I was amazed to discover recently that I could remember some of the words and most of the tunes to the songs in my very first school play in 1975 at Bramcote Hills Primary School. We were doing Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat which was musically quite challenging for a six year old. I can only assume that we must have had an amazing (and ambitious) teacher who understood how to engage us in the music in such a way as to transcend the important worries of life, such as the increasing tightness of my brother's belt holding the rather smelly tea-towel on my head.
There was no doubt that this play was a milestone in my life - the music became firmly embedded into my young brain, it made me feel brilliant and happy in my body and soul, and I knew there and then that I wanted to 'do this' (whatever 'this' was) everyday, for the rest of my life.
The point is that it was my teacher who introduced me to this experience, as do several hundreds of excellent teachers, assistants, artists, cultural providers and early years professionals on a daily basis across the country.
Settings and schools who engage their children, staff and partners in designing a creative curriculum will find the New Primary Curriculum (NPC) a welcome relief from the more prescriptive framework of old. The NPC promotes an experiential approach to learning in the real world, reflecting not only a raft of skills, competencies and experiences that will prepare our children to be successful* in the future but also those that will re-affirm who our children are now. (* defined here in terms of confidence and well-being as opposed to economic or academic success).
It's a welcome move forward to see 'Understanding of the arts' set as one of the six areas of learning encompassing all cross-curricular approaches from September 2011. This feels like an extremely important battle has at last been won, placing the status of the arts and creative learning on an equally important footing as other 'core subjects' in supporting children's development. Great stuff. 'Primary Vision', the recent Guardian supplement on the NPC has some good examples of this happening in practice.
Yet there will be settings that struggle with what may appear to be a lack of rigidity around the delivery of the NPC. The thought of a child-oriented, research based, creative curriculum has them reaching for the dictionary. The cause of this lack of confidence? Possibly, probably Initial or Early Years Teacher Training which in some areas remains compliance driven rather than engaging our education professionals in the wider questions of the value and purpose of pedagogy. It teaches them to tick the box and reach the conclusion in the 'right' way rather than investigate (and enjoy) the processes of learning. My mantra has always been that making a significant impact on young children's learning requires a sea-change in the way we train the adults who teach or care for our children and families.
So, for me, the best thing coming out of the NPC is the understanding that effective learning and teaching stems from an equal focus on professional development, external partnerships and leadership as well as a joined up, more meaningful curriculum.
Earlyarts is a good example of a national professional development network that enables educationalists, practitioners and creative professionals to work together to experience for themselves the more powerful processes of learning. Their experiences help them to engage with their children's ideas in a very real way because they understand (sometimes for the first time) why it works, and are completely engaged in the magic of learning for themselves.
Having been a six year old who's experienced this first hand, and now a parent of a six year old who demands and deserves this quality of learning every day, I couldn't ask for a better teacher than that.
Author Ruth Churchill Dower is the Director of Earlyarts