The arts develop creativity, social skills, powers of persistence and sometimes luminous talent. Get the balance right and you inspire young minds with ideas that can sustain them through school and beyond. Five schools explain how they make the arts journey exciting and mind broadening

Why the arts develop skills for life
Cranleigh Prep (also pictured top) offers a rich diet of arts opportunities including whole-school events

Cranleigh Prep School

At Cranleigh Prep, there is a strong focus on the arts, with art, drama and music lessons every week. There are also dance lessons in Years 3-5, and with DT and food technology also in the mix up to age 11. “We also celebrate the arts in whole-school events, such as the House Singing Competition, which involves all pupils,” says Deputy Head (Operational) and Music Teacher Catherine Beddison.  

Of course, off timetable is where many children discover their passions, and the school’s rich mix of co-curricular activities range from Music Production Club and Awesome Book Awards Club to activities such as rehearsals for school plays and an after-school Media Club where children get hands on with cameras and editing equipment. There are also invitation-only activities, such as Da Vinci Club for prospective art scholarship students. The team manage things carefully to ensure that there are no clashes between, say Chapel Choir and Street Dance. “Children and staff have developed a sense of mutual respect between disciplines,” adds Catherine Beddison.

Whatever a child’s natural interests, curricular and extra-curricular activities are designed to cultivate engagement. Drama is a classic example, says the Head of Drama, Philip Waller. “It is important to show the relevance of Drama for each pupil. I am not looking at merely working in a cross curricular way through script work and improvisational games, which of course is a fundamental part of it, but more importantly using Drama as a training ground to permeate confidence across all learning.” Philip Waller ensures students have access to film making as part of these activities, showcasing modern and technical aspects of the craft.

“At a very basic level, exposing children to creative pursuits might well uncover a latent talent or undeveloped skill that can be nurtured”

Similarly, with Art, children are introduced to newer mediums alongside the traditional forms. “Digital art becomes far more serious, and therefore interesting to children, if the link between digital art and concept art for movies and video games is explained and investigated,” says Director of Art Rob Perry. “It is the enjoyment and confidence, gained through a greater sense of achievement and self-worth, that the children take most from their artistic experiences,” he adds.

Music at Cranleigh Prep is all about inclusivity, with open-access choirs at all stages. Pupils can sing or take part in percussion groups, even if they don’t formally learn an instrument. “As a whole school community, pupils sing together in weekly Chapel services as well as congregational hymn practices,” says Head of Music Ruth Williams. “We have pupils who take part in County and National ensembles and choirs, as well as individuals with casting agents for West End shows.” The school broadens music perspectives, embracing areas beyond Western classical music – which pupils love. Music technology is also hugely popular and offered all the way through to A level at Cranleigh. “We are always looking at different ways to ignite creativity, and we take a bespoke approach to musical ensembles,” she adds.

The school has opted for an approach that sees some compulsory subjects – so everyone tries them out – before offering electives as they get older. Compulsory arts subjects for younger children certainly benefit them at school and beyond,” says Cranleigh Prep Headmaster Neil Brooks. “At a very basic level, exposing children to creative pursuits might well uncover a latent talent or undeveloped skill that can be nurtured.” He adds that arts build confidence and teamwork, as well as providing a balance with other subjects. “The need for children to recognise that they are a part of something bigger and have a responsibility to others has increased post pandemic and the arts, along with sports, provide a wonderful vehicle for meeting it.”

Cranleigh Prep School

Why the arts develop skills for life
Sarum Hall School offers immersive arts teaching, often with focus on specific artists or events such as World Arts Day

Sarum Hall School

Hampstead prep Sarum Hall is an Artsmark School, committed to embedding arts and creativity across the whole curriculum. Alongside traditional art lessons – covering areas such as ceramics, print making, painting and drawing – the team takes a cross-curricular approach. This means, for instance, that when Year 3 studied the Anglo-Saxons in history, they had a go at dying yarn with vegetables and then weaving their own cloth.

