Rhinegold Photo credit: Sim Canetty-Clarke/Copyright: Royal Opera House [All images]

Eleanor Philpot

‘The Thriving Child’: ROH Bridge Annual Conference 2019

10:00, 12th July 2019

Held at the Royal Opera House on 28 June, The Thriving Child conference was all about looking at the myriad ways in which art can encourage and nurture the very best in every child, regardless of their socio-economic background. Featuring a plethora of academics, experts and creatives, the opinions and research demonstrated were broad in their approach and covered an array of important topics including tackling xenophobia in the classroom, the importance of research, and the rise of child poverty.

The conference began with two of the best presentations of the day, delivered expertly by Kitty Stewart and Darren Chetty, both focussing on the issues that hold back particular groups of children in a school environment. Stewart’s talk, entitled ‘Poverty and Children’s Lives’, discussed the disheartening reality for children growing up in in poor families. In turn, she demonstrated how the overall strain of money problems on families can have a lasting negative sideeffect on a child’s mental wellbeing.

Darren Chetty used his talk to touch up on the ingrained xenophobia that is ever-present in the arts curriculum. Using KS1 and KS2 favourite The Secret Garden as an example, he made a case for the significant changes that need to take place in the classroom in order for children from BAME backgrounds to feel truly safe and valued in the classroom.

Both talks not only addressed these difficult, yet crucial, topics head-on but laid out practical advice that teachers of Early Years and beyond can utilise. Chetty made clear the significance of creative writing as a tool to encourage BAME students to explore their heritage and identity, while Stewart called for teachers to be more aware of the financial strain that extra school fees for school trips and dinners can have on families from poorer backgrounds.

Impact and change

Another key moment from the conference came from the voices of students themselves. Palace Young Company (based in Watford Palace Theatre) made its mark on the conference with a playful yet impactful devise piece that explored the disenchantment that young people are feeling today. Beginning with an introductory video that demonstrated the company’s fears, from Brexit to being ignored, the young performers then launched into an expressive piece of abstract theatre that covered a plethora of helpless scenes, such as waiting rooms and grumpy dads refusing to help with homework. Through their performance, the group made clear how undervalued and invisible young people feel, as well as how drama can be used as a crucial tool for impact and change.

Providing potential solutions to these problems, Thrive Young Voices discussed how its podcast allowed young people in their area to not only feel heard but to grow in confidence too. It urged teachers to get their schools involved and encourage their students to speak openly about issues that they were facing.

The latter half of the seminar saw some important points being made by Adam Annand, the associate director and Speech Bubble lead at London Bubble, and Dominic Wyse, professor of Early Childhood and Primary Education at University College London’s Institute of Education. Having worked together seamlessly for some time now, the pair made clear the rich rewards that were gained from allowing Wyse’s research to feed into, and be assessed by, Annand’s work through his Speech Bubble sessions with primary children. In turn, the pair demonstrated how research does not have to feed into an endless cycle of talking and thinking, but instead can help to make practical changes in classrooms. In a discussion that took place towards the end of the afternoon, Annand encouraged school leaders to build relationships with local art councils and other institutions in order to make the most out of education-benefiting research.

Truly inspiring

Nothing packed a punch, however, quite like the talk from writer, social entrepreneur and founder of Hip-Hop Shakespeare, Akala. In an arresting presentation, covering his schooling history as a young boy and teenager, he told tales of inspiring teaches and the important work done at his local Saturday school that had led him to feel valued and nurtured as a child. Contrastingly, he also made sure to demonstrate the harsh realities that face BAME students, calling back to the sad fates that befell his classmates who were left behind.

Akala gave valuable tips for dealing with unresponsive students, including brutal honesty, always remaining conscious of your own bias and last but by no means least, always being aware of the lasting impact that a teacher can have. Described by journalist and broadcaster, Kirsty Wark, as a ‘call to arms’, his speech was a truly inspiring way to end the day, giving many teachers that incentive they need to keep the creative spark alive.

For more information, click HERE.

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