An alternative qualification

Girl Doing Homework IV 1974  Henry Moore OM

Girl Doing Homework IV
Henry Moore OM

… or a non-school education.

As a teenager, I had three friends who were the ‘baddest’ girls in school. Some of the stories that made these girls legendary were focused around how they had failed exams. Now that my work brings me into contact with young people who have similarly struggled at school or left without qualifications, I’m particularly keen to support them to get some accreditation – in whatever way suits their needs best. It’s not easy to get a job – and with one GCSE your chances are less than average. Going back to relearn and retake years later can be a real challenge. So when I first heard about the accredited programme Arts Award, I was excited to learn about their alternative learning model.

My journey with Arts Award started when my line manager asked me if I’d be interested in having a look at Arts Award Gold. It seemed like a great opportunity to explore my interests and so I jumped at the chance. I found the process totally unlike any education I’d done previously. Through their self-directed learning model, I was able to choose exactly what I wanted to study, and provided a framework within which to do so. I had such a positive experience that I was keen to start sharing it with the young people I work with right away.

Last week I attended the Arts Award adviser training, so that I can facilitate young people to start Arts Award at Bronze, Silver and Gold levels. Young people can chose any art form to explore, so I’m about to start work with a rapper and a metal guitarist. As part of the training we drew up plans for how we could support young people to move through the Units, what resources might be on offer, how we’d find entry points to learning opportunities. We mapped the journey of a fictional student through each phase of the qualification, considering the challenges that could come up, and how reflection and evidence gathering could be embedded creatively throughout.


Though some schools offer Arts Award, increasingly, cultural organisations are taking this on too. Galleries and museums that have established young people’s groups, which take an active role in creating resources and planning events for their peers, facilitate young people to learn a huge variety of professional skills – from project managing to evaluation. Some of our Circuit partner galleries are embedding Arts Award into the programme, so that young people receive accreditation alongside the work experience that their gallery education programmes currently offer.

Focusing a qualification around young people’s existing interests, whilst providing a structure for personal and skills development is a great way to get young people leading their own education, in a way which is inviting, personal and beneficial. It can make a real difference to young people’s lives to offer education in this way, and I hope to pass this on to many young people over the next few years.