Finding ‘Common Ground’ for talented students with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.

Last chance to see the SEND Common Ground Art Exhibition

Over 1000 students from seven Special Schools for children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) in Birmingham, came together via the ‘Common Ground Arts’ programme to create a spectacular multimedia exhibition at the Midlands Arts Centre in Edgbaston.

The programme brought eight high quality artists in residence to the seven schools in the Birmingham Special Schools’ Co-Operative trust.  The children and young people’s work culminated in a stunning aural and visual exhibition at the MAC this week.

The ‘Common Ground Arts’ programme was initially supported by seed funding from Commonwealth Games’ Youth Programme. The project grew from the idea of building ‘common ground’ between the disabled and non-disabled world, the neuro-diverse and the neuro-typical with the arts acting as that bridge.  The programme aims to create meaningful arts access for these students with SEND, who experience significant barriers to mainstream arts curriculum opportunities, organisations and events.

The ’Common Ground’ programme began as an individual school project at Fox Hollies in 2021 – 22, now in its second year, it has grown to encompass all seven schools of the Birmingham Special Schools Cooperative Trust and managed to secure Arts Council, United by 2022 Legacy Charity and Arts Connect funding

Sinead Davies, Head Teacher at Fox Hollies School and Grace Mahar, project lead said, ‘The response has been overwhelmingly positive, opening up wider discussion with artists, community groups and arts organisations and placing conversations around SEND and inclusion at the heart.  We hope this exhibition has challenged the perception of what our students can achieve and has been as enjoyable for our visitors as it has been for us’.

Delighted students commented:

J- “I think the giant rainbow hand was so cool. It was holding the earth on it; it was so colourful.”

Y- “It was very good, my favourite was watching the cinema, they were doing some sign language. They are so clever.”

The exhibition has featured in Birmingham City Council’s 100 Brilliant Days Campaign (#100brilliantdays) to showcase and celebrate Birmingham’s children and young people, running until 31st July.  The campaign aims to connect children and young people to new opportunities, embracing their strengths, and celebrating their achievements to help to make Birmingham a great place to grow up.

As a co-operative, the schools reach over 1000 students aged 3-19 with special education needs. Each school supports students with a range of SEND needs including deaf children and students with severe learning disabilities, autism, physical and medical disabilities.

The 2023 residencies:

The exhibition closes on Friday 30th June and all visits are welcomed.

Teacher observations of the children and young people’s reaction:

  • All pupils found something that transfixed them and were delighted to see themselves and others on film, they watched the screen avidly.
  • Pupils responded to all aspects, the neon glow from the paintings, the size and colour of the felt hand, the lights in the fairy houses and they loved listening to music through the headphones. It was wonderful to observe their interest and engagement.
  • On another note, it was also amazing the sense of calm it created with students who can often exhibit distressed behaviour. These individuals loved being in the space and were seen to relax and smile!
  • It was amazing to see learning disabled young people and those with complex needs, looking, listening, touching, feeling the pieces and exploring the space, fascinated by the sensory elements on display and recognising their own creations.
  • It was amazing to bring young people with complex disabilities to a public space in Birmingham that not only warmly welcomed them, was designed for them and all the art  work and interactive displays were created by them.

For more information go to –

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