New Bewerley Community School: A whirl of Arts and Music

New Bewerley Community School from the air

The whirling snail-shell design of the New Bewerley Community School building perfectly reflects the school’s dynamic and ever-evolving (and long-standing) arts-richness. The arial photo above also shows the sharp edge that represents the focus and purpose that drives the arts curriculum in this Beeston, south Leeds school. A side view of this innovative building would show that the wall-length windows in the classrooms let the light flood in. The school values are ‘Include. Create. Perform.’

We had the privilege of speaking with Headteacher Gary German (Art and Education degree), Arts Lead Paige Hurley (Theatre in Performance and Theatre in Education degree) and In Harmony/Opera North resident music and singing lead Elena Camblor Gonzalez. Between them we learned that, while maintaining their strong visual arts provision, the school is focussing on expanding their performing arts offer. From our focus group interviews with students, we learned all about the many creative and artistic projects taking place.

New Bewerley are one of five schools in South Leeds that are part of the In Harmony programme funded by Opera North to deliver first class music tuition to children who may not normally be able to access that type of cultural capital. They have been involved for six years. Headteacher Gary told us how the programme is not only a way to provide expert tuition for the children but also to up-skill staff. He described how ‘it took hold of the school. We have shaped our ethos and culture around it and have grown into a performance arts-focused school.

In Harmony display board

We spoke with resident In Harmony music lead Elena about her work. Students from Years One to Six have a choir session with Elena every week. She pointed out that, with at least 50 languages being spoken at the school by students and staff from many countries, ‘singing is a great way to includes everyone and make them understand the cultures of other people, and that singing is part of their daily lives.’ We saw Elena rehearsing a group of students on a complex operatic choral piece with actions.

The rehearsal took place in the dome centre of this snail building:

Domed roof of the main hall

We learned how students build their musicianship using the Kodály method which involves lots of singing. Years Three and Four learn stringed instruments, either the violin, viola or cello. At Year Five, they can choose to change to woodwind or brass. The big music room (‘the studio’) is full of these instruments. 

Instruments in cupboards

The older students can take theirs home; they learn how to look after and respect their instruments. We enjoyed seeing them arriving at school with cellos on their backs! When asked about the impact of the In Harmony sessions on the parents and family members, Elena told us that: 

‘Music is very powerful tool in the sense that it doesn’t only include the person who’s doing music, but it makes everyone around that person be involved and touched by music.’

As well as the substantial music provision, New Bewerley are also partnered with Northern Ballet, Leeds Playhouse and theatre company Wrongsemble

Leeds Playhouse and theatre company Wrongsemble. The companies spot talented children and invite them to workshops at weekend in order to further develop their skills. Gary spoke about his mission to instil skills in his students that could help them go further in performing arts in their future schools, universities and careers.

Speaking from a leadership perspective, Gary pointed out that ‘if we are investing in music, drama, dance and art, then that becomes the curriculum. It’s not an add-on. It’s not something we squeeze in and drop something else. We have to make sure that those opportunities are woven into our long term and medium-term plans, that they’re done properly, and that nothing else is sacrificed at their expense.’

Arts lead Paige guided us around the school’s arts displays and spaces. We were impressed by the focus on ceramics (note the kiln below). 

She guided us through the spiral curriculum where students build skills in specific media through regular revisits. For example, we learned how students make pinch pots in Year One and Two by drawing them out before adding detail with oil pastels. 

In Year Three they create a watercolour wash again adding oil pastels. By Year Four they make clay Saxon cups, scratching in their designs before applying the glaze before the go in the kiln.

Year 6 students had made these multi-media final pieces, representing London during the Blitz. They used clay tiles, oil pastels and pen. 

Year 5 students had created Anglo-Saxon broaches using clay slips, adding extra textures and embellishments before incorporating textiles in the form of weaving and sewing.

Students have also made these clay Remembrance Day poppies:

Year 3 had worked with artists Skippko on a six-week series of ceramic and multi-media Science-themed projects. Entitled ‘How does your garden grow?’, the work incorporated photography, flowers imprinted into clay, and creating and decorating clay pots with images of still life plants.

The school were also partnered with The Tetley Contemporary Art gallery in Leeds for which New Bewerley were a flagship school. Through The Tetley, Year Four had been investigating Ghanaian art, language and symbols.

The students’ sketchbooks were full of vibrant drawings and paintings, including these artworks produced after studying Jean-Michel Basquiat during Black History Month. In these activities, the students have used their reading skills of retrieval, interpretation and commenting on the creator’s choice to understand a variety of media. 

New Bewerley are working towards their Cultural Cohesion Quality Mark:

Students had created art and creating writing on the subject of inclusion with reference to murdered local MP Jo Cox:

Finally, Paige had recently created an arts ‘dictionary’ so that teachers and children can look up an arts-based word with which they are unfamiliar. Not only does it give students the vocabulary for critically engaging with the paintings, sculptures and other artworks, but it contains knowledge about art forms, artists and key ideas.

There is a clear journey to success that the arts-based curriculum takes us on’, Paige told us.

Many thanks to the students of New Bewerley and to Headteacher Gary German, Arts Lead Paige Hurley and In Harmony/Opera North resident music lead Elena for speaking with us.

You may also be interested in reading our recently-published Art, Craft and Design Rapid Evidence Review – a survey of published scholarly literature on art, craft and design in education.

Springfield Juniors: Giant Jewellery, Jubilee and Puppetry

Our visit to Springfield Juniors in Ipswich corresponded with their festival for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. All day, the school was buzzing with parents and family members. 

Musical theatre performances and choirs performed in the main Hall and also in the cool performance space (pictured above) that links the two main buildings. In other rooms, parents visited exhibitions of students’ arts and craft and soaked up the creativity that flows through this arts-rich school.

Up until this point in our visits, we had only heard about schools’ preparations for the big event. Today was the real thing! But as every teacher knows, and as Head teacher Louise Everitt explained, the performances and colourful displays of Queen-themed hats, cakes (being sold to raise funds) and other art works are ‘a combination of many weeks of work and planning’. 

Louise told us that ‘it’s great to have parents coming back in to see exactly what we’re doing’ and how the event was an opportunity to share the students’ learning and promote conversations at home. The school also has regular Tea Afternoons where parents can learn about what their children are learning and gain some skills alongside them.

