Guest blog: Ceramicist Geraldine Francis considers the challenges and benefits of delivering Arts Award as an artist practitioner

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to receive a grant towards training as an Arts Award Adviser. Arts Award is a scheme which allows young people to evidence their creative activities and gain a nationally recognised qualification. As a Montessorian and an admirer of the Reggio Emelia philosophy the structure of this programme struck a chord with me. Along with the practical activities the Arts Award imbeds leadership development throughout all levels, allowing participants to share, discuss and reflect on what they see and take part in, above all it is about doing and encouraging young people to be active learners.

Work by Explore candidate
(Age 9)

Initially I thought that Arts Award would add value to my own practice. The nature of working in the community as an artist means that many workshops are delivered as ‘one offs’ or at best with a specific aim, within these limits it is challenging to include Arts Award beyond offering the chance to evidence a particular activity. So even when young people have an interest in pursuing Arts Award moving it from a single activity to a continuing commitment is sometimes difficult. For this reason it was quite a long time until I actually saw any young people through their awards.

My first candidate was home educated having experienced bullying at school. Her Arts Award was the first qualification she gained, having missed out on GCSE’s. Her Arts Award success helped her realise that she had skills to offer and gave her the confidence to apply for a college course and continue her education. It was owing to this positive experience that I continued to offer Arts Award within my practice.

In 2013 I went into partnership with fellow ceramist Sue Whelan. As I was registered as an Arts Award centre, it seemed the obvious step for us to offer the award together from our Fired Thoughts arts studio, now open to the public. Here we were able to offer regular sessions for young people. At first we had to gain people’s understanding of what Arts Award had to offer, this was difficult at first. Our perseverance has been fuelled by the belief that young people benefit hugely by being involved in the Arts Award scheme. Yes it is a lot more work, We could no doubt run individual workshops and earn the same, the extra effort, however, is worth it when one sees young people achieve, grow in confidence and develop personally.

Sgraffito tile by one of the Arts Award candidates

Being small brings its difficulties but it is also our strength, I know some of the young people we see would find a larger organisation intimidating. We notice if someone is feeling unhappy about what they are doing, we have the time to stop and explain, to nurture and encourage. Through word of mouth people have got to know about our work and now Sue and I run a regular Arts club which is growing in numbers and has young people working towards an Arts Award throughout the levels, from Discover to Silver.

In 2014 we ran a very successful “Bronze in a Week” course and saw 10 students achieve their award. In 2017 we hope to see even more candidates through this level with similar courses taking place in the summer. A new project which is nearing completion has been an after school club with whom we have worked to deliver Discover Arts Award for children ranging in age from 5 years to 11 years. We have just had a successful Explore moderation for 3 young people, are about to send our first Silver portfolio for moderation and recently enrolled our first Gold candidate.

Delivering Arts Award as a practitioner has its difficulties so why do it?

A student modelling with the aid of a former

In a world where more creative thinkers are likely to be needed, Arts Award provides an important role in encouraging the development of these skills. Artists have a changing role, many moving towards collaborative creative partnerships and as such they make for important partners in the delivery of the Arts Award qualification. I personally consider that it is important that Arts Award has a place outside mainstream education so that as many young people as possible can access the qualification no matter what their background or previous learning experiences.

The Arts Award website will give someone wanting to find out more about becoming an adviser all the details of training sessions throughout the country. For information on our programme of events which we keep regularly updated: facebook.com/Fired-Thoughts or contact the studio at 01380 840666.

Geraldine Francis, ceramicist

www.geraldinefrancisceramics.weebly.com

Editor’s note: Training at a reduced rate for the bronze and silver arts awards is expected to take place in Wiltshire in April – more details from emily.malcolm@wiltshire.gov.uk. If you are interested in the Arts Award Discover and Explore Adviser Training, you can book on a course taking place on 25 May 2017 at Salisbury Playhouse.

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