Transforming Lives Through Creativity
by Claire Sawers
“Life is about using the whole box of crayons”, says a bright pink and orange message on the Instagram page for Castlehead High School’s Art Department. It’s a quote from TV drag queen RuPaul and it sits alongside other inspiring words on creativity from Picasso, Degas and Van Gogh.
The @Castlehead_Creates Instagram account is a place for the high school pupils to shine. There are drawings of ducks and geishas sketched out in black ink, pieces of jewellery made by finger knitting and colourful paintings of a bowl of strawberries, alongside the recognisable silhouette of Glasgow’s Armadillo.
Castlehead High School in Paisley has been in the limelight since it joined forces with The Glasgow School of Art (GSA) back in 2017, becoming Scotland’s first ‘School of Creativity’. The partnership was part of a unique collaboration between GSA and Renfrewshire Council, designed to unlock potential in pupils, encourage innovative thinking, increase attainment and develop skills needed to thrive not just at school and work but in broader society.
“In order to thrive in the world of work and be able to contribute to the success of their families and community, the young people of Castlehead need the right qualifications, the right attitude and the right skills,” says Castlehead Head Teacher, Martin Macdonald. “Our partnership with GSA is central to this and puts creativity at the heart of what we do. Our partnership has allowed us to add value to the pupil experience across every year group.”
Research has found that learning through arts and culture can improve attainment in Maths and English; so, while pupils are learning about sculpture or printmaking, they are also developing skills and behaviour that empower them to do better in school.
Discussions about the two schools teaming up began during Paisley’s bid for UK City of Culture 2021, when the GSA sat on the partnership board.
“We were keen that a meaningful partnership was developed between GSA and an aspect of the bid,” recalls Shona Paul, Head of Professional and Continuing Education, the department that coordinates delivery for school pupils, runs evening classes and summer schools.
“Discussions with Renfrewshire Council identified the development of a School of Creativity as a key area that could form a core aspect of the bid itself, but that would be developed regardless of the outcome of the bid. Out of these discussions, Castlehead High School was identified and the partnership has developed into Castlehead School of Creativity (CSC) since then.”
“The portfolio class with GSA has made me feel more confident with my artwork and helped me speed up my pace of work,” said one pupil, when asked how they’d found it. “It has helped me to see a different side of my artwork, view drawing from a different perspective, and find more energy in my lines.”
“At the moment the work in school is mainly focused on the art and technical department with pupils working to briefs as they would do in industry,” explains Gemma Fraser, Art and Design Teacher at CSC. “We have introduced a new course in the Art Department called Creative Industries which has been very successful and is proving a popular pick for pupils. The course gives an overview of the creative industries as a whole and pupils complete work in interior design, jewellery, graphics, and game design.”
Since launching three years ago, all pupils in S1, S2 and S3 have had the opportunity to visit GSA for two days of learning about creativity and artistic freedom. Back in the Art and Technical departments at school, they can then apply what they’ve learned during the visit. S4 pupils have attended GSA’s Degree Show, and S5 and S6 Pupils have been taking part in a nine-week portfolio class, alongside pupils from St Andrew’s and Gleniffer secondary schools in Paisley.
“There will be a training day for staff to roll out our strategies and creative learning techniques. Ultimately everyone is using the four key creativity skills in their lessons – curiosity, open-mindedness, imagination and problem solving) –so we’re not asking staff to change what they do, but highlight how these skills are important.”
When the School was created, its objectives were outlined in teaching documents for staff:
“Creativity is about transforming lives of our pupils and ensuring they have every opportunity to reach their potential and aspiration. Pupils are encouraged to develop confidence and learn teamwork, problem solving and critical thinking across all subjects through a studio-based practice-led teaching approach. The approach is developing healthy young people by supporting their wellbeing, mental health and aspirations.”
“Studio-based learning is key to GSA,” explains Shona Paul from GSA. “It is more than just producing work in your own studio space but is a concept of learning that happens through the process of thinking, making, doing and discussing in a shared environment as part of a creative community. It is this wider creative engagement that the partnership is seeking to develop. We don’t expect everyone to go on to art school or study creative subjects but having creativity at the heart of a curriculum will help support learners prepare for the opportunities ahead in all sectors and industries.”
The efforts seem to be paying off. 34% of pupils at CSC said taking part in the creative classes had influenced their decision to pick a creative subject in S3. 87% of pupils found the trip to GSA enjoyable and 80% of pupils gained a new skill during the portfolio course. The Art Department at Castlehead High has grown by 211% over the last four years and the Design Faculty has grown by 160% since the partnership was established, leading to the recruitment of two more full time members of staff.
Studies have shown that students from low income families who take part in art activities at school are three times more likely to get a degree and 38% more likely to report good health. Creativity has a positive impact on the economy too – the creative industries are one of the biggest growth sectors in Scotland as well as the UK and the rest of the world. Pupils who follow a dream to get into video game design, architecture, advertising or textile design after leaving school are choosing a very viable career option, with the creative industries now worth £4.6 billion to the Scottish economy, and employing more people than the energy sector.
Leonie Bell, Project Lead for CSC at Renfrewshire Council is delighted with how the partnership is going so far.
“There’s not another place like Paisley in Scotland right now, in terms of how it works across private, cultural and third sectors to develop these really innovative partnerships. The Glasgow School of Art has a worldwide reputation for excellence so their decision to work together with Castlehead High School is a really emblematic partnership, and a fantastic example of the wider work of Future Paisley, a radical and wide ranging programme of events that’s harnessing the power of culture to change lives and places for the better across Renfrewshire.”
This March, some of the CSC pupils’ work has been selected to feature in the Inspired exhibition at The Tannahill Centre, Paisley, a celebration of the best creative talent in Renfrewshire schools. In June, pupils will have the opportunity to learn from a Weaver in Residence, whilst also celebrating Paisley’s historic links to textile manufacture and design. The residency follows on from Paisley Museum’s loan of a loom to the school, which has allowed pupils to collaborate on making a special ‘Castlehead Cloth’. An architect from Paisley Museum is due to visit the school to talk about the historic building’s renovation, and a new Creative Thinking course will be piloted in August 2020.
Bell is pleased that the School of Creativity has funding that allows it to continue, which not only allows more pupils to benefit from the groundbreaking initiative, but also allows the progress to be monitored over time.
“The first phase of the project is ten years, which is an unusual commitment in this day and age. It means we can really chart the impact it has on kids. We can follow first year pupils and see the kinds of things they go on to do after leaving school. That timeframe gives us the freedom to think quite ambitiously and genuinely make things work better for the community. It’s so exciting to see the many ways the project is taking shape.”