Some background: Springfield Juniors (344 students in Years 3 to 6) is a Rights Respecting school on a terraced street one mile outside of Ipswich town centre. While the school has a long tradition of arts and creativity, and still retains a strong commitment to the visual arts, there has been a recent shift of emphasis towards the performing arts. 

We spoke with Assistant Head and Arts and Culture lead Beth Taylor (they also have specialist teachers for Music and Art). She described how her recent year-long training on the Leaders for Impact course with the Royal Opera House Bridge had reenergised her commitment to arts education. With only 12 to 16 places offered each year and a rigorous application and interview process, Beth enthused about the power of being immersed in workshops, sessions and networks of ‘like-minded amazing people’ who advocate for arts and cultural educational. 

I was passionate before,’ she told us, ‘but now feel like facilitating a cultural and creative education is my calling.’ Beth has now set up an Arts and Culture Network for leaders and teachers in local schools.

Clearly, Beth’s commitment to the arts and culture was contagious. Year 5 and 6 students talked enthusiastically about visits to and performances in Snape Maltings, a concert hall in a rural area about 20 miles from the school. 

They had also made ‘jewellery for giants’ out of ModRoc. These massive rings and trinkets could be found all around the school:

Jewellery for Giants: Author’s hand included for size!

Annually, Year 6 students work with the Young People’s Puppet Theatre (YPPT). The students told us how they had created their own knee-high puppet from a wooden kit. They had then chosen and made the clothes, created the hair, and painted the faces and hands. They told us how they had begun creating and decorating the sizable backdrops for the staging area, all the while learning how to operate the puppets and create scenes and stories.

Since our visit, Beth sent us some of the feedback from parents and students about the puppet performances:

‘YPPT helped me realise that just because we are young, it doesn’t mean we can’t do hard work. We can do anything we want now and in the future.’

‘What a fantastic opportunity for all the children. My son said it has been the highlight of his school experience so far.’

Read more feedback on this innovative project here (parents) and here (students).

Each of the other year groups has a half-term, timetabled project with an outside organisation or artist in addition to their regular arts provision. Year 5 work with the Shakespeare Schools Foundation/The New Wolsey Theatre (An Ipswich theatre); Year 4 with African drum-makers Wooden Roots and Year 3 with dance artist Sam Moss

The rest of the year is punctuated with additional opportunities as and when they arise. These include working with performance poet, author and script writer Murray Lachlan Young,  local illustrator and muralist Catalina Carvajal and local author Fred Sedgwick as well as trips to the local libraries and museums. 

Beth told us how the intention is to allow children to absorb as many cultural and creative experiences as possible so they are able to form opinions, a sense of self and learn transferable life skills.

We spoke with the Arts Ambassadors. They told us how they are involved in planning and shaping the arts curriculum. Their opinions, suggestions and ‘voice’ feed into a cycle of learning. Each cycle has to start with a ‘Wow’ moment – usually a trip or visit from an artist – and end with a product, performance or exhibition. Their planning documents were attached to their own dedicated Arts Ambassadors board:

The arts here are embedded into all subjects. It is the ‘golden thread’ that runs through everything. The students’ skills, talent and creativity were on show on the busy walls, filled with a wide range of media, and in their sketchbooks.

The Battle of Hastings was represented in these long 3D murals and as a comic strip:

Soil erosion had been investigated through dance:

We also learned about the ‘creative careers assemblies’ where students get to interview a range of professionals from creative industries. Beth told us how she was keen to ensure that ‘what we’re doing in school reflects the culture of our society and increases the cultural capital of the children in terms of experience and opportunity.’ 

We asked about how the school’s arts and culture impact on the local community. Beth explained how ‘some of the parents didn’t get the opportunities that were providing for their children. Every child in this building impacts a myriad of people because we’re talking about some really large families and communities in this area.’ 

She went on to describe how the school are ‘doing the same for the parents as we’re doing for the children. It is all vicariously through them.’ 

With the feast of arts on offer on this special day, it was lovely to see parents and family members fascinated, amused and sometimes moved to tears by the children’s creativity. 

We would like to thank Assistant Head and Arts and Culture Lead Bethany Taylor for organising our day and sharing her thoughts and experiences, Headteacher Louise Everitt, and the selection of Year 4, 5 and 6 students, and members of extra-curricular clubs that we spoke with.

Stained glass window with individual students’ self-portraits

You may also be interested in reading our recently-published Art, Craft and Design Rapid Evidence Review – a survey of published scholarly literature on art, craft and design in education.

Wix and Wrabness: Creating an arts-rich school is a team effort

Wix and Wrabness Primary school front

Here at RAPS, we are not only interested in what goes on in our 40 arts-rich primary schools. We are also keen to find out how each school became artistic and the reasons why they started to pursue a creative pedagogy. And while some of our schools have been arts-rich for as long as any of the existing staff can remember, Wix and Wrabness is an excellent example of how vision, purpose and inspiration can transform a school – its students, staff and the wider community.

Wix and Wrabness, a school of 117 students is sited in the small rural village of Wix in Tendring, Essex about 15 miles east of Colchester. The mixed demographic of students come from Wix, Wrabness, Clacton-on-Sea and other areas of high deprivation including Harwich.

We spoke with Head teacher James Newell and Deputy Head and Arts Lead Vanessa Lindsay about the school’s journey. Both had worked previously at Two Village Church of England Primary for several years in different roles. It was there that they developed what became the Garden of Curiosities which they describe as ‘a really creative space’ in which artists from all over the country would come to work with the students. 

James took up the Headship at Wix and Wrabness six years ago. He was soon joined by Vanessa as Deputy Head and Arts and Culture lead. James’ first goal was to create a curriculum that was driven through the arts. ‘When you’re trying to make a big change like that, you need more than one person to do it’ James acknowledged.

James’ and Vanessa’s senior leadership roles have allowed them to take their creative arts-rich child-led (‘going out and exploring rather than being told what to learn’: James) vision to new heights. 

That’s been the beauty here’, Vanessa explained: ‘We’re both leadership and we’re absolutely driven with it, whereas before we had that drive, but the leadership didn’t really buy into it, so ultimately it wasn’t very sustainable’.

