8 July 2019

Pupils at Tonyrefail Community School defend earth to an inter-planetary council in their Expressive Arts immersion day

An immersion day can be a great way to apply, test, adapt and learn from the new approaches to learning that the new Curriculum for Wales will bring. Rebecca Owens, Head of Expressive Arts at Tonyrefail Community School gives us the lowdown on how a creative immersion day worked in her school.


Recently, our school here in Tonyrefail was afforded the opportunity of working with A2:Connect and a group of talented artists/creatives on an amazing immersive arts project. Being a newly formed community school we seized the chance to work with a range of artists and practitioners on a ‘Planets’ theme that was both ambitious and exciting in equal measure. Our school has recently moved to a new multi-million pound facility and this was the perfect opportunity to give it a test run!

The theme of the day was an inter-planetary council’s decision to invite Earth to join them in their crusade to maintain the equilibrium of the solar system. The day began with an assembly, interrupted by the council who were there to inform the pupils of their mission. The mission was to put their case forward for why we should be considered for such an elite and privileged membership. The pupils had to persuade the council why Earth deserved to still exist and what it is we have that redeems us from our wrong-doings on this planet … all very dramatic. The look of wonder on the pupils’ faces during the morning’s assembly said it all.

Our faculty worked with A2:Connect and the artists/creatives to plan the day: exploring the different disciplines from craft-making to drumming. Using the brand new facilities, we worked with all of our Year 7 pupils on these different activities and spent the full day exploring our creativity. The aim of the day was not to only enrich the pupils but to enthuse staff with what we could do within the new curriculum. See the Immersion Day Powerpoint

“As it’s 50 years since the moon landing it seemed a suitable theme to use for an expressive arts immersion day.” said Bryony Harris, A2:Connect network coordinator, and Arts Active Learning, Communities & Partnerships Manager.

“Our idea was that we’d create an intensive off-timetable day where a whole year group of pupils, teachers and creatives, worked together using project-based and integrated learning where we blur the lines between the arts subjects. These approaches that are new to many secondary schools, and so seeing it in action, trying it out, learning from each other through a team-teaching,  ‘laboratory’ approach, can really help everyone to feel more confident about how it might work in their school.”

“We were all blown away by the results,” continues Bryony (see quote box). “the students got to think deeply about things like values and citizenship, while they were also using and learning about science and maths and creative skills. They came up with ideas as well as practical approaches that were inspiring for all of us.”

“We’ve documented and filmed the process, and we’re now working on creating a training session and a toolkit with resources for other schools on how to run an immersion day – we’re really looking forward to bringing this to schools across Central South region and beyond.”

Anyone who’s interested should make sure to sign up to the A2:Connect enews.

As Wales sees its biggest education reform in decades, we feel this was an important experience for both pupils and staff leading up to these changes. The new curriculum means there will now be parity amongst subjects – with the Area of Learning and Experience (AoLE) of Expressive Arts being a big focus for Welsh schools. The shift is a welcome one here in Tonyrefail, which was even more so evident when we saw what the pupils had achieved and experienced at the end of the day.

The feedback was also amazing- one pupil even asked if they were ‘going to do it tomorrow!’ another wanted to do it ‘everyday’ saying it was the best day they’d had in the new school yet! The school itself was a hive of activity and there was a real buzz around the building with many of the other year groups curious to what was going on.

After school, along with our Health and Well-Being Faculty, we provided refreshments and an opportunity for parents to view their child’s work from that day. This then culminated in us taking more than 50 pupils to St David’s Hall in Cardiff to experience a performance of Holst’s Planet Suite by a full orchestra. This was something some of these young people might never have experienced, making it even more special. It was a long day but was very worth it! It will definitely take some beating and we are all really grateful to be asked to be involved. Highly recommended!

Special thanks to all of the Expressive Arts team and the artists involved, and particularly to:

Bryony Harris, A2:Connect
Louise Osborn, lead practitioner
Zoe Munn, producer
Mike Cameron (Deputy Head)
Daniel Newberry (HWB Faculty)

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