Keeping it creative

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While the importance of creativity in education is now widely recognised, putting it into practice isn’t always easy. One North East arts organisation has spent years striving to change that for schools across South Tyneside and is now sharing its expertise with the rest of the world.

In 2012, around 30 year five students from Hadrian Primary School were invited to visit an exhibition by local artist, Jane Lee McCracken, at The Customs House, a combined arts venue in South Shields.

There, the group were introduced to a wide range of intricate single and multi-layered Biro drawings, as well as a variety of handmade objects and artefacts based on war, fairytales, forests and animals.

While some of these themes had darker elements, Jane’s artistic approach facilitated the discussion of the more difficult subject matters, without it becoming too heavy or complicated.

Back at school, the students took part in a special workshop led by Jane and The Custom House’s Curator of Visual Arts, Esen Kaya, where they were encouraged to create their own artwork in a similar style. The particular focus on the workshop was exploring the idea of how some artists often create ‘products’ or ‘merchandise’ from their work, so these may be easily accessible to the buying public. It’s another way of being able to ‘own’ an artist’s piece of work.

The results, which included an amazing collection of horses, dogs, dragonflies and Russian dolls, were then combined to create a giant wallpaper which was put on display at The Customs House throughout December and January.

The positive effect this had on those involved was clear to see, particularly among students who hadn’t achieved more typical academic success. In the words of Year 5 teacher and Arts Co-ordinator, Rachel Middis: ‘Those involved in the workshop were thrilled with the work they were able to create and surpassed all expectations in terms of the end result.

‘Their confidence and self-esteem were boosted significantly, particularly among those who don’t typically perform well academically and were therefore less familiar with that sense of achievement and accomplishment. It was a great motivator for the students involved and helped demonstrate that, while academic results are important, there are other ways in which to succeed and thrive.

‘It also helped to highlight the beneficial effect a creative programme has on students, not just in terms of developing key skills but in their overall wellbeing and enjoyment of education.’


Working together for creativity
The success of this project and others like it, are now being showcased by The Customs House on a specially developed website,, designed to share best practice and offer practical ideas of how schools across the world can introduce creativity into their own classrooms.

CH-ArtEd, short for Customs House Arts and Education, includes case studies of the work carried out by The Customs House’s cultural development team at schools like Hadrian Primary, as well as many more across the borough.

Among those also featured is Whitehouse Primary School, which benefitted from the Customs House’s Creative Partnerships delivery in 2011. As part of this programme, the school was given the opportunity to explore how the outdoors could be used to enhance learning. This included allotment classes led by a horticulturalist, a series of workshops to make musical instruments from recycled materials and a celebration event for the entire school.

This led to a rise in self-esteem among the participants, as well as a willingness to engage in independent learning and a regular attendance at after school garden clubs.

These case studies, which have been compiled specifically for CH-ArtEd demonstrate the effectiveness of creativity in education and provide a lasting legacy for The Customs House’s work.


Exploring local history and culture - online!
To help build on this work, the site also offers a range of new, specially-prepared resources, which offer direct links between the arts and the national curriculum.

One of the most recent additions is Follow the Herring, which explores the history of fishing in towns along Britain’s east coast.

Based on the story of the Herring Lassies, who would follow the fleet down from Scotland to gut, salt and barrel the fish, it includes instructions for a range of fun activities, including patterns for knitting fish, recipes for cooking herring and music for singing a range of sea shanties.

These come complete with factsheets and whiteboard displays, as well as detailed outlines of how they can be used to tackle key areas of the curriculum, including citizenship, history, literacy, music, science and design technology.


A range of interactive resources
Several resources available from Ch-ArtEd also include interactive elements which can be used directly by the students themselves.

The Panto Maker, for example, includes a specially created computer programme, which guides users step-by-step through writing, designing and performing their own festive show.

This interactive tool, which features a wide range of pre-programmed backgrounds and pictures of popular pantomime props and characters, allows users to compile their panto, scene-by-scene.

It also comes with a selection of supplementary factsheets, including instructions for creating costumes and sets, tips on performing live and advice for putting together the perfect script, which will allow the designer to stage their pantomime.

The inclusion of seasonally-inspired resources like Panto Maker and those which are linked to specific days, such as Remembrance Sunday, Saints Day and Easter, mean that CH-ArtEd offers opportunities to introduce creativity to the classroom in time with topical stories all year round.

The site also includes wider-reaching resources, which are designed to be downloaded whenever a teacher is tackling a related subject area. Among the most popular is CH-ArtEd’s religion series, which offers instructions for using art to explain key elements of Hinduism, Judaism and Islam.


Making it cross curricular
The website currently has more than 800 subscribers and is updated on a regular basis with a new selection of resources, all carefully created by The Customs House’s cultural development team, many in partnership with specialist developer Shoofly Publishing.

Those currently available fall into a wide range of categories, including Theatre in Education, Gallery Education, Formal Education and Community Outreach, and cover ages from early years to 25, as well as key stages one to five.

Some, like the recently added Foghorn Requiem resource, span several categories and are adaptable for use as a whole, or in part, however the user deems most appropriate.

Those who download the Foghorn Requiem resource for example, will receive access to a host of extracts and images from an event in South Tyneside, which formed part of the Festival of the North and featured three brass bands performing a specially-composed musical piece accompanied by an armada of boats positioned offshore.

The resource, which has been designed to supplement teaching in literacy, citizenship, history and design technology, also includes a special software programme, allowing users to create their own illustrated stories and poems.


A lasting legacy
Many of the resources available from CH-ArtEd, including those mentioned in this article are free for schools to download and use, with others being made available for a one off fee or as part of a yearly subscription charge.

All have been designed to be as accessible as possible, with instructions on how they should be used already built in. More interactive support is also available directly from the CH-ArtEd team, who offer a range of additional services to deliver added value to each resource.

Depending on the subscriber’s needs, this could include giving schools and educational groups direct access to an appointed facilitator, such as the artist featured in the original resource or The Customs House’s own cultural development team, who can provide one-to-one guidance and step-by-step support in managing a related programme or applying for Arts Award accreditation.

The main aim of all of these resources is to provide a lasting legacy for the work being carried out by The Customs House and show how education and the arts can be combined effectively, in a way which can be easily adapted for use in schools and other similar organisations.

In many cases, schools using the resources have gone on to develop ongoing initiatives as a result. For example, year 6 students at Jarrow Cross Primary School are participating in weekly knitting workshops after learning the basics from Ch-ArtEd’s Once Upon A Time resource, which teaches children about storytelling through textiles.

We’re now encouraging teachers and other users to upload experiences like this onto a special online gallery, as a way of sharing best practice and advice.

There are already so many schools utilising creativity effectively and we hope this website will inspire those who have yet to pick up the mantle, as well as serving as a platform for those who are already doing so.

Emma Horsman, Cultural Development Manager at The Customs House.

For more information, visit or contact The Customs House’s cultural development team on 0191 427 8193.

Creative Teaching & Learning