The results are evident in this intricate Year 5/6 clay work and the large topic-themed 3D door-mounted sculptures:

Also on display were other three-dimensional art works themed around the Mayans, Mexico, Egypt and China:

The pair talked to us about the importance of working with external artists and cultural partners in sustained and meaningful ways so that the staff, students and artists build productive relationships. 

Among the list of artists and partners were local sculptor Nicola Burrell who worked with students on their D&T landscapes, mosaic artist Anne Schwegmann-Fielding who collaborated on creating the friendship bench at the front of the school (below), local mixed media artist Juliet Lockhart and creative performance artists the Grand Theatre of Lemmings.

Mosaic Friendship Bench – detail

James and Vanessa testified to how studying on the Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination Certificate of Professional Studies at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge had inspired their arts and cultural education programme Curious Education.

They have also led CPD for the Colchester teacher training consortium and staff at the school have had training via the Let’s Play programme associated with the National Theatre in London. Vanessa worked with a director from the National to create an ‘unusual’ and innovative nativity with the KS1 students. The process was immersive and multi-faceted; the play was performed in-the-round.  

Wix and Wrabness also have strong links with the Royal Opera House. The students have visited the huge aircraft hangar space in Purfleet where the sets for the ROH are made and the wigs and costumes stored. ‘Broadening their horizons doesn’t necessarily mean leaving the area’ James explained.

The pair are working hard to spread their arts-rich message to the wider community and ‘bigger networks’. They have recently been selected by the Royal Opera House to act as consultants and hosts for a six-week CPD course on bringing the creative industries into primary schools.

Their outward-looking artistic approach is displayed on the walls and corridors, and in the students’ sketchbooks and art folders where BAME heroines and Jaspar Johns nestle with the Queen, Culture Club and banks of colourful ukeleles.

To seal the deal, Wix and Wrabness are an Arts Award Centre. Their Year 5 and 6s have achieved Bronze awards through artwork based around the Royal Opera House’s design challenge. They have Platinum Arts Mark status, a Music Mark award and are proud to be a Wellbeing Hub.

With Covid currently on the back foot, the team are planning to transform their summer school fete into a celebratory arts-packed festival. Building on a half-day creative den building experience with students and parents, the festival will feature a disco, circus skills, storytelling, drama and live music. Get behind us in the queue for your Access All Areas pass!

We would like to thank Head teacher James Newell, Deputy Head and Arts Lead Vanessa Lindsay, and the many children who came to speak with us about their arts-rich experiences.

Knowledge, Skills and Creativity tree branch

You may also be interested in reading our recently-published Art, Craft and Design Rapid Evidence Review – a survey of published scholarly literature on art, craft and design in education.

St Andrew’s Church Primary: A Green School Without Walls

St Andrews Church Primary front

During our visit to St Andrew’s Church School, we learned about two main things; the influence that the school building can have on learning and wellbeing, and how students learn outside of the school walls. Both factors – the inside and the outside – have been the subject of considerable and ongoing research (much of it involving St Andrews) which has been put into practice at this creative arts-rich primary.

The school building (the school is bigger than just the building!) is located in central Bath just behind the iconic Royal Crescent and near to other Georgian buildings, such as The Circus, the Jane Austen Centre and other places of historic and cultural interest.

The Royal Crescent

Headteacher and Arts lead Jayne Rochford-Smith explained how St Andrew’s children spend extended periods (weeks) in theatres, galleries, museums and other cultural sites, learning alongside artists and the venue’s staff. 

St Andrew’s have been part of School Without Walls for about 11 years, a project developed by Dr Penny Hay and late Headteacher Sue East in collaboration with the Egg theatre in Bath with St Andrew’s as one of the founding partners. Jayne, who has a degree in Fine Art and a Postgraduate in printmaking, was Head of Early Years and Special Educational Needs Coordinator at the time. She worked closely with Sue and Penny to further develop the project. 

School Without Walls is underpinned by the Reggio Emilia and House of Imagination approach of allowing children to find and follow their fascinations with the adults facilitating this and scaffolding the learning though a method of co-enquiry. School Without Walls … places the children at the centre of their own learning. By transplanting them into a cultural setting, the conventions, behaviours and habits associated with the ‘classroom’ start to fall away.’

Jayne told us that the two questions that drive the school’s approach are: Where can creativity come from? and; What can we use in our city?

We learned about the initial phase of the project which took place 11 years ago in the Egg Theatre. Jayne explained how, all through the summer term (about seven continuous weeks), the children worked with the team at the Egg Theatre: ‘They worked with the lighting engineer. They worked in the café. They worked in helping people on the reception. They learn about roles and jobs. They learned about communication. They learn maths. They learn English through a creative environment.’ 

Following this longer project, the ‘School Without Walls’ research was developed into mini projects which allowed for the wider school to experience placements within cultural centres and to use the city for learning. Each class chooses where they want to go. On some of the projects the children then work with and an artist and a documenter.

Through research, we have learned how we learn alongside children, and we are the co-constructors, rather than the directors of learning. You’ve got to be responsive to what’s happening on the day. We take them on a creative journey’ Jayne explained.

Our learning journey – reading area

We learned about an actual journey to the Holburne Museum which took place when Jayne was teaching in Early Years. Fifty-four children were immersed in the theatre for a week. Jayne told us how ‘the 45-minute walk down to The Holburne and the journey back were as much of that exploration as the time there’. On their return journey, the children saw an old-fashioned horse-drawn carriage on the street transporting a couple to their wedding, which led to wedding-themed arts projects on return to the school.

This work has underpinned the development of the St Andrew’s Connected Curriculum. A curriculum designed and built around the City. We were shown a collaboratively produced map of the many local landmarks and cultural and creative places that can be walked to from the school. These include not only galleries and museums but parks, the hospital, a city farm, the council offices, the cinema and the train station. Children have also visited the Ancient Technology Centre in Dorset and have collaborative relationships with Age UK, the local church, secondary schools and Bath Spa University.

My job as a Head,’ Jayne commented, ‘is to maintain the collaborations I have with the city. And if you don’t do that, then the school becomes a very insular place’.

