The Culture Challenge – Shaking Up Schools

School days are supposed to be the best days of our lives, right? But how many of us have memories of being so bored in lessons that instead of listening to the Physics teacher, we choose to thread headphones through our blazer sleeves and listen to music instead? School is meant to inspire us to think for ourselves, discover who we are, and help us realise where our strengths and weaknesses lie. And hopefully, be the steppingstone to further education. Sometimes, however, things can get bogged down in routine and young people can become indifferent. Cue to reason we exist – to shake things up a bit – and guess what, it’s not going unnoticed.

Earlier this year, at Mark Rutherford School in Bedford, Su Adams and Rebecca Evans of Pell Ensemble, delivered a week-long workshop that blended computer coding with dance choreography. The young people taking part choreographed a dance, matched moves to a piece of code, and then used the code to direct coloured lights that then controlled the dance moves of another dancer in a chain reaction style set up. At the end, there were performances at both the school and the university. Yep, it’s not something you’d normally expect to see on the timetable schedule for Year 9. Innovative, exciting, and let’s be honest, pretty groundbreaking, the kids were in for a treat…

Sam Baker, Head of Business and Partnerships at Mark Rutherford School, wrote in FundEd Magazine,

“30 pupils from our disadvantaged ward had the amazing opportunity to come off their timetabled lessons for a whole five days and focus not only on choreography and coding, but teamwork, leadership, working to deadlines, keeping focused and resilient – then performing to a public audience in a grand finale.”

This wonderful opportunity came about thanks to funding from Arts Council England and a scheme called, ‘Aspire Higher’ set up by the University of Bedfordshire. Paula Page, Collaborative Outreach Project Manager at the University of Bedfordshire, said,

“The University of Bedfordshire is working collaboratively with The University of Hertfordshire on a HEFCE funded National Collaborative Outreach Programme, Aspire Higher. The University has been working closely with Mark Rutherford School and was excited to be part of the Pell Ensemble project in collaboration with Bedford Creative Arts.”

The funding for this extraordinary project enabled young people at Mark Rutherford School to step back from the day-to-day routine of school, and experience something completely new. One parent whose child took part in the workshop was quoted in the FundEd Magazine article as saying,

“My child has had the best week of her life in school and has talked of nothing else!”

Feedback from the kids too was positive – with one young person investigating whether she could change one of her GCSE options to dance.

Research carried out by the school found that a large proportion of the young people on this course came from backgrounds where their family members hadn’t engaged in education after school. So for these kids to walk onto a university campus, use the rehearsal studio, and mix with current university students, was kind of a big deal. It opened their eyes to a new possibility, and perhaps made the prospect of choosing further education as an option a little less alien.

This is exactly why The Culture Challenge exists, and it’s great when we get to see the positive impact that our cultural and creative practitioners make on young people’s lives – be it just one, or a whole bunch. It’s about opened doorways, showing an alternative, and presenting something new.

The link for the full FundEd Magazine article is here.

See the video that Bedford Creative Arts commissioned to record the David project below.