Chief Executive’s Blog

60 per cent.

That is the number of pupils from class 4P at Webster Primary School, Moss Side, who reported feeling happier at the end of a year long project by Manchester based creative and arts charity – Z-Arts who, with the backing of the North West Business Leadership Team, undertook a creative approach to teaching 8 to 9 year old pupils STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

60 per cent. It is easy to dismiss statistics these days, but we should all take a moment to think about this one.

After a proactive scheme to teach young children STEM subjects by artistic and creative means over half of the class are now happier. These young people will now be more engaged in class, open to learning new subjects and excited about their future. But, equally as important, they will hopefully do all of this with a smile on their face.

pupils from Webster Primary School, Moss Side

The North West Business Leadership Team (NWBLT) strive to make the North West the best place to do business live and work for generations to come. One thing that will determine the future success of our region, and something that business leaders must help to shape, is the level of skills and abilities the work force of the next 10 to 20 years will possess as they leave education.

Education, particularly at primary school age, is too often seen as being wholly within the remit of Central Government. There is an attitude pervasive amongst our society that businesses should step into the skills and education issue once children are about to enter the world of work. Consider the significant amount of business rhetoric and emphasis on 16-18 year olds and university graduates. Engagement with school and university leavers is important however it should not be the be-all and end-all to business engagement with educators and young people.

Several studies have shown that the greatest impact on a child’s development occurs in their earliest years. It is for this reason why the NWBLT were delighted to work with Z-Arts last year and support their creative approach to teaching at Webster Primary School. As I have already mentioned, the impact on these young people has been phenomenal.

A child’s well-being is a crucial contributory component to their attainment – and it is also unarguably an ends in itself. That being said, our work with Z-Arts has also resulted in some concrete statistics around improved ability amongst the young people who took part in the My Planet work. 73 per cent of pupils – on completion of the project – reported being better able to work with their peers. Teamwork is a useful asset for all young people but an absolute necessity in the world of work.

Speaking more generally, I am delighted to report that there was a measurable 50 per cent improvement across all the behaviours and skills that were evaluated. Z-Arts’ My Planet programme has demonstrated that by combining the arts with STEM we can make children excited to learn while simultaneously developing both soft and hard skills.

In addition to supporting the project financially, the NWBLT have worked hard to build relationships between the school, teachers and young people with the business organisations that make up the North West Business Leadership Team.

By giving young people repeated interactions with business they will have greater ambition and be more conscious of what they must do to acquire the necessary skills they need to achieve their goals. We hope that by engaging with some of the region’s biggest business, particularly those with an emphasis on STEM we can inspire young people to go into careers where there are skills gaps. This would ensure employment in highly paid jobs and give industries such as British manufacturing a strong asset on which to establish international competitiveness.

The shortage of STEM skills needs to be tackled. In our work with Z-Arts’ we hope to have made a small contribution to this. It is not enough to encourage children to take up STEM subjects. They must be inspired and engaged from an early age. Z-Arts’ My Planet programme gave these pupils an alternative way to learn about science, technology, engineering and maths through creative artistic fields.

The pupils were taught seismology and volcanology through sculpture, the intricacies of human digestion through stand up comedy, fractions through mosaics and much more. All of the work centred on encouraging the creativity that is abound in 8 – 9 year olds.

Solving the skills gap is necessary for the long-term success of both the national and regional economy. Particularly with Brexit on the horizon it is now more important than ever to ensure we have a skilled work force that can be an asset to British industry on international markets.

That being said, it is not sufficient to merely encourage children to pursue maths at A-Level or take on a vocational apprenticeship at 16 – despite both of these things being incredibly important in their own right.

We must, from a very young age use new and creative methods to inspire children to not just study STEM subjects but to be enthused by them. It is also crucial, and for the benefit of all, for us to encourage more engagement between schools and businesses. These relationships matter more than we often think.

Our work with Z-Arts has shown that creativity and STEM go hand in hand. Creative thinking is a skill that we should work much harder to instil in children, both because of the contribution it can make to the study of STEM, but also because it is something that has innate value in itself.

The emphasis on STEM is important, but if this project has an overriding message it is that we should also focus on the arts, as both a means and an ends. Incorporating arts into STEM brings us to STEAM. We need to see more of this.

Z-Arts are organising a “Symposium on Creativity and Education” conference looking at the outcomes of My Planet on June 6 that is open to anyone interested in this work. At the event we will hear from Arts Council England who will be more widely discussing arts and education research taking place nationally.

The full report and film can be found on www.nwblt.co.uk and to hear more about STEAM please follow click here.

This article originally featured in the M.E.N.