This outward-looking approach is balanced by the school’s research-based focus on their internal environment. As newcomers to the school, we were struck by the emphasis on plants, natural light and fresh air. The chairs, tables, floors and other elements of the classrooms and other spaces are made of wood and natural materials. The learning spaces are decluttered. 

Desks and chairs have been arranged so that every child can see outside the classroom. Classrooms are designed around a central outdoor space with a tree. 

We browsed the school’s extensive Green Classrooms (a ‘collaboration with the Universities of Bath and Bristol, and CaSA Architects to understand the impact of design on health, wellbeing and learning’) Report. This gives precise data about heating, temperature, ventilation, air quality, humidity, acoustics and other factors.

The report has been acted upon with new wooden floors, automatic window vents in the roof and practical processes designed to maximise the children’s learning and wellbeing (and that of the staff) through a biophilic approach. The attention to detail has produced calm, nature-focussed, non-reverberant spaces that we as researchers responded to very positively.

St Andrew’s is also an Eco School and a Stonewall School Champion.

Referring to Loris Malaguzzi’s ‘The Hundred Languages of Children’, Jayne observed that:

If you’re going to teach children, you need to know what language they’re speaking.’ 

St Andrew’s creative arts-rich child-led pedagogy is giving children the best opportunity to speak and be heard.

Our sincere thanks go to Head teacher and Arts lead Jayne Rochford-Smith for her time, insights and openness. Also thanks to Ellen Weaver (Humanities lead and Year 4 teacher), Niamh Collie (Music lead) and the Year 4, 5 and 6 children with whom we spoke during our visit.

You may also be interested in reading our recently-published Art, Craft and Design Rapid Evidence Review – a survey of published scholarly literature on art, craft and design in education.

Nancledra: How a remote Cornish primary stays connected through the arts and creativity

Nancledra School front

Despite being the most remote school in our RAPS project, and one of the smallest, Nancledra Primary is a great example of how the arts can be used to connect the students to big ideas while reflecting the creativity of the local cultures, past and present.

To set the scene – the school is located about four miles inland from St Ives on Cornwall’s north coast. We drove past farms and fields – down single-track lanes with high hedges. There are no nearby shops, pubs or amenities. 

Head teacher Rick Hill told us about the diversity of the 110-strong student body; farming families; alternative/creative lifestyles (off-grid, living in yurts, etc); families that own bars, hotels and restaurants; families who work for those who own bars, hotels and restaurants (the majority).

We were told how some students travel from Penzance and other towns and villages, attracted by the school’s arts-richness, small class sizes (15-20 in combined year groups), rural location, and the stability provided by long-serving staff (including Rick).

About 15 years ago, Rick and a group of other Heads of Cornish schools discussed how they could broaden their offer and better reflect the history and culture of West Cornwall. They agreed that the area has a long and ongoing legacy of attracting creative people – potters, sculptures (such as Barbara Hepworth), painters, poets and musicians. The continually updated arts curriculum reflects this local artistic culture. 

Art lead and Class 2 teacher Georgia Barker told us about the students’ visit to Penlee House Gallery and Museum. Studying the local landmark paintings there taught them about the centuries-old fishing culture. 

Craft, Percy Robert; ‘Hevva Hevva’; Penlee House Gallery & Museum

The gallery was full of ‘fishing scenes, widows who’ve lost their husbands, sea scenes and old cobbled streets. They do a brilliant thing where the characters come to life. A lady dresses up in a shawl and she talks about the paintings. We learned that, in the olden days, when the pilchards were in the bay, they would shout ‘Hevva! Hevva!’ from the top of the hill. That would mean they’d see an oily dark spill and all the men would run off to their boats.’

Rick, Georgia and Music lead Lucy Ainsley also told us about visits to Leach Pottery and Tate St Ives, which contains a gallery of local-themed art alongside the contemporary pieces. We also learned of a joint-schools singing performance at festival at St. John’s Hall in Penzance; and a guided tour around The Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Gallery in St Ives.

Lucy told us how, alongside other schools, the students of Nancledra has performed at the jaw-dropping open-air cliff-top Minack Theatre for the G7 partners and wives (and one husband!) when the conference was held in Cornwall in June 2021. Check out the BBC’s news report. Their performance – “Ocean World” – was about the migration of Humpback whales and the disastrous effects of plastic pollution in the oceans.

Minack Theatre

Despite these undoubtedly inspiring places and experiences, Rick stressed that ‘living at the very end of a very narrow peninsula with 270 degrees of sea around us’ offered relatively few places to visit. On a practical level, staff need a D1 classification on their licence to drive the mini-bus – automatic for those who passed their test 25 years ago, expensive to train and test otherwise. Parents and their cars are recruited for visits. 

In recognition of their geographical isolation, the school receives sparsity funding (based the on average class size and distance from other primary and secondary schools) via the national funding formula.

Rick, himself a keen musician and singer, also points out the damage that the pandemic and lockdowns have done to the performing arts: 

‘Singing used to be absolutely outstanding here three years ago. Before Covid, you could have come in on a Friday morning, and listened to our primary school choir singing with four-part harmony.’

Lucy and Rick assure us that the choir is regaining its strength. Students were learning ‘Singing in the Rain’ (from 1952) for the Queen’s platinum jubilee. 

Rick mentioned that he had set up a Dads’ Choir as a plan to compensate for the gender bias against boys in the school choir. Rick and the local farmer dads rehearsed once a week and sang in schools. Mission accomplished, there are now plans to start a Mums’ Choir.

Students told us about learning the ukulele and other instruments in school, taking peripatetic lessons, and playing and singing in a lunchtime school band.

As well as the visits and performances, we saw lots of evidence that Nancledra was reaching out and connecting through the arts. Like Newlyn Primary, Nancledra has a display of loaned art from Newlyn Art Gallery and Cornwall Council as part of the Think, Talk, Make Art project. These include Plasticine Painting (1995 Laura Godfrey-Isaacs), St Ives Crabber (1949 Kate Nicholson), Judith in Hospital (1986 Timothy Hyman) and Sirens (1930 Leonard Fuller) – all included below.

Arts lead Georgia had attended network sessions with Isabel Stephens, Head of Newlyn Primary, and CPD sessions with Melanie Cox from Gomersal Primary (see previous RAPS blog posts for Newlyn and Gomersal). She told us how the students were now using their sketchbooks in a more exploratory fashion. 

