Guest Blog by our Derby/South Derbyshire Consultant Amanda McLaren

Guest Blog from our Derby/South Derbyshire Consultant, Amanda McLaren, on the 7 Quality Principles.

Posted: March 6th, 2018

The 7 Quality Principles and the power of reflection in our learning and professional development.

In my role as an Arts Consultant for The Mighty Creatives I have read a lot of Artsmark documents. Whilst reading a school’s Case Study, which spoke about how instrumental the 7 Quality Principles had been to their Artsmark journey, it occurred to me these principles can actually be applied in a much broader context than the specific use intended by Arts Council England.

The aim of these quality principles is to raise the standard of arts and cultural work being produced by, with and for children and young people; and they have been developed through collaboration between Arts Council England and arts and cultural organisations that work with children and young people.

I started to ponder the question; don’t we all want our day-to-day experiences and interactions with others to be the best they can be?

Many years ago, when volunteering as a participatory arts worker I undertook a professional practice course in arts development and teaching, where, as artists, we were fortunate enough to be mentored by a group of more experienced practitioners. During this time, myself and another artist were planning a large-scale textile banner printing project as a commission from a community group. An experienced arts leader, overhearing our collaborative planning session, asked us a simple question;

So what do the participants get out of the experience?

It made me stop in my tracks, this question which was so fundamental to the whole purpose of the project had been completely overlooked in our planning. We were so focused with the end objective - to work with a community group to create some large textile banners, we had completely forgotten the most important part of the project; the actual experience of the people who were participating.

Luckily, I had an experienced mentor on hand to focus my mind, but unfortunately we don’t all have that resource to hand as we take responsibility for our own continuous personal and professional development. However, thankfully we now have these quality principles, and if you’re working at a school or a creative practitioner/arts organisation in the East Midlands you also have The Mighty Creatives and a team of consultants available to help you with your development plans which relate to the arts and cultural experiences of children and young people.

This experience was a turning point for me and I’ve spent the intervening twenty years focussing on the value of reflective practice. As an evaluator I often encounter people whose intentions are genuine but due to the daily pressures and demands of their job; limited time, limited resource and budgetary pressures, have omitted to allocate themselves the time they deserve to reflect and to ask these questions of themselves.

For many people it is difficult to frame the questions, or to apply the process to their specific project or programme but now we have a useful prompt in the 7 Quality Principles. The Mighty Creatives have even produced these as a resource in the shape of a magnifying glass, making explicit the analogy of the principles as being a selection of lenses which you can hold up to your work, to help scrutinise our practice. To help us to see our work from a different perspective, that of the people we are working with or for.

Surely none of us set out on our professional careers with an ambition to create uninspiring, disengaging or alienating and negative interactions with others? However, I’m sure we can all bring to mind an example of when we have been a recipient of an experience which has been one or more of the above, and I dare say that over the years I’ve been responsible for some ‘less than’ moments too.But let’s strive to make these ‘less than’ quality moments extinct, or at the least extremely rare.

Working in education or arts and cultural settings (but not limited to) we are familiar with ‘reflective practice’ and (hopefully) we recognise that this model of learning and development is essential to our continued learning and professional development. However, in a climate of ever increasing pressures and demands we can, as we become more confident and established within our work, de-prioritise the time for reflection; we know how it works and that ‘these actions’ lead to ‘these outcomes’ and can therefore risk becoming complacent about looking for the impacts we are making.

As the school highlighted in their Case Study, using the 7 Quality Principles as a tool within reflective practice we can audit and analyse our work, we can then form developmental insight, and then go on to form a clear and well informed plan for improvements. Ultimately benefiting those we work with, but also enlivening us, empowering us to take risks, stretch ourselves and enjoy a deeper engagement within our own practice.

I would like to suggest we all take the challenge too, to first take some time and then to use these Arts Council England 7 Quality Principles;

  • Striving for excellence and innovation,
  • Being authentic,
  • Being exciting,
  • Being inspiring and engaging,
  • Ensuring a positive and inclusive experience,
  • Actively involving children and young people,
  • Enabling personal progression and
  • Developing belonging and ownership

To map out how we are in our current practice, to recognise what we are doing really well and to maybe identify some areas for development? It would be great to hear your stories if you have found the process beneficial or how this exercise has helped shape your practice.

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