Achieve Your Greatness (AYG) is our multi-arts education programme for young people aged 11-16 from disadvantaged backgrounds, and is underpinned by music and combining theatre, dance and spoken word.

We target schools in deprived areas and work with teachers to identify students who are at risk of bullying or exclusion, lacking in confidence, struggling to find their place at school and are not engaging in the arts at school. We are particularly interested in working with young people who are from diverse backgrounds, are eligible for Free School Meals or have Special Educational Needs.

Programme participants access high quality professionally trained artists who deliver music workshops combining theatre, dance and creative writing. The overall aim of the programme is to develop participants’ artistic and transferable skills, which fall under our 5Cs: Creativity, Confidence, Collaboration, Communication and Critical Thinking whilst also inspiring an interest in music and the arts.

Through AYG we aim to address the de-prioritisation of arts subjects in schools, funding cuts that restrict access to the arts for those from underprivileged backgrounds, and a decline in the teaching of soft skills as part of the curriculum.

Why we need AYG

During our two-year partnership with Corelli College and Plumstead Manor School in Greenwich, teachers with responsibility for the arts in both schools supported recent findings by the New Schools Network. They expressed their concern about declining funding for the arts which has resulted in less opportunities for pupils to engage in cross-curricular projects, a decline in the teaching and developing of soft skills, and in pupils developing a fear of failure. Teachers said that ‘students are afraid to take risks and make mistakes.’ This final concern was repeated by many teachers who felt that the arts offered pupils the opportunity to engage in work that had no certain outcome, which in turn nurtured their resilience as well as their creativity.

Their concerns mirror those of the schools inspectorate (OfSTED), The Education Select Committee and the Sutton Trust who are particularly concerned by the detrimental impact that these changes have on the disadvantaged pupils supported by AYG. Additionally, schools are liable to have their funding reduced further in the coming years due to changes to the government’s schools funding formula and this will inevitably result in further reduced funding to the arts.

Our external research which includes a 2013 report by Cebr for the Arts Council, and the 2015 Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value, states that engagement in the arts and culture helps to develop critical thinking, to cultivate creative solutions to problems and to encourage effective communication and expression. There is also evidence that children who have significant/long-term involvement with the arts perform better in school, and that a high involvement in the arts nearly triples the probability that students from low socio-economic backgrounds will achieve undergraduate degrees. Furthermore, different arts have different benefits: while music is associated with improvements in mathematical ability, drama is found to improve reading and boost confidence. This is why AYG combines music with other art forms, to develop a range of skills in participants.

The 5Cs

(AYG) works with disadvantaged pupils to promote our 5Cs:
- Creativity
- Confidence
- Collaboration
- Communication
- Critical Thinking

The 5Cs are in line with the skills recognised by leading voices of children, youth and adult development including Partnership for 21st Century Learning, Bill Lucas, Guy Claxton and colleagues, and Johnny Rich. They have been adapted by the Abram Wilson Foundation's Education Committee to help direct the programme’s focus towards the most important and relevant skills development for the young people involved. The 5Cs continue to inform an ongoing process of research and reflective practice to establish the need, the impact, and the future of AYG.

Our impact

Between January 2015 to March 2017 we completed two successful pilots of AYG achieving the following:

- A 2-year partnership in 2 Greenwich secondary schools, Plumstead Manor School and Corelli College
- Benefitted 3,000+ students through our interactive jazz installations and intensive arts education workshop programme
- Delivered 108 hours of workshops combining jazz, dance, drama and creative writing
- 4 specially designed interactive installations
- Trained 9 professional performing artists at the vanguard of their art forms, trained in jazz, classical, theatre direction, acting, dance and visual arts
- Provided 4 Continuous Professional Development opportunities for teachers, learning how to integrate creativity into their teaching
- Secured support from the Garfield Weston Foundation, Awards for All, BBC Children In Need and the Ernest Cook Trust

What people say about AYG:

After our 2016 pilot, 75% of the teachers surveyed said that the students improved ‘a great deal’ in sub-skills that fell under four of our 5Cs (Creativity, Confidence, Collaboration and Communication). These included dealing with fear, improvisation, rhythm, performing in front of a group, listening, leadership and teamwork. In particular, teachers, parents and workshop leaders stressed the importance of developing the students' confidence and collaborative skills, and that this had been key a success of the programme. They also reflected on the importance of these skills for when the students returned to the classroom.

“Before AYG she never said anything in class. Now she always puts her hand up in class and contributes 100%.” Tara Van Gastel, Head of Drama, Plumstead Manor, AYG 2016

‘He says he loves it so so much. The project makes him more confident of himself to be able to face lots of people and [an] audience.’ – AYG 2016 Parent

Over 70% of students reported improvement in their creativity, describing themselves as being more creative and reflected on ‘not having to be perfect’ and on ‘the importance of trying new things’. These self-reflections are in line with Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck's important educational innovation, Mindsets, and are vital if disadvantaged pupils are to achieve their full potential.

‘I have learned that failing on your first try doesn’t necessarily mean that that is your only chance and that you failed that try. There will always be more chances for you to try again.’ AYG 2016 Participant, Plumstead Manor

100% of the teachers surveyed said that they had learned new skills that will improve their teaching practice.

I enjoyed that the experience was outside my comfort zone. I've also taken techniques that I will utilise in my classroom…building softer skills – confidence, risk taking, interacting with others, feeling safe to do all of this – is important.’ Dan, Special Educational Needs Teacher (SEN) – AYG 2016 CPD Training, Corelli College

Workshop leaders also reported that that their arts education skills had improved by working with artists from different disciplines and that they were inspired to work with more young people in the future.

‘I love doing it and it is something that I want to do alongside my artistic work. It’s a necessary part of what we do, how the art lives out and what we learn from each other.’ Tara Siddall, an actor, poet and one of our workshop leaders for AYG 2015 & AYG 2016.