Georgia introduced us to the recently-arrived Ukrainian student, a sign of Nancledra’s openness to new cultures and new ideas. 

Finally, after our focus group interviews with the students, a Year 5 member of the school’s extra-curricular art club was keen to show us their artwork. We will leave you with this charming selection of their animals, and celebrate the skill, talent and teaching that produced them.

Many thanks to Head Teacher Rick Gill for his time and organisation, Art Coordinator and Class 2 teacher Georgia Barker, Music lead Lucy Ainsley and all of the students who spoke with us about the arts that they do at this fascinating school.

You may also be interested in reading our recently-published Art, Craft and Design Rapid Evidence Review – a survey of published scholarly literature on art, craft and design in education.

Wyburns: ‘You can hear the life in the school’

Wyburns Primary School front and sign

One a day of SATs (the Year 6s were doing them), Ofsted (in the building) and Covid (still affecting schools and RAPS visits), it was refreshing and inspiring to see and hear about the many artistic and creative things going on at Wyburns.

The school’s extensive arts-richness has been driven by Head teacher Kath Sansom over the last nine years or so. Her passion for the arts and her considerable background in music and the visual arts have informed not only the curriculum, but also the colourful open-plan layout of the classrooms and these large canvas collages that she created with students:

With the classroom walls replaced by brightly coloured perspex panels and the doors removed, the buzz of classroom activity seeps through the school. As Year 5 teacher Jessica Franco explained: 

You can hear the life in the school. It creates a community. We all feel like we’re in it together and we’re part of a team’.

In the background of our interview recordings, you can hear children practicing their singing for the Queen’s Jubilee performances. The rehearsals of ‘God Save the Queen’, a Queen medley, ‘Tomorrow’ from Annie, and other selections convinced us that ‘the school is always singing’ (Jessica again).

From staff and students, we built a picture of the school’s commitments to the performing arts. As well as the frequent singing assemblies, classes had created their own plays and musicals. There was also Musical Monday with a weekly focus on musicians from diverse genres, and Wyburn’s Got Talent.

We learned about visits to Basildon Towngate Theatre to see the pantomime (for which some students have auditioned), the Palace Theatre, at which students had performed ‘You Can’t Stop the Beat’ from Hairspray with other schools, and the Royal Albert Hall.

The students also talked us through what goes on in the various clubs – Ukelele, Dance, Rock Steady (lunchtime band club) and Watercolour among others.

Arts Lead Lisa Welsh told us how she was drawing on her background in animation and media studies for one of the Year 5 projects. They had recently created flip books and computer-based animations.

Wyburns is in Rayleigh, Essex, about 6 miles inland from Southend. We are in Anne Boleyn territory here! 

As well as doing art projects about the seaside, we heard of a Year 5 photography project where the students investigated and documented their immediate environment. Inspired by the work of Ansel Adams, Jessica told us how the students were not only learning about composition and editing, and creating high-contrast black and white photos, but also ‘getting outside, getting a bit active and really using their imagination to think – “how am I going to tell this story”’.

The Arts Club and Arts Ambassadors are trained in arts techniques by Lisa before passing them on to their classmates. They had raised money to buy the materials for the frames (made by Lisa) for this gallery of student art:

Our Gallery

We heard about cross curricular literacy-based projects, one of which focussed on a book about a polar bear. The students had chosen to recreate one of the pages by layering tissue paper by sticking it with PVC glue so that when the pages dried and were put up on the window, the light shone through and brought them to life.

On the subject of cross-curricular arts work, Jessica said that staff were always ‘looking for where that sparkle is going to come out. Sometimes students are so focused on their maths and their English, they forget how exciting school can be.’

Lisa has worked with class teachers to help the students create these large 3D papier Mache models of Wales and Ireland (England and Scotland were there too!): 

Wyburns pride themselves on being able to accommodate a large percentage of SEN students. Their arts-rich creative curriculum was clearly central to this provision. Lisa gave us an example of one of her dyslexic students who despite struggling in other subjects was thriving in arts sessions.

Students can produce something that they can be proud of’ Lisa said. ‘When they shine somewhere else, it gives them that boost’.

With all of the colour and buzz of the interior, Wyburns’ extensive playing field, oak tree-centred playground, pond and Forest School area provide a restorative balance.

The school has a strong focus on mental health and wellbeing on which Assistant Head Jo Woods leads. Like some other schools in our project, Wyburns is a Unicef Right Respecting School. They are also making good use of Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats.

We hope the Jubilee concert, the SATs and the inspection went well, and that the combination of colour, art, music and green space continues to nurture and inspire all who pass through Wyburns.

Many thanks to Arts Lead Lisa Welsh for organising our visit and for her insights into the curriculum. We would also like to thank Assistant Head Jo Woods, Year 5 teacher Jessica Franco and all of the students with whom we spoke. 

Wyburns from the playground

You may also be interested in reading our recently-published Art, Craft and Design Rapid Evidence Review – a survey of published scholarly literature on art, craft and design in education.

Newlyn: The opportunities and challenges of a seafront Cornish arts-rich primary school

Newlyn is a small fishing village on the south coast of Cornwall just over a mile west of Penzance. The school of 120 students sits just up the hill from the seafront. Even on a misty morning, you can see St Michael’s Mount from the library’s big bay window.

And while Newlyn Primary school is on the same street as a long-established and prestigious contemporary art gallery, in the same village as three private commercial art galleries and a short mini-bus drive from places of arts and culture, Newlyn town is an area of high poverty. Head teacher Isabel Stephens told us that ‘50% of our children come from an estate which is in the bottom 10% economically in Europe. 43% of the children are on free school meals.’

Four years into her role, Isabel talked about the substantial changes she had made to the curriculum in order to rebrand the school around the arts and encourage parents (and staff) to apply. In fact, the arts now drive ‘everything’ – students study a diverse range of artists while focussing on skills progression and conceptual understanding.

For example, the students spoke of their recent visit to a workshop by ex-Brixton resident Denzil Forrester, as part of Black Voices of Cornwall’s Captured Beauty exhibition at the Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange. Denzil’s large canvas in the gallery was of a reggae sound-system event, full of dancers and DJs. 

