The Inspire project: using the arts to reach out to disengaged students

Writing in the Guardian, drama teacher Josie Maitland on how she devised an intervention strategy through photography, art and music. This is an extract…

I set about utilising all the information gathered in my own research about disengaged students, and best practice in existing schemes both in and out of my school, and I created an intervention programme called Inspire.

Delivering art, photography, drama and music, the workshops were tailored to the needs of the specific group of students selected by the head of year and student support staff. Initially delivered to year 9 boys, the project has now been extended to year 8 and 9 boys and girls, who continue regular mentoring throughout year 10.

Each unit gives students new and creative skills such as lyric writing, graffiti stencil making or photo editing alongside developing key personal qualities, such as building trust, social relationships, organisation and self-motivation. Students naturally begin to express themselves via the art mediums and consider their presentation of self to others, their ambitions and their fears. Each unit culminates in an exhibition or event which students organise and run. They are asked to dress smartly and serve food and drinks to the invited parents, staff and peers. These events are as transformative and eye-opening for staff as they are for students and have proven to be a powerful catalyst for change.

We regularly track the behaviour, attendance and achievement data on each member of the group because these are our three indicators of engagement. We share this data with students at the start of each session and use it to set targets for the following week.

The Inspire outcomes are overwhelmingly positive. For example, in our first cohort, 50% of students had an attendance below 85%. At the end of the course, 80% of the students had an attendance of above 90%. By the end of the programme, seven out of eight pupils had significantly decreased their behaviour points. Many of the outcomes are not measurable in statistics but in staff reports of “nicer students” and “better attitudes” and students “feeling more confident” or “more focused”.

Inspire continues to develop in response to the interests and abilities of the students on the programme. This year I have delivered both a sports and a creative writing themed unit, for example, and in taking advice from other departments in the school, the project is fast becoming both cross-curricular and a collaborative way for staff to share best practice. I am also working alongside other departments in school to bring my research into engagement into mainstream classroom teaching so that we balance the reality of whole class teaching with these students’ unique needs.

Broadly speaking, if the content of the lesson is pitched at the right level for the student, if they can grasp the concept and is interested by it, the head is engaged. Our next job is to coat the learning experience in emotion. By building a relationship of trust, mutual respect and security, we encourage the student to feel confident, valued, energised, and wanting and needing to learn in order to achieve a real and tangible goal. By instilling confidence, employing a playful, no fear of failure, laddered experience, where the student falls in love with the process of learning, and sees that getting it wrong is actually a vital part of getting it right.

Josie Maitland is a drama teacher and head of the Inspire project at the Angmering School in West Sussex. You can find Josie on twitter @ukcreativeed.

More at:  The Inspire project: using the arts to reach out to disengaged students

Tell us what you think about the concepts Josie Maitland is describing here? Food for thought? Similar to anything you have tried yourself? Please let us know in the comments or via Twitter

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Categories: Learning and Teaching.


  1. Rhythm4Reading

    SchoolsImprove Fabulous student centred approach fused with engagement through the arts – should be renamed ‘Transform’!!

  2. Rhythm4Reading

    SchoolsImprove ukcreativeed Fabulous student centred approach fused with engagement through the arts – should be renamed ‘Transform’!!

  3. monty back

    creativity unlocks so much potential. You don’t even have to be the ‘best’ you just need to engage with is.

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