Dr. Amy Melia became a Scholars Programme tutor with The Brilliant Club in autumn 2020. She teaches ‘Art, Activism and Social Movements: Can Art Be a Tool for Social Change?’ in Liverpool to Year 9 students at Archbishop Beck Catholic College and Year 9 and 10 students at Archbishop Blanch School.
The Brilliant Club spoke with Amy recently to discuss how she brings ideas from her PhD thesis into Key Stage 4 classrooms and how boosting students’ confidence is the key to tackling educational inequality.
Amy teaches an art history course which sees students explore how artists respond to types of activism, including feminism, LGBTQ+ issues and anti-racism.
The content covered on the course strays not too far away from themes in Amy’s PhD thesis, which she recently completed at Liverpool John Moores University. She looked at how contemporary art practice has responded to capitalist urbanisation.
Since teaching the course, Amy said there have been multiple opportunities for students to draw examples from recent current affairs, and that she encourages students to bring their own ideas into the classroom.
“I encourage students to go off on their own and find their own material. Art history is very much about critical analysis. That’s why I tell students to go that step further, be original independent thinkers.”
Amy’s own school experience has made her passionate about the way she encourages her students. When she was studying, she said her teachers discouraged her from writing about complex ideas.
“I remember in my English class we could choose the framework of what our essay would be about. My teacher said: ‘don’t do Marxism or feminism because they’re quite complicated ideas.’”
But in Amy’s class, no idea is too complex for students to grasp.
“With my course I want to present nuanced ideas because students are capable of understanding them. Kids are much smarter than people think they are, I know because of the work that I’ve seen that they can understand things like feminism and Marxism.”
Amy grew up in Liverpool, in an area where students can be less advantaged. She said she sees similarities in the lack of opportunity with the children she teaches now, but it is important that these students are approached in an unpatronising way.
“With the work I do for The Brilliant Club, I see it as me coming in to be supportive and facilitating. I relate to them because I am similar to them: similar area, similar background and the first in my family to go to university. But I am not coming in to tell these students how to be, nor am I telling them they have to go to university. But I want them to know it’s a choice for them if they want to go.”
Building confidence is something that Amy pushes throughout her course, as she attributes lack of confidence as a symptom of educational inequality.
“These children are talented, bright and some of the things they come up with just blow you away. But I do think that if you’re from a working-class background, it is really the lack of expectation from people, and then you doubt yourself. Boosting confidence is such a simple thing but it can be the difference between someone not achieving a grade or achieving it.”
It’s not just her students that have been inspired through her programme, Amy too has felt the benefits from teaching.
“You have an immediate positive outcome to the work you’re doing which you don’t often see when you’re a researcher. With The Brilliant Club you see how you’ve impacted your tutees’ futures, because you see that it’s easier for them to write an essay or to understand a complex idea. It really boosts your mood. It’s food for the soul.”
Teaching is a “dialogue and a two-way process” for Amy. She said her students have brought artists and ideas into the classroom that have inspired her and her future lesson plans.
Similarly being a tutor for Key Stage 4 students has allowed Amy to develop pedagogical skills which she has translated into her teaching at university level.
“When you are working with children you have to have relational skills to get them interested and invested. Once you have been a Brilliant Club tutor, you will find that you can relate to people better, you can make things more understandable and you’re a better communicator.”
Amy received a scholarship to do her PhD at Liverpool John Moores University after she completed her Master’s degree. The financial support that was made available to her through the scholarship made her passion for tackling educational inequality come to the fore.
“I won that scholarship and it was only five years after leaving high school. So I really feel like with The Brilliant Club, I’m very enthused by the work that it does because I’m a real representative of the transformational nature of education.”
Amy completed her PhD at Liverpool John Moores University in December 2021. She has continued to assist The Brilliant Club in tackling inequality by taking on a new role within the charity. She is now the Community Organiser for the Parent Power Knowsley project that is running in Liverpool.
Interview by Ella Devereux, freelance journalist, @ella_devereux.
You can find about more about becoming a tutor with The Brilliant Club here.