Dezil Forrester

Denzil told the children how he used to sketch in the semi-darkness of the dancehalls, capturing the dynamic free-flowing movements of the dancers. The students were excited about the workshop and their own ‘gestural drawings’, sometimes created with charcoals and pencils in each hand. 

The students also talked about their visits to the dramatic cliff-top open-air Minack Theatre to watch plays and musicals and to perform themselves. We learned how Year 5 were putting the finishing touches on their performance of a scene from The Tempest in collaboration with other local schools.

Minack Theatre

We were excited to discover that Newlyn Primary has its own art gallery. A diverse range of paintings, collages and sculptures are currently on loan from the Arts Council Collection and Cornwall Council Schools Art Collection as part of the Think, Talk, Make Art project. The gallery includes an abstracted print by St Ives artist/sculptor Barbara Hepworth which you can see alongside some of the other artworks in the slideshow below.

This two-year programme of CPD has been funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation Teacher Development Fund and enabled nine primary schools in West Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly to create in-school galleries. 

The galleries form the basis of a programme of artist-led CPD. The teachers involved share what they learn with staff and students. Their new knowledge and understanding informs the curriculum. There are plans for the students to act as gallery guides, covid permitting. 

Cat Gibbard, Programme Curator for Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange told us:

‘The project was inspired by an earlier collaboration in 2019 between the school and Newlyn Art Gallery where Year 5 students selected ten pieces of artwork to hang in their school from the Arts Council Collection (funded by The Arts Council Collection and Cornwall Council). 

This was part of the gallery’s New Voices programme which invited underrepresented groups from the community to curate. It was the positive impact of this in-school gallery on the whole school community that inspired the gallery to develop their learning and reach more schools, inviting Newlyn to be the lead school for the Think, Talk, Make Art funding bid.’

Isabel talked about being ‘properly terrified’ at the monetary value of the art works; one child said ‘I can’t believe that Newlyn school children are allowed something like this’. Once again, we had to remind ourselves that we were in a primary school, not a contemporary art gallery. 

Isabel described the impact of the gallery as ‘absolutely huge’:

All of the work I was doing on behaviour and respecting others could be reinforced by the fact that they had the gallery’ she explained. ‘The children were trusted with something and their behaviour towards it has always been totally respectful’.

She also talked about a rise in the students’ self-esteem and their vocabulary and language from guiding visitors (like us) around the art works and offering their commentary.

Like many other schools, Newlyn are rebuilding their strong music and performing arts provision after Covid. Cornwall schools were hit later than other regions, but just as hard, due to their geographical isolation.

The students’ art works on the walls and in their sketchbooks matched the vibrancy, diversity and impact of those in the loaned gallery:

The students talked to us about doing arts projects around the local culture and locations – tin mining, fishing, Saint Michael’s Mount, dragons and legends. They also described printing onto paper with actual fish! They were also excited at being involved in the upcoming Golowan festival parade.

‘I think you’ve got to be quite brave to focus on art’ Isabel explained.

Rest assured that the ‘brave new world’ promised in Shakespeare’s The Tempest is taking shape in the form of this fascinating arts-rich primary school.

Many thanks to Head Teacher Isabel Stephens, Art Coordinator and Year 4 teacher Rebecca Rollason, teacher Julie Wood, TA Rowena Baldwin and the Year 4 and 5 students we spoke with on the day.

You may also be interested in reading our recently-published Art, Craft and Design Rapid Evidence Review – a survey of published scholarly literature on art, craft and design in education.

Horfield: Self-portraits, choral speaking and a 100-strong choir at this ambitious Bristol primary

Horfield is a Church of England primary of 407 students located three miles outside of Bristol town centre.

During our visit, we got to see and hear how the visual and performing arts were being used for inspiration (staff talked about ‘the magic of learning’) and personal transformation.

All of the Senior leaders that we spoke with have arts backgrounds. Assistant Head Kirsten Cunningham has a Degree in Music and an MA in musicology and continues to perform as a singer and orchestral percussionist. She also works for Bristol Beacon as a music consultant. Arts coordinator Laura Hilton has a Degree in Art and Design and has worked as a freelance fashion textile designer and a visual manager for Debenhams and Marks and Spencer.

The sense of purpose and ambition for the arts was palpable in this ArtsMark Platinum school. We were told how staff were recruited for their arts specialisms. In addition, cultural partners and expert practitioners were utilised to lift the quality of learning and teaching, and to provide new exciting new experiences. 

All students in the school have the opportunity to play an instrument, and from Year 3, to sing in the 100 strong school choir. The long list of peripatetic lessons includes double bass, euphonium, cello and cornet. The staff were excited to tell us about Earthsong a large, funded project that provides free music lessons for five years in thirteen Bristol schools. 

Earthsong has been featured on BBC Radio 3.

Laura told us that the arts ‘give every child an equal voice’ and explained how the school draws students from a very wide range of socio-economic backgrounds.

Students had worked with composer Richard Barnard from Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, one of the school’s partners. 

Year 4’s music composition work was arranged for us to see. Richard Barnard has made short videos of him performing the children’s scores on piano. See if you can follow the dots!

Midsummer Night’s Dream score and writing

We were invited to an in-class performance of Labi Siffre’s anthemic ‘Something Inside So Strong’. The Year 4’s strong harmonies and confident call-and-response parts reminded us of music’s power to communicate hope and resistance in the face of oppression. 

‘Something inside so strong’ sung by Horfield’s Year 4s

We also got to see a Year 1 class practising their choral speaking. The actions and performance were clearly helping the students to remember and communicate a lengthy piece of text. 

Music and visual art were combined in these blazing firebirds inspired by the music of Stravinsky:

Horfield’s art curriculum focusses on skills progression and techniques – colour, drawing, understanding space and shape, textiles, printing, etc. 

Kirsten talked about how they balance skills with creativity: ‘We are really deeply ambitious for our children. You can see that the quality of the work is really high. Teaching these technical skills can take their learning further. But at the same time, that meaningful memorable ‘wow’ factor is really important too.’

Horfield use self-portraits to document and assess students’ progress. They have taken part in Art Bytes, a national art and EdTech programme for primary, secondary and SEN schools that combines an inter-school art competition with a bespoke virtual gallery. 

