The project was a 2 year Paul Hamlyn Funded Test and Explore programme that explored a sensory atelier; creating a space and process for children with a spectrum of learning difficulties, communication disorders and disabilities including: ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and PMLD (Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties) attending SEN schools (Special Educational Needs) in Leicester & Leicestershire.
We aimed to address the physical and curricular barriers to the arts and learning, using collaborative, kinaesthetic and multisensory embodiment approaches to develop communication skills and support children’s connections with the world.
In 2015 we (Attenborough Arts Centre) were commissioned by The Mighty Creatives to research the impact of the cuts to the arts services in the East Midlands and the effect these were having for Disabled children and Young People. Our report (Disabled Children and Young People: Engagement in the Arts and Culture in the East Midlands, 2015), found that in an environment of restrained resources the cuts were having a disproportionate impact on disabled children and young people’s access to the arts. This together with further decline and devaluing of arts subjects in schools; children from SEN schools are in the most need of access to quality arts enrichment. There are 6.8% primary school children and 21.9% secondary children registered as SEN in Leicester which equates to just under 10,000 Children and Young People.
From our research and consultation we know SEN schools in particular are concerned with the changing curriculum and marginalisation of creative subjects; and are in need of new ways to enable their students to achieve and learn. The Rochford Review interim report of 2015 allowed schools to explore their own ways of evidencing learning for students with SEND but gave limited frameworks for how to do this – which is where our project has been so valuable.
We know that children with SEND do not necessarily learn in a linear, logical cognitive way, and the arts present a tool for enabling a multifaceted approach to learning that engages children whatever their learning style or difficulties.
We consulted with SEN schools, teachers, artists and pupils and their families, to respond to this which led to the design of the Sensory Atelier project.