Heather MacRae, Managing Director at Ideas Foundation

On #WorldYouthSkillsDay @CanonUKandIE’s Young People Programme (YPP) and the @IdeasFoundation have announced details of an online creative learning initiative which embeds photography and digital storytelling into the curriculum at UK schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a result of Covid-19, UK schools are facing enormous challenges. Teachers have been looking for new ways to continue delivering education in these unprecedented circumstances. Since 20th April, students at schools across Cumbria, Manchester, Yorkshire and London have been trialling blended learning workshops developed by Canon YPP, the Ideas Foundation and the National Association of Teaching English (NATE). The fundamental goal of the programme is to support creative skills development and enhance visual and verbal literacy within the curriculum.

Heather MacRae, Managing Director at Ideas Foundation, says:

“We know that children from disadvantaged backgrounds are affected the most by school closures. The key goal of the online programme is to help disadvantaged students in deprived areas to explore their creative skills through digital storytelling despite the limits lockdown has imposed on schools in the UK. Co-created together with 20 teachers and the National Association for the Teaching of English (NATE), it provides new ways of learning to students during both school closure and reopening stages.”

The programme has been co-designed with teachers to support students aged 11 – 19 in English, Art and Design, Media Studies, Citizenship, and Geography. Both groups have access to a wide range of online resources, helping to engage and nurture students’ creativity and digital literacy. These include virtual face-to-face training sessions with photography experts such as Canon Ambassador Clive Booth.

The initial trial has resulted in positive feedback from both students and teachers

Adam Pensotti who heads up the Canon YPP programme, says:

“Through our ongoing collaboration with the Ideas Foundation we hope to grow the project, involve more teachers and schools across the country to reach thousands of students. One of our workshops has been made available on Pearson’s online service, opening them up to access by 40,000 students. Still, we are eager to create more resources to continue inspiring young people across the country.”

Through cooperation with the teaches, the programme has been integrated seamlessly with the curriculum across a range of subjects. It is being used in English lessons to help develop creative communications skills.

Peter Thomas, Chair and Trustee at NATE comments:

“The sessions and guidance in creating compelling visual stories focus on the students’ powers of empathy and plausibility. These are both key to understanding and creating both literary and visual works, while also delivering valuable life skills such as responding to a brief and working to a deadline.”


The online initiative is the latest in the series of Canon YPP and Ideas Foundation’s workshops developed to introduce pupils to creative arts as a future career and give them the tools to make their voices heard. In 2019 the ‘Live the Story’ project, run in five West Cumbria schools and working with 400 students, allowed pupils to voice their concerns around sustainability and climate change. To support this project, Canon provided professional expert tuition with Clive Booth, as well as cameras and printers for the participants to use. Before the school workshops, teachers received training on how digital storytelling can enhance digital skills, deep learning, and student engagement. 

The project was an incredible success and even caught the eye of the astronaut, explorer and gaming titan Richard Garriott, who’s using his missions to amplify the voices of young people around the world. Ahead of his expedition to the bottom of the sea, he talked to the Sellafield students about plastic pollution at the bottom of the ocean. He also used their photography in an online exhibition to help share their concerns.

Canon YPP and the Ideas Foundation look forwards to growing their blended learning projects, which combine traditional teaching with online learning, in the future. Since 2015, five summer schools and eight workshops across the UK have helped students across the UK from disadvantaged backgrounds to develop digital storytelling skills. The events have inspired and enabled them to make their views heard on a range of topics, with their work going on show at several exhibitions including at the Chelsea College of Art, the House of Lords and the UN Conference in Bonn.

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