Horfield’s top three selections will go forward to wider regional and national competitions The winner is on one of the display boards below. Choose your winner before clicking here to see which ones the school selected. 

As well as the realism and detail that had caught the judges’ eyes, we were impressed by these striking colourful semi-abstract Year 5 self-portraits:

… and these Andy Warhol-inspired Year 1 pieces:

The visual arts were also being combined with writing in creative and artistic ways.  ‘Imagination Station’ is their way of encouraging children to explore and be brave visually, and to fuse images with words to inspire high quality creative writing.

High quality texts are used as the inspiration for creative visual responses:

Each year, the school adopts a ‘metaphor’ which is visualised through art works, creative writing, song composition and the sharing of books. This year the metaphor ‘journeys’ allowed children to consider not only the journeys of explorers and migration but also metaphorical and imaginative journeys.  

From students and staff, we heard about how the arts are being used to explore issues such as homelessness and the natural world. The students worked with resident composer Claire Alsop to compose Song of the Sea.

Kirsten told us how getting real-life artists and composers into the classroom enabled students to see themselves as artists and to understand that they could pursue this as a career. 

‘Our role and privilege as teachers’, she explained, ‘is to open doors to them, and for them to experience art and be inspired by art in its widest forms.’ 

We can testify that such arts-richness is as equally inspiring for grown-up arts education researchers!

Thanks to Assistant Head Kirsten Cunningham and Arts Coordinator Laura Hilton for hosting us, and to Creative Writing lead and Year 6 teacher Kirsty Jones and all the Horfield students who spoke with us and sang to us.

You may also be interested in reading our recently-published Art, Craft and Design Rapid Evidence Review – a survey of published scholarly literature on art, craft and design in education.

The ArtsMap video for this school and others in the RAPS project are available on the RAPS Youtube channel. The videos have been produced by students to showcase the arts in their primary school.

Marine Academy: Cheerleading for primary arts

Marine Academy is a double Outstanding primary that sits next to Marine Academy Secondary high up on a hill about three miles outside of the centre of Plymouth. The school’s partnerships with local cultural and arts institutions and networks of arts-rich education are extensive. 

Marine Academy Primary Ofsted quotation

The school is part of the Ted Wragg network of thirteen Devon schools that promotes a ‘passion for education and the difference it can make to further social justice, progression self-esteem and ultimately success for our children’.

They are also a National Support School. Headteacher Siobhan Meredith is a National Leader of Education (NLE). Senior Leader Nicola Keeler is the inclusion lead. Kingsley Clennel-White is the music and arts lead and the Dartmoor Leader of Education for Music. All three have roles in which they share their good work across regional teaching networks such as the Exeter Consortium

Early years outdoor learning area

In a deliberate move, the school has grown year on year from a single class of 26 reception students to today’s 480 allowing staff to learn how to embed the arts in meaningful and sustainable ways. 

Marine Academy has links with the University of Plymouth. Kingsley told us how his students had been there recently to work with clay, do some screen printing and to watch music performances. He used to be a guitarist in a Heavy Metal band; he proudly showed us his amps and Ibanez guitar, always ready to pull out and shred in the large well-stocked music-and-art room. 

Music and arts room

As an experienced multi-instrumentalist, Kingsley’s remit is to grow the number of students that take instrumental lessons. While most of the peripatetic sessions were funded by families (the school funds the lessons for less well-off students), the fees for many of the school’s 31 extra-curricular clubs were funded by the school.

We also spoke with Holly Holden-Turnbull, a Schools Direct trainee teacher (through Exeter University) who was currently bringing her passion for music to her Year 6 class. Holly has an extensive background in music and composition which includes a languages Degree with a focus on ethnomusicology, six months in Cuba during which she recorded a collaborative album, and experience touring as a musician and singer. Holly’s expressed her enthusiasm for primary music: ‘I feel really strongly about making sure that children experience art and music. From my own experiences, these have really helped me to most effectively express myself’.

We spoke to member of two of the 31 clubs – the cheerleaders and the street dancers. The street dancers had performed alongside other schools on The Hoe. The cheerleaders are taught by Emily from the Plymouth City Patriots Basketball team. They told me how cheerleading combines dancing, singing/chanting, athletics and gymnastics. They were excited that they might get to cheerlead at a Patriots game. Two of the group had had diving (artistry + athleticism) coaching sessions with local Olympians Tom Daley and Tonia Couch and had been earmarked as showing promise.

To Plymouth and beyond

We learned how the arts are central to the school’s strong commitment to the students’ mental health, wellbeing and inclusion. Kingsley provides bespoke arts and DT interventions for the students. These have included working on graffiti artworks, technical drawing, creating a playlist of songs that could then regulate the student both at school and home, and a raft of music-based interventions. Kingsley told us how the school’s pianos and keyboards had proved a particular success for many SEND students.

Other ‘symptoms’ of the school’s commitment to the arts and creativity are the rabbits, chickens, guinea pigs and other animals; the storytelling area; and decoupage, cake-making and other courses for parents run at the school by On Course South West.

As well as arts work linked to the local community, China, the world’s population and biomes, Marine Academy were celebrating their near-sea location with links with the National Marine Aquarium (the UK’s largest!) and the city’s naval past and present with a field gun after-school club. 

National Marine Aquarium (the UK’s largest!) and the city’s naval past and present with a field gun after-school club.

Kingsley told us about an ambitious project as part of the Mayflower Four Hundred commemorations which would have involved a thousand-strong children’s choir performing on the Hoe, telling the story of the Mayflower voyage through a ‘very complicated piece of musical work’. Unfortunately, COVID prevented the realisation of the project. We very much hope that as the pandemic loosens its grip, Marine Academy, and other arts-rich primaries with a passion for the performing arts can once again work towards such big collaborative events in front of audiences.

We also learned about Clan-Kind, a Plymouth based project designed to ‘develop a deeper connection between place and community by bringing together diverse groups to learn about the natural or built heritage in their neighbourhood in a participatory and unexpected way.’ The school has formed a ‘clan’ called the Five Well Wishers. 

