Every day at Ramsgate Arts Primary, Key Stage 2 students finish their school day at 2pm. An unusual way to maintain and develop their arts-rich status, you might think. That is until you find out that from 2pm until 4:15pm, the students attend arts-focussed ‘compulsory’ after school clubs. During this time, class teachers do their PPA and CPD activities while the six specialist staff in the visual and performing arts take over.
The school’s timetabling was clearly benefiting the students (and the staff) that we spoke with during our day-long visit.
Since 2017, Ramsgate Arts has existed in the Newington suburb, very close to four other primary schools. It’s decision to brand as arts-rich was based on existing staff’s experience, passion and professional engagement with the arts. As a new build and a relatively new venture, there is a palpable buzz of excitement from staff and students.
Here are just a few examples of the art works and projects that we saw.
The professional work of one of the art teachers and trained arts psychotherapist Karen Vost was displayed in the light and open reception area. The vibrant light boxes of police ‘mugshot’ photos of Elvis Presley and David Bowie are accompanied by Karen’s explanatory text and are examples of her wider work on mugshots. These pieces explore ‘… the criminalisation of people for activism or self-expression …’.
Karen’s work was displayed alongside equally professionally presented works by the students. Their ‘Take One Picture’ whole-school projects were the most prominent pieces in this area. The wide-range of art forms and media – textiles, hanging sculptures, drawing, painting, collage, etc. – were annotated with explanations and interpretations.
In the large art room where we interviewed staff and students and on corