Iffley Academy Partnership
Iffley Academy is a community special academy for children and young people with complex special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Since 2016, the Gardens, Libraries and Museums (GLAM) have been working with staff and students from the Oxford-based school to co-develop and co-deliver a programme of creative learning opportunities and project work based around the University’s collections.
It is widely evidenced that participation in structured arts activities boosts children's cognitive ability, supports their emotional and physical wellbeing, contributes to prosocial behaviour and increases their employability. However, children with SEND are statistically least likely to take part in creative experiences outside school as families can be deterred by emotional, medical and logistical challenges as well as by the perception that cultural venues may not be accessible and welcoming.
The innovative partnership between GLAM and Iffley Academy sets out to challenge this accepted norm. It aims to create equitable access to cultural venues for children with SEND so that they feel comfortable and confident in these spaces. Cultural learning is placed at the heart of the school curriculum so that it informs teaching across all subjects, including both maths and science. The partnership also encourages students to actively consider careers in the arts and cultural sector with bespoke SEND appropriate careers days at the GLAM venues.
Led by GLAM arts engagement officer Miranda Millward in partnership with senior staff at the school, the co-constructed programme is designed to familiarise the students with cultural venues in an accessible way and facilitate their participation in creative projects.
The students are first introduced to the museums and libraries through virtual walk-throughs of the galleries and objects being brought into the school. This enables the students to familiarise themselves with the venues and the collections in a supportive environment. Guided visits then follow, led by members of GLAM staff who have spent time in the school getting to know the students.
Following their visit, the students undertake a range of creative projects, often with the support of artists who run workshops at the school. The students then go on to design their own exhibitions and organise private views, which are attended by school and GLAM staff as well as members of the wider school community.
GLAM and Iffley Academy Partnership
This project has made a significant and sustained impact on both the school as a whole, individual teachers and on students. It has been recognised as an essential vehicle for school improvement.” Tom Procter-Legg, Head Teacher, Iffley Academy
2023 is another exciting year for the partnership. The Co-curate programme established in 2022 continues with two new exhibitions working with OUMNH and the Ashmolean. The Co-curate programme situates a mini museum in a museum grade case at the heart of the school for students to curate their own exhibitions of GLAM objects working with the support of GLAM staff. We are also continuing our ambitions programme of outdoor learning supported by Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum. This work funded by the Rothschild Foundation and called GROW, aims to support young people’s mental health and wellbeing, via a range of creative and nature related activities.
Alongside practical outcomes, such as the achievement of Arts Award qualifications by all those students involved with project work, the programme has had a significant impact on the day-to-day lives of the students. Using the cultural opportunities created by the programme, they have explored relationships in order to enhance their social skills and self-confidence, with the result that they place greater value on social interactions over processes and projects.
The project has also transformed teaching practice at the school. Cultural learning now lies at the heart of the curriculum, while many teachers plan their own trips to the museums and engage directly with the venues to develop their own projects. They have gained a sense of ownership of their local cultural spaces and are more confident about the contributions they and their students can make to the cultural sector. In 2021 the school received a Platinum Artsmark (the highest Artsmark grading) from Arts Council England one of only six schools in the country to achieve this that year.
For Gardens, Libraries, and Museums (GLAM), the partnership has resulted in a more diverse audience of young people, and a greater focus on making the venues more accessible and welcoming to special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) children and their families. With the help of Iffley Academy students and staff, all of the GLAM venues are developing Easy Read guides to support all visitors with learning disabilities and special needs, along with their families and carers to plan and make the most of their visits.
“The arts project allowed the pupils to explore different types of roles within their relationships, providing confidence and self-worth to those who find social interactions a challenge. The support they gave each other through the thrills and failures that occurred in the creative processes were heart-warming and genuine.” Nicola Baptie, Teacher, Iffley Academy
Best-practice case study
The partnership has been cited as a best practice case study in the Durham Commission Report on Creativity and Education (October 2019). The report describes the partnership as a "consilient model of arts and science learning, which demonstrates how children can acquire knowledge, come up with new ideas, work with their hands and feel ownership of the cultural institutions in their local community".
Read the Durham Commission report
A range of articles about the Iffley Academy partnership have been published in educational journals and websites. We would like to thank the publishers for allowing us to reproduce copies here. A full list of credits is available below:
Iffley Academy Partnership: Last Supper in Pompeii (Ashmolean Magazine, Issue 79, Spring 2020)
Building Trust in Co-production: Equal Partnerships for Social Justice (Museum iD, 23.03.20)
How can creative engagement with buildings and place affect outcomes for teachers? (Artsmark blog, 07.10.19)
You can find out more about Iffley Academy on their webpage.
Iffley Academy Students at the History of Science Museum
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