Developing students’ skills through creativity in education

Written by: Craig D’Cunha | Published:
Art attack: Chantry Academy’s school production of Loserville in February last year featured students from across years 7 to 10. Pictured above are students (l-r) Harvey, Kieron, Anangan, and Maddison (Image: Supplied)

With arts in education being squeezed out of many schools, headteacher Craig D’Cunha discusses how his school is ensuring that attention doesn’t fade from those more creative, skills-based subjects

The education world is one that is surrounded by new ideas, advice from various organisations and national agendas with changing priorities.

In a time where I’m seeing an overwhelming educational shift towards the “core” subjects, I believe that it is important to recognise the role of the arts in equipping pupils with key life-skills such as empathy, resilience, collaboration and building confidence.

As part of the Active Learning Trust, we work hard to create an environment for pupils to develop such skills in order to live fulfilling and responsible lives as active citizens. I believe that a skills-based education, rather than focusing on subjects alone, is key to this.

When I talk about the arts – I include drama, music, theatre, dance and creative technology within its umbrella.

At Chantry, we have changed rapidly in the last three years – offering additional classes in drama, dance and art. This has been through our focus on the arts and in having a plan to build relationships with local organisations.

I have learnt a lot from our journey so far and would like to share my seven top tips for incorporating creativity into your school.

Your local Arts Bridge organisation

I have found the relationship with Arts Bridge Norfolk to be invaluable. They have links to organisations that are keen to get involved with schools and, more importantly, have the skills and resources to make a real difference.

The Arts Council funds a network of 10 Bridge organisations to connect the cultural sector and the education sector so that young people can have access to great arts and cultural opportunities.
They work with local schools and many other organisations. They also support schools to achieve Artsmark and organisations to deliver Arts Award.

Using funding from Arts Council England, Norfolk and Norwich Festival Bridge provides support to the schools within the Active Learning Trust and forms the basis for our multi-academy trust’s (MAT) 2017/18 programme of work.

The funding doesn’t just involve Chantry Academy but ensures that learning is shared between 21 schools within the MAT.

Have a focus

Set yourself a goal to go for the Artsmark. Setting a goal may seem like a simple point when setting out on a new task – but without sitting down and clearly defining where you want to be, it is hard to articulate your aim to others and ultimately inspire a result. Equally, to get buy-in from colleagues, your local community and students – you will need to know what you want to achieve and why. I knew that relationships were key to our success, which is why a lot of resource was put into forming those relationships last year. Being part a MAT has helped to give our school the clout to form these strategic partnerships.

Focus on CPD

Once you promote the arts you will see the need for capacity and resources to increase, which then poses different challenges. How will your teachers manage with larger class sizes? How will they approach their individualised feedback with a greater diversity of students? What additional resourcing will they need to ensure the diversity of the arts is enhanced?

The funding from Arts Council England is having a huge impact on how we equip our teachers with the skills and confidence to deliver effective artistic classes. We are now able to empower colleagues with the knowledge that this learning is important, that we believe it is key to developing our pupils and, most importantly, that we are seeing the results in the students and their outcomes.

Teacher capacity

Teachers of the arts, as we know, are full of passion. I know that as soon as they are given the chance to have a greater focus, they will have a plethora of fabulous ideas – they are creative after all. It is important to harness this creativity and make sure that classes are resourced properly. Keeping to the focuses agreed during your goal-setting exercise is key here to ensuring that ways of working are smart and effective.

National results

In the world of high-stakes accountability, there needs to be a balance between all subjects, attainment, progress and the day-to-day expectations – and I mean that to include both students and staff. The landscape isn’t straightforward and since the introduction of Progress 8 we know that so many subjects are competing for limited time. To combat this, it is important to focus on the shift in mindset from just seeing “subjects” and towards thinking about the skills that a subject can nurture.

Involve as many people as you can

At Chantry – and as part of the Active Learning Trust – which is committed to a quality arts offer across its school, it is great to see students and parents getting behind this work and the theory of focusing on key skills. I have mentioned various partnerships, but we also do a lot of work with Dance East and one recent production saw more than 10 per cent of the students from the whole school take part. As the arts are a community experience, the whole school should be given the opportunity to be involved. I guarantee that there are staff within the other departments who have a valuable contribution to make to any activity.

Beyond productions, displays, concerts

I am not an artist by background, I am actually a scientist, but I believe that education should give all pupils the chance for self-expression, time to reflect and the opportunity to experience different points of view.

Chantry practises its ethos that the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of students enables them to develop into self-assured, confident, happy, positive young people.
Access to the arts benefits students on many different levels. I have seen improvements in pupils’ mental health, approach to evaluation, collaboration and independent thoughts – to name but a few.

What’s next for Chantry Academy?

To further investigate benefits from creativity in education, we are researching the relationship between the arts and the confidence, resilience and empathetic skills that pupils develop during their education.

My colleague and drama teacher, Stephanie Lincoln, is carrying out research into the effects that the arts have on pupil development, including drama, production, music and theatre.
Stephanie will interview two groups of pupils alongside an employer as a baseline of their skills. After six months, the two groups will be interviewed again. One of the groups will have students who have elected to take an arts subject and the other group will have not studied arts. A comparison will be made on any effects this has held on the development of the students’ skills.


We have focused on creating a mindset to move away from seeing subjects and towards thinking about the skills that an education experience should develop.
If you take one thing from this article, I hope that it is the idea that we can all be mindful to make sure that we don’t lose sight of these key skills that students need among the mass of exams and the focus on results-driven progress.

  • Craig D’Cunha is headteacher at Chantry Academy in Ipswich, which is part of The Active Learning Trust. Visit

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