Student Art Ambassadors have a formal role, ensuring the student voice in how the arts are taught across the school. There is also a distinctly immersive approach, with challenges such as recreating particular paintings, such as Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Obliteration Room’ – this involved plenty of fun with spots and a wild transformation of the playground shed.

Alongside art lessons, dance, music and performing arts are all popular parts of the school day and a core part of the curriculum. After school clubs cover a wide range of areas – from choir and music to ‘ambitious artists’. Specific events have been held to mark important arts events such as World Arts Day, with children dressing up as characters from their favourite paintings and then taking photographs.

For those pupils who are more engaged in science subjects, Design Technology is, say the staff, a great crossover activity where they can build kites, create marble runs or design 3D posters. Technology is used wherever possible (and appropriate). For the same Anglo-Saxon project where pupils were dying and weaving, they then conducted a fashion show and filmed post-show interviews.

Sarum Hall has no doubts that the arts are invaluable for igniting children’s enthusiasm and helping them develop skills for life. “Children who understand and have an appreciation of the arts tend to be those who are willing to listen and understand the views of others. We believe that creative thinking is a life skill, useful for any subject or future career,” says Headmistress Karen Coles. “The arts can unlock the potential of children and young people, develop their characters, talent and confidence and increase their knowledge and understanding of so many different areas of life.”

Sarum Hall School

Why the arts develop skills for life
Queen Ethelburga’s prioritises the arts through its curriculum and a huge range of extracurricular opportunities

Queen Ethelburga’s Collegiate

At Queen Ethelburga’s (QE), the creative arts are supported and celebrated across all four schools. In Chapter House, there are specialist lessons in music, performing arts and dance alongside a full arts curriculum. At QE’s Kings Magna Middle school, creative arts curriculum lessons include art, 3D design and technology, music and drama. QE students get extra opportunities through the enrichment and super curricular offering, giving Years 6-9 tasters of musical theatre, dance, ‘Class Brass’ (a brass ensemble), music composition and a whole range of art options, including photography, animation, anime art and 3D design.

When students move on to either College or Faculty, choice continues. In College, there’s a full range of creative GCSE options. In the Faculty, students can choose BTEC or GCSE options, extending the choice still further. Once they move up to Sixth Form, students have a wide range of A-level and BTEC options across the arts. There are opportunities to specialise in areas such as fashion, illustration, print or interactive media. Similarly, with performing arts, students may specialise in areas such as directing or musical theatre.

Vocational Curriculum Manager and Head of Creative Arts at QE Helen Stephenson says the extracurricular offer is “huge” across performance and visual arts areas. “We offer a Saturday school, Queen’s Academy. Here students can take part in a wide range of activities from self-directed study and workshop time to practitioner lead workshops – recent examples have included shadow puppetry, collage, portfolio building for university applications, and visiting speakers with an emphasis on creative careers.” She points to recent examples where students have focused on fashion marketing and film and documentary making.

“New statistics reveal the Creative Industries sector is growing more than five times faster than the national economy”

QE also runs Saturday arts academies and the King’s Academy theatre school is open both to students at the school and young people in the area and includes dance, singing, drama and musical theatre. There’s also a Saturday music workshop where students get involved in band, jazz band, rock and pop choirs, wind group or music theory for the ABRSM exams. “All these weekend end activities are in addition to our whole school collaborations,” adds Helen Stephenson. “We have a whole school musical each year in the Autumn term, most recently this was High School Musical. We offer drama performances, dance competitions, house music and musical recitals as part of assemblies throughout the year.” There’s also a creative collaboration between the Creative Arts and Sports departments for the annual Gym and Dance Display, always including a workshop with a professional dance company. QE offers an Arts Award, giving its students the chance to achieve in a creative or performance area.

