School Without Walls began life as a collaboration between The Egg, Theatre Royal Bath, 5×5×5=creativity and St Andrews Primary School in 2011. In the 2016 BCEP flagship project of SWW, 365 children and young people were involved across 12 classes from 9 primary and 2 infant schools within Bath and North East Somerset. Schools learnt side by side with educators, artists, creative and cultural professionals through co-designed collaborative ‘action research’ projects, taking their learning to different spaces and places to ‘do school differently.’ (St Andrews, Twerton Infant School, St Michaels Church of England VC Junior School, Batheaston Primary School, Roundhill Primary School, St Mary's Weston Primary School, St Mary's Writhlington Primary School, St Saviour's Nursery and Infant School, St Vigor Primary School, St John Primary School, Westfield Primary School. Since then the SWW walls offering has grown and adapted to the changing needs of local schools in BANES and more educators are taking the pedagogical approach that SWW adopts into their classrooms.
School Without Walls is about doing school differently. It supports children and young people to be active citizens in their learning and in their community. The process offers a quality experience, in the heart of a cultural setting, where children, young people and adults undertake prolonged creative enquiry alongside each other, in real life contexts beyond the traditional confines of the classroom and curriculum.A defining characteristic of School Without Walls is flexibility and responsiveness to the needs and interests of the participating schools, mirroring the methodology applied during the residency. In the early stage of the project, meetings with the headteachers and staff CPD sessions were used to identify the ‘lines of enquiry’ for the residencies. Three questions were identified through consultation with the School Without Walls 2018 team, led by Headteachers, and informed by their School Development Plans:
1. Can we evidence changes in wellbeing and engagement across the course of the project?
2. How can we assess performance progress in the school’s chosen focus areas: oracy and learning resilience for all children and specific learning benefits for vulnerable children?
3. Does School Without Walls induce improvements in teacher practice?
We aim for CHILDREN to:
. Improve engagement and wellbeing, particularly in learning resilience and independence
. Improve oracy and spoken literacy
. Achieve progress for most vulnerable learners
We aim for TEACHERS to:
. Widen their teaching practice by participating in an intensive, experiential process of supported CPDL.
. Become more confident in using child-led, enquiry-based creative approaches.
. Understand their children better, e.g. improving assessment accuracy
Creative co-enquiry is the pedagogical approach centered on a Creative Reflective Cycle of repeating, iterative stages. The approach is developed through collaboration between artists and educators, influenced by Reggio Emillia practice. A creative provocation or question is devised by the artist and teaching team that they believe will resonate with the children and provide a catalyst for learning. The teacher and artist carefully notice the children’s responses using observations in the moment, journaling to develop a questioning mindset with the children, and staff reflection meetings to understand the children’s interests and the connections being made in the learning. Lastly, the artist supports the teacher to devise the next creative opportunity that, crucially, will help the children persist in their enquiries and take their learning deeper. As the process repeats, the adults in the room are carefully scaffolding creative learning led, not driven by outcome, but by the children.
It was agreed that a mixed-methods approach would best assess the components of School Without Walls and its likely outcomes. Existing quantitative school assessment data and School Without Walls reflection and documentation processes, would be supplemented by regular wellbeing and engagement survey tools with the children and a weekly online evaluation questionnaire for the whole residency team. Lastly, before and after interviews were conducted with teachers and some of the team.
All teachers and residency coordinators reported a positive impact overall on children’s wellbeing and engagement as a result of their participation in School Without Walls. This was linked to novelty, creative inspiration and improved relationships with peers/staff.
Teachers also stated School Without Walls had a positive impact on oracy skills with all teachers reporting that more collaborative conversations took place during SWW than in a typical week at School. Teachers were able to identify improvements in the children’s attitudes and learning skills and, in some cases, could clearly identify the impact of creative co-enquiry.
Teacher’s have told us that they have adjusted their practice at school as a result of taking part in School Without Walls - finding ways to respond spontaneously and creatively to the interests of the children in their class.
We can use our findings to argue that given children are happier, more connected to their learning, more articulate, more resilient and their teacher’s know them better using creative co-enquiry in a cultural setting then there is a greater place for the arts in primary learning and for closer relationships between primary schools and their local theatre, museums, galleries and other cultural institutions.