We wanted to find out about how important arts in schools is for children with special educational needs and disabilities.
When we talk about arts, we mean things like paintings, drawings, stories, poems, books, drama, dance and plays.
We worked with Purple Patch Arts.
Purple Patch Arts used arts projects to help children with special educational needs and disabilities with learning in maths, English and science.
We used information from: meetings with Purple Patch Arts, the plans of the lessons, watching and joining in, talking to the teachers, taking photographs, talking to the children and making notes.
We found that using art in schools helped with learning. We think it was helpful because of the way it changed the way children normally learn. The young people were excited when Purple Patch arrived.
Using art in the schools meant that the children were more social and worked together.
Sometimes, not enough importance was given to the art projects.
We have been thinking about how art is used in education for children and young people. When we talk about arts, we mean things like paintings, drawings, stories, poems, books, drama, dance and plays. We wanted to find out about how important arts in schools is for children with special educational needs and disabilities. When the government and schools do not have a lot of money to spend on schools and on art, it is helpful if we can show them if art in schools is important.
Why bother with arts in education?
Before we started our project, we wanted to find out what other researchers have said about using arts in schools. We found out that they have written about whether people should enjoy art just because they like it, or whether there needs to be a way to measure how much people benefit from arts projects. If there is a way of showing how much people benefit from arts, that can sometimes mean that more money is available to spend on art projects.
We found three reasons why people think that art in education is important:
Helping children learn things that are on the curriculum
Some researchers think that using art in education can help teachers and children to be creative in the way that they are learning because it is different from the way children are normally taught.
Some researchers think that art can be used in schools so that children can learn about democratic education – which is education about politics, relationships, community and culture.
Art and wellbeing
Researchers think there is a link between arts and health. This can sometimes mean having a healthy body and sometimes mean using art to help people with being happy and being able to enjoy life.
Art in schools for children with special educational needs and disabilities
Of those three areas, it is only really using art for well-being that researchers have studied for children with special educational needs.
Arts for children with special educational needs is complicated because people think art is good or therapeutic for the children, but because children with special educational needs often work with one teacher it can be difficult to get a group of young people working on an art project together.
However, research shows that children and adults with learning disabilities enjoy arts projects and can sometimes use the project to communicate in ways they couldn’t otherwise.
Sometimes though because arts project are seen as therapeutic (which means they aim to help with the disability) it means that the project becomes too focussed on the disability rather than on the young people benefitting from being part of the project for learning.
We wanted to find out:
In what ways is art in education important for children with special educational needs and disabilities?
How is art in education for children with special educational needs and disabilities sometimes seen as not important?
How can information about how art is seen as both important and not important be used to help decide the way that art should be used in schools in the future?
To find out, we worked with Purple Patch Arts. Purple Patch Arts used arts projects in three schools to help children with special educational needs and disabilities with learning in maths, English and science. For six weeks, Katherine, and Val and Freya from Purple Patch Arts worked with classes in three schools. The lessons included drama, poetry, acting, shadow puppets, lights, touching, tasting, listening, colour mixing, sorting and counting. The lessons were all linked to English, maths and science.
We used information from meetings with Purple Patch Arts, the plans of the lessons, watching and joining in with the sessions, talking to the teachers, taking photographs, talking to the children and making notes.
To look at what we found out, we will go back to the three reasons people think that art in education is important that we discussed above:
Helping children learn things that are on the curriculum
We found that using art in education helped with learning. We think that it was helpful because of the way it can change the way that children normally learn. The young people were excited when Purple Patch arrived, they looked forward to seeing what activities they would be doing. The classroom changed – tables were moved, chairs pushed away. These changes made it interesting for the children and some children stayed and participated much more than their teachers expected. Another way that the art was helpful was by using multi-sensory activities. Shiny, colourful and interesting things were used in the lessons. They were so good, the teachers thought they would copy some of the lessons to use again.
We found that using art in the schools meant that the children were more social and took part in projects working together. For some of the projects, the children learned from each other and helped each other.
Art and wellbeing
We noticed that the children gradually got used to the new activities and as they began to know what was going to happen when Purple Patch came, their imagination, confidence and interest grew.
The Value Children Give to Arts-based Practice
We did not interview the children about their experiences but we think that their opinions are included in what we found because we watched them taking part in the arts projects and could see how much they enjoyed them.
De-Valuing Arts Based Education
Over the six weeks, we noticed that, sometimes, not enough importance was given to the Purple Patch projects. On one day, a class had gone out of school on a trip when they were supposed to be doing the art project. Some of the head or deputy head teachers did not know that the project was taking place. Some of the teachers enjoyed the activities with the children but other times, the teachers did not take part or used the free time to do some other work. We think that if they had been more involved in the projects, the children would have enjoyed seeing their teachers taking part. Some children were taken out of the arts lessons to fit in with their usual routines but this meant they missed their art project time. Also, some of the teachers forgot to be private about the children’s personal details and shouted at or sent out children they felt were not behaving properly. We thought this was a shame to take children out of the arts project.
Even though we saw some problems with the arts projects in the schools we went to, we know that teachers are busy and have to do a lot of different things at the moment. For the arts projects in schools to work really well, all of the staff need to really want it to be good. We also think this project has shown that the importance of art in education is valuable but sometimes it is difficult to explain on a piece of paper. We found that by asking teachers and watching and talking to the children it is clearer how important it is. More research that does this, especially with disabled children, would be a good idea.