The school is keen to offer the whole range of possibilities. For instance, interactive media and techniques and concepts of game design are being introduced this year. Helen Stephenson says this is important in developing enthusiasm – and the soft skills required by employers. New statistics reveal the Creative Industries sector is growing more than five times faster than the national economy,” says Helen Stephenson. “We open up our students from the very earliest ages to the 6th form to a breadth of creative opportunities.”

Queen Ethelburga’s Collegiate

St Swithuns
St Swithun’s School offers lots of creative opportunities in and out of the classroom

St Swithun’s School

Winchester school St Swithun’s offers the full range of mainstream arts subjects, including History of Art, Textiles and Design and Technology. The school has an approach it calls ‘appropriately academic’, with plenty of opportunities to get creative outside the classroom. Indeed, the whole approach here is to encourage girls to try new things and learn from them. Along the way they develop the whole range of skills that arts teaching and learning can bring – from perseverance to teamwork.

The school says that while some girls naturally gravitate towards participating in lots of activities, others need a bit more persuasion to spread their wings. Boarders here are expected to sign up to a certain number of after-school co-curricular activities and day students are also welcome to join. Tutors ensure a good balance of activities – and also make sure pupils honour their co-curricular commitments made at the start of each term.

For students who are more focused on, say, science subjects, the school designs options that will appeal. For instance, creating science-themed videos or animations, fashion theatre productions can help to bring their interests into play.

St Swithun’s sees a chief benefit of arts activities as developing critical thinking, alongside communication and creative skills. It adds that promoting cultural awareness and emotional intelligence are vital parts of what the arts bring to young people’s lives within and beyond school.

St Swithun’s School

Why the arts develop skills for life
Downe House works to ensure pupils experience a range of different arts activities and encourages them to try new things

Downe House

Downe House offers a full curriculum across creative subjects, including subjects such as History of Art, Ceramics, Textiles and 3D Design. Art and Design is on the curriculum for the first two years “This enables pupils to develop the ability of appreciating the visual world and to respond in a personal and creative way,” says Downe House Director of Admissions Tara Reeve. “They have the opportunity to work using a variety of subject matter and media and develop skills to interpret and convey ideas and feelings.” Just as important are the analytical, experimental and documenting skills developed and honed by these subjects. 

The range of co-curriculum activities is broad, and an important part of life at the Berkshire school. “Our department and pastoral staff support the girls to find the right balance and diversity of activities, which can include joining a formal group, or creating their own,” says Tara Reeve. Groups and activities may be staff or pupil led, but the focus is on encouraging girls to try new things. “We also find opportunities for our pupils to visit exhibitions, galleries, enjoy stage productions and films, as well as providing performing and creative arts workshops,” adds Tara Reeve.

The emphasis at the full-boarding school is on ensuring a rounded education – and some fun. “There is no better way of getting pupils involved than introducing a little healthy competition – and our inter-House competitions (House Drama, Dance, Art and Music), led by our Sixth Form House captains, are a great way of encouraging participation.” Cross-department initiatives, such as a recent interpretive Art/Music collaboration called ‘Soundscapes’, add depth to the creative offer. In another recent example, artists and scientists combined to present artistic interpretations of microorganisms.

Tara Reeve says school facilities such as 3D printers are well used for creative endeavours, and weekend workshops in areas such as jewellery making are a huge hit. All media and mediums are explored, and one popular annual event is a Year 9 project with a film company where teams spend a day creating a film around campus. “The pupils fully embrace this opportunity, and the project is rounded off with an Oscars-themed evening of fine dining, where all the videos are shown, and everyone dresses up for the occasion.”

Tara Reeve says the arts have a vital role in developing young people’s confidence and self-belief. “Finding and nurturing a pupil’s strengths and talents is our mission and in the case of the creative arts and performing arts, there are so many opportunities for our pupils to explore their artistic and creative potential.”

Downe House

Further reading: More House on the value of creative platforms