual teachers and on students. It has been recognised as an essential vehicle for school improvement.”
– Tom Procter-Legg, Head Teacher, Iffley Academy, Oxford

Rewarding collaborations need not be with large professional organisations. The Castle School in Newbury was part of a SEND-focused Champions group, which explored photography with students and local partners. Drama Lead, Anna Scholl reached out to their local camera club who came straight back and embraced the opportunity to work with her students; providing volunteers to work with students, arranging an exhibition of their work at the local hospital and a lunch that was attended by the mayor.

“It’s opened my eyes to the benefits of working locally and how things can really develop by using your artists locally.”
– Anna Scholl, Drama Lead, The Castle School, Newbury

An unexpected outcome was that the young people saw that “not everyone does work for money and … there is a whole world of volunteering and giving your time for others and to support others.” The reality for many adults with SEND is unemployment or underemployment. Therefore, helping children and young people to develop interests and enthusiasms that can enable them to use their time creatively and productively, is hugely important.

Where we have seen the most impact is when time has been made to develop a relationship between the school and the organisation or artist. This ensures that artists understand the needs of the children and young people and can tailor activities to meet the priorities for the school and individuals. This approach also builds confidence on both sides as Jen Lord of The Wyvern School reflects here:

“Bringing the artists into school and allowing them to work across the school has a huge amount of powerful impact. Conversations happened naturally and organically between artists and staff, and it became clear over time that arts opportunities were those that people could remember above more conventional learning.”
– Jen Lord, Assistant Headteacher, The Wyvern School, Ashford, Kent

These programmes have demonstrated the value of working with arts partners to children, young people and teaching staff. They have shown how this kind of collaboration enriches the experience for all.

“Having worked repeatedly with several educators and artists both in school and at external venues, the feedback I receive from all of them is that the most successful sessions for them are the ones where the staff either encourage or join the activity with the pupils, for behaviour modelling. The pupils also enjoy it too!”
– Andrea White, Art Lead, Polygon School, Southampton

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