Oxford’s Iffley Academy wins prestigious Artsmark Platinum Award for contribution to arts educatio

1. Students from Opie Class outside the History of Science Museum. Image Oxford University Gardens, Libraries & Museums; credit Claire Williams.

Pupils and staff at Iffley Academy, Oxford are celebrating after receiving a prestigious Artsmark Platinum Award in recognition of the school’s outstanding provision and contribution to arts education. This is the highest arts award afforded to schools by the Arts Council and Iffley Academy is only one of six schools in the country in 2021 to receive a Platinum Award.

Artsmark is the only creative quality standard for schools, accredited by Arts Council England. The Artsmark programme encourages schools to develop and celebrate arts and cultural education across the whole curriculum, bringing learning to life for children and young people.

In order to achieve their Artsmark Award, Iffley Academy had to embed their arts and culture provision across their entire curriculum. They delivered a programme of activities across the whole school that ranged from renaming each key stage group after different galleries (The Tate, Louvre, Guggenheim and MCA) to involving students in the design of the new school build Art Plan. Iffley Academy also worked in partnership with Oxford University’s Gardens, Libraries and Museums (GLAM) to deliver the school’s arts and culture programme.

Iffley Academy is a community special academy for children and young people up to the age of 18 with complex special educational needs and disabilities. Judged to be Outstanding by Ofsted in February 2019, the Academy was designated as a teaching school in 2018 and is part of an aspirational Multi Academy Trust – The Gallery Trust, a community of special schools dedicated to providing outstanding education and support for young people with special needs and disabilities. The Academy is Oxfordshire’s largest special school with over 175 pupils attending from across the county.

Iffley Academy worked closely with Oxford University’s Gardens, Libraries and Museums (GLAM) to support their Artsmark Award achievement. Students were able to visit GLAM venues, often at times when public access was restricted, where they were given hands-on experience of GLAM’s collections. GLAM also co-curated project work with teaching staff at the school for the students’ Arts Award qualifications, provided artist-led workshops, developed SEND appropriate careers events as well as providing access to curators and collections care staff across GLAM. Project work has continued throughout the Covid crisis, with digital projects delivered online.

Since the partnership between Iffley Academy and the Gardens, Libraries and Museums was established in 2016 it has proved to be an exemplary model of collaborative practice, whose impact is felt across both organisations and their wider communities. Every student now leaves the school with at least one Arts Award qualification and a greater understanding of potential careers within the cultural sector. Over 200 students at Iffley Academy have achieved Arts Awards since the partnership started.

The pioneering nature of their collaborative partnership has already been recognised by the Museum + Heritage Awards when it was awarded runner-up for Partnership of the Year in 2020. Durham Commission on Creativity and Education also cited the partnership as a best practice case study in its October 2019 report.

It is widely evidenced that participation in structured arts activities boosts children’s cognitive ability, supports their emotional and physical wellbeing, 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 and by the perception that cultural venues may not be accessible and welcoming.

The dedication of the school’s students and staff will inevitably lead to even more impressive, ambitious future projects, including establishing a museum case at the school itself, which will be co-curated by GLAM staff in collaboration with students and teachers, project work around the current Meat the Future exhibition at Oxford University Museum of Natural History and an ambitious and immersive project working with the Bodleian Libraries’ exhibition North Sea Crossings in collaboration with local arts organisation Flash of Splendour.

The Artsmark assessor commended Iffley Academy and said: “The authentic partnership between Iffley Academy and Oxford University GLAM (Gardens, Libraries and Museums) linking the extremely specific and individual needs of students, curriculum design and expectations and the Oxford University Museums programme of events is enabling Iffley Academy students to access new and exciting learning opportunities and particularly new and exciting spaces such as gardens.”

On receiving the award, Tom Procter-Legg, Head Teacher, Iffley Academy, said: “We’re extremely proud of achieving our Artsmark Platinum Award. We are committed to delivering a high-quality arts and cultural education, and we look forward to continuing to grow with Artsmark.”

Miranda Millward, Arts Engagement Officer, Oxford University’s Gardens, Libraries and Museums said: “It has been an honour to be able to develop the Iffley Academy partnership with my team of Learning Officers at GLAM. We really enjoy working with Iffley Academy staff and students and GLAM benefits greatly from the collaboration. The Platinum Award is a testament to the journey we have all been on together over the past few years. It is a privilege to work with a school community that embraces creative learning.”

Dr Darren Henley OBE, Chief Executive of the Arts Council, said: “I would like to congratulate Iffley Academy on their Artsmark Platinum Award. Becoming an Artsmark school demonstrates that through offering a broad, balanced and creative curriculum, young people have the opportunity to develop character and resilience, increasing their knowledge, curiosity and skills that will remain with them through to adult life.”

What is the Iffley Academy?

Iffley Academy is a community special academy for children and young people up to the age of 18 with complex special educational needs and disabilities. All of our students are individuals and we pride ourselves on taking a personalised approach. Students have Education, Health and Care Plans with a range of needs, but primarily we work with students with Moderate Cognition and Learning Difficulties, Autistic Spectrum Disorder and/or Social, Emotional and Mental Health difficulties. The Academy is part of an aspirational Multi Academy Trust – The Gallery Trust, a community of special schools.

About the Artsmark Award

The Artsmark Award is the only creative quality standard for schools and education settings. It can help unlock young people’s potential, building their confidence, character and resilience. Artsmark’s clear and flexible framework can be used to embed creativity across the whole curriculum, address school improvement priorities and bring learning to life in every single lesson. Artsmark is open to primary, secondary and special schools, pupil referral units, youth offending teams and sixth form colleges. Artsmark is awarded at three levels; Silver, Gold and Platinum.

About Arts Council England

Arts Council England is the national development body for arts and culture across England, working to enrich people’s lives. We support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to visual art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. Between 2018 and 2022, we will invest £1.45 billion of public money from government and an estimated £860 million from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country.