Using the Lead Creative Schools Scheme to extend mathematical and creative skills

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Llandrillo yn Rhos Primary School used funding from the Lead Creative Schools Scheme to improve pupils’ skills in procedural maths, with a particular focus on challenging more able and talented pupils within a creative learning context. A creative project gave pupils the opportunity to work independently, to self-direct their learning and to challenge themselves with more advanced artistic and mathematical skills.

Number of pupils: 470
Age range: 3-11

Information about the school

Llandrillo yn Rhos Primary School is on the outskirts of Colwyn Bay.  There are currently around 440 full-time and 30 part-time pupils on roll, aged from three to eleven.  Approximately 15% of pupils are eligible for free school meals and around the same proportion have additional learning needs. 

The school is currently a pioneer school and is working with the Welsh Government and other schools to take forward developments relating to professional learning.

Context and background to the effective practice

Improving provision and outcomes for more able and talented pupils has been a priority within the school’s improvement plan for the past two years.  The school has a specialist secondary-trained art teacher who leads the school’s participation in the Lead Creative Schools Scheme.  In 2016-2017, the school used funding from the scheme to improve pupils’ skills in procedural maths, with a particular focus upon challenging more able and talented pupils within a creative learning context.

Description of activity/strategy

Over an eight-week period, 60 Year 5 pupils took part in a creative project for five hours per week led by four Creative Practitioners, the school’s art teacher and Year 5 class teachers.  The project’s aims were:

  • to develop pupils’ creative skills by providing opportunities for them to explore independently the five creative habits of mind: imagination, inquisitiveness, persistence, collaboration and discipline
  • to progress pupils’ number, measuring and data skills
  • to support non-specialist staff to improve their understanding of effective pedagogies in creative subjects

Leaders were also keen to ensure that the project gave pupils the opportunity to work independently, to self-direct their learning and to challenge those more able and talented pupils with more advanced artistic and mathematical skills. 

At the start of the project, a group of more able and talented pupils wrote questions and interviewed two visual artists and two musicians to ensure that they would help them to achieve the project’s goals.  Together, the Creative Practitioners and teachers planned four taster workshops based on the practitioners’ art and music specialisms around the theme of ‘pattern detectives’.  In the sessions, pupils developed their knowledge of radius, diameter and circumference as they investigated patterns in the natural world, for example through water and sound.  They made their own observational drawings of a cross-section of a cabbage, using charcoal and oil pastels to explore line, pattern and texture.  The Creative Practitioners used Leonardo da Vinci’s anatomical drawings of the ‘Vitruvian Man’ (1490) to introduce pupils to the mathematical concept of ratio and proportion, which they investigated using their bodies to create large-scale drawings.  This was particularly successful in engaging and challenging more able pupils, who went on to explore da Vinci’s belief that the proportions of the human body were an analogy for the workings of the universe.  This stimulated their thinking very effectively, prompting them to ask high-level questions and carry out independent research at home.

Following a review of the taster sessions, the Creative Practitioners and staff agreed that pupils should be given the opportunity to follow their individual creative interests and have free choice over the subject, techniques and tools they would explore within the ‘pattern detectives’ theme for the rest of the project.  Together, they planned a careful balance of creative exploration and numeracy skill development, pitched at an appropriate level to meet individual pupils’ needs, including the more able and talented.  The specialists worked successfully with pupils individually and in small groups to develop their skills, for example using tablet applications to create musical compositions and industrial materials such as metal piping to create a marble run following their investigations of ‘flow’. 

Every week, pupils, teachers and the Creative Practitioners reflected upon the project together, giving feedback to each other and reviewing progress.  Over the eight weeks, staff noticed significant improvements in pupils’ ability to work in diverse teams, negotiate roles and make decisions such as how to organise each session and whom to work with.  Teachers observed that more able and talented pupils often chose to work with pupils with additional learning needs, as they recognised that they had qualities, such as resilience and persistence, which were of great benefit when taking risks and solving problems.  Similarly, less able pupils welcomed the support from their peers, for example to work out the angles required to create an effective marble run over a long distance in the playground. 

At the end of the project, the school held a sharing event for all classes, parents and governors.  The pupils chose to showcase their learning through a carousel market stall approach, where they shared their work and provided short creative activities for each group of guests.

Impact on provision and standards

Teachers asked all pupils to complete a ‘creative habits of mind’ wheel at the beginning and end of the project.  Together, staff and pupils used the spider graph to talk about pupils’ progress in developing imagination, persistence, collaboration, discipline and inquisitiveness during the project.  For example, more able boys spoke animatedly about how the session on ratio and proportion led them to investigate the relationship between ratios in the human body and those in the universe, which fascinated them.  More able and talented pupils benefited greatly from engaging in learning conversations with specialists who challenged their creative and mathematical thinking.

The opportunity to present and explain their work to other pupils, for example in the nursery class, and to parents developed the Year 5 pupils’ ability to adapt their talk for different audiences exceptionally well.  For instance, they worked together successfully to choose different examples to illustrate their explanations and descriptions of their creative work, depending on the age of the listener.

Teachers assessed pupils’ understanding of mathematical concepts, which had been a focus in the project, as part of the school’s normal practice of half-termly assessments, before the start of the project and at the end of the eight weeks.  Teachers identified a strong improvement in most Year 5 pupils’ attainment in problem-solving, measuring, calculating area and perimeter, angles and interpreting bar charts and graphs.  More able pupils developed their understanding of ratio and proportion to a high level.  Overall, the project had a positive impact on improving pupils’ engagement in mathematics lessons as they could see a direct link to their creative project work and the relevance of applying their numeracy skills in a practical context.

More able pupils appreciated the autonomy, opportunity for creative risk‑taking and breadth of stimulating experiences the project provided.  Non-specialist staff benefited from working alongside the Creative Practitioners and the school’s art teacher.  For example, they have adopted more creative approaches in their teaching and feel more confident in allowing pupils to lead their own learning in subjects across the curriculum.