During our Big Give campaign week we are highlighting the impact our HEN Network has on the schools, teachers and young people our team work with.

Emily Johnston and Katy Carpenter, both teachers at Oaklands Primary School who are part of our HEN Network, have shared how working with the HEN Network has helped their pupils gain confidence, resilience and overcome barriers to learning.

“For The Oaklands Primary School, this is our third year working with the Hippodrome through their Hippodrome Education Network. It is a highly valued partnership, by not only teachers and students but their families too, and it helps to improve our extra-curricular offer here at The Oaklands.

Our school is home to 406 children, all of which benefit from the extra-curricular engagement the Hippodrome offers. From sessions in school with our HEN Learning Participation Officers, specialist sessions with dance and music artists, arts and crafts activities linked to the curriculum to the opportunity to attend the Hippodrome itself to watch shows and perform with the HEN Network, the Hippodrome continues to offer enrichment activities of the highest standard and variety. The provision from the HEN Network has given our children opportunities that, for many of them, they would only dream of experiencing. Crucially though, beyond those children who dream, it has reached those would not even conceive of the arts as an engaging or viable option. Lots of our children face social, cultural and economic barriers to the arts, and would only ever engage if it were put in front of them. The HEN Network does just that.

We have children who can wrap a scarf around them and pretend to be a queen but have never seen a play, children who sing loudly and command attention whenever they enter a room but have never seen a musical, children who can dance but have never had the opportunity to develop or showcase their skill. Some of these children are the ones that find a formal classroom setting challenging, and are the ones that the HEN Network gives a platform to through a celebration of extroversion. It is often the case that these children are their best self when doing something physical and creative, or have brilliant and creative ways of expressing themselves which can’t always come out in lessons. On the other side of the coin is children who are introverted or lacking in confidence. The Hippodrome sessions have offered all of these children a platform to be imaginative, channel their energies and take positive risk in a safe space. Sessions are grounding, exciting, motivating, and a link to the real world that reassures certain pupils that their talents are important and deserve nurture – something society doesn’t always tell them.

It is often said that children’s opportunity for play gives way to the ever-expanding prevalence of technology in both the school and the home, but we all know that hands on play is crucial for communication skills, self-confidence, language and memory, coordination and movement. Particularly for children who are shy or hesitant learners, being encouraged to move their body and use their voice has helped them to take more risk in the classroom – put their hand up to answer a question where they may not have before, build on the new relationships they formed during Hippodrome sessions, learn to be less afraid of embarrassment or failure – a common barrier to learning.

For teachers, the HEN Network has not only provided us with invaluable professional direction regarding how to teach the arts, but it has enabled us to watch some of the children who struggle behaviourally or in accessing core subjects, excel in their Hippodrome sessions. It is very reaffirming for teachers to be able to use the Hippodrome opportunities to motivate and foster this passion in these hard-to-reach children. Although there is a vast range of activity ideas offered termly by the HEN Network, they also offer support in creating engaging sessions in line with the projects taught in school. Last half term, our Learning Support Officer, Craig, created a play for our Year 3 children based around their topic ‘Volcanoes.’ This was then filmed and they were able to share this with the school and their parents too.Our older pupils have also benefited from the links that the HEN Network has created between The Oaklands and other schools.

The pupils are, and feel that they are, part of something bigger. When we are thinking about hard-to-reach children, this sense of interconnectivity and partnership fosters security, encourages curiosity and ambition and builds a sense of community.”