Kingsley explained: ‘Just across the road and down a little bit, there’s an old hedge which we explored. We went down to an area where we found three water wells, which are still viable. Students were amazed that that community has been there for hundreds and hundreds of years, and that hedge was over two thousand years old’. 

A local person taught them about foraging and what plants could have been sourced for food in the past. The children went on to create a triptych in layered tissues paper, pulses and foam board using iconographic symbols to create a folk history of the area, something they also investigate in Year Five when creating Totem tiles as part of their clay work.

Many thanks to Arts and Music lead Kingsley Clennel-White, SL Nicola Keeler, Schools Direct trainee Holly Holden-Turnbull and the students with whom we spoke on the day.

You may also be interested in reading our recently-published Art, Craft and Design Rapid Evidence Review – a survey of published scholarly literature on art, craft and design in education.

High View Primary: Plymouth’s thriving arts-rich community hub

Here at RAPS, we are fascinated by the role of the arts-rich primary school as a hub for community creativity. High View in Plymouth is an excellent example of how the arts can reach, engage and transform children, parents, families and wider communities.

As the name suggests, High View has a panoramic outlook on the landscapes and seascapes of Plymouth and its environs. This hill-top perspective reminds us that we are only three miles or so away from Plymouth’s iconic marinas and docks. We are in fact in Efford, a distinct community with its own cultural identity. Read on to find out how the students of High View are documenting their local community and its culture through art projects.

Built twelve years ago, High View is the result of the merger of two local primaries. Arts coordinator and SLT Jenny Hobbs told us how, as part of a building design team, the students were involved in the planning process, making decisions about the colours of the walls, the décor, the classrooms and toilets. 

Our base for the day was the music room. This space doubled as the stage area of the main Hall and could be separated by a retractable wall. The professional lighting rigs, sound equipment, hanging theatrical microphones, black stage curtains and raked seating, made it clear that this space was perfect for big performance assemblies (with students working the lights, writing scripts, dancing, acting and singing) and termly productions. In addition, the school had recently hosted a creative education network conference in this space.

As well as the sailing, horse riding and other extra-curricular clubs, we learned about the extensive provision for music instrumental playing. We spoke with Gem Smith in her role as the school’s creative education ‘guru’. She is the school’s dance teacher. High View students are also taught dance by Exim Dance in an extra-curricular club.

Gem, in her role with Take A Part, supports the school with arts/creativity CPD, and also helps link the school to community art projects, finds the right artists and crafts people, and helps with writing funding bids. Gem supported High View on their journey to become Plymouth’s first Arts Mark Gold school.

And while the performing arts were clearly thriving at High View, the visual arts had an equally high profile. 

Students had looked at LS Lowry for their perspective drawings, William Morris in the context of the Victorians for their own printed wallpaper designs, and Stone age cave art to create their own paints out of natural materials.

Year 4 had been studying Swiss painter Paul Klee. The students showed us their sketch books and talked us through all of the class discussions and arts activities that were inspired by looking at Klee. The class had made a wider study of Egypt and its art by discussing Klee’s expressionist painting Legend of the Nile and his travels in Africa. They had created a colour wheel, talked about the emotions of the artwork, particularly the emotions of colour, and expanded their emotional vocabulary which, Jenny told us, was linked to English, Oracy and PSHE.

The class had discussed their various opinions about Klee’s work and of abstract painting. Their in-class mini art exhibition, where they walked and talked about each other’s work, led to conversations about techniques, the intentions of the artist, interpretation, personal preference, and the subjective nature at art. 

Some of the students’ work on Egypt had made it to the High View Museum. The wide range of sculptures, death masks, mummies and hieroglyphic art works were created at home with parents in a no-pressure inter-generational project. Jenny told us about a child coming to school with a ‘whole entire pyramid, made out of clay bricks where the top lifts off and you can see Pharaohs in coffins’.

Headteacher Jody Trayte told us about Crazy Glue, a parent-and-child art group. Every month, parents come into the school to work with artists alongside their children on different art projects. These can open up community and city-wide opportunities for exhibition and projects, such as acting as exhibition tour guides for their peers on contemporary arts exhibitions like the British Art Show. The project originally targeted ‘hard to reach’ parents but has expanded to encompass a range of community arts projects and creative curriculum opportunities.

The school is also involved in the annual Children’s Parade as part of Plymouth’s Respect Festival.

Our bike rides (Liam has a fold up bike!) around Plymouth’s marinas, ports and The Hoe gave us a strong sense of the city’s maritime history, its continent-discovering past, and its ferry port-and-docks present. However, Gem told us about one of the school’s community art projects that was designed to map the cultural past and present of Efford.

Shortly, the students will begin work on a travelling museum. Gem explained how, with the artist Tom Goddard, ‘about eight children and their families are going to interview community members, gather stories and then make objects linked to those stories. They will walk the community and tell their own kind of stories and ideas about their area and its history’. This museum of art objects will travel around Efford and the two other communities involved (Whitleigh and St Jude’s) in a converted cargo bike.

Gem told us how important it was to collect these stories from areas such as Efford that ‘are not really told and aren’t represented in Plymouth story’. Just two or three generations ago, this area was farms and fields, giving it a cultural history distinct from Plymouth’s tourist branding around Francis Drake, the Mayflower and the Pilgrims.An old pub sign hangs next to the school. It used to sit across the road in the local pub but was found rusting away in nearby allotments. The team spoke to the landlord of the pub and got inspired by stories about why the landlord made people smile. This new one created by students working with artist Tom Goddard to capture the stories around the community.

‘I’m really proud of what we do here,’ Jenny told us, ‘… which is why my son comes here’.

‘I love the positivity that art can bring’ she continued. ‘I love what they can do for mental health and confidence. It’s so important to me that children feel valued’.

As an arts-rich hub for community creativity, Jody, Jen and Gem have set the arts bar high. Jenny summed up the school’s aspirations: ‘We just want to give our children the very best. That’s what we want the arts to do’.

We wish them all the very best in the work they are doing.

Many thanks to Headteacher Jody Trayte, Arts coordinator and SLT Jenny Hobbs, creative education ‘guru’ Gem Smith and all of the students we interviewed on the day.

You may also be interested in reading our recently-published Art, Craft and Design Rapid Evidence Review – a survey of published scholarly literature on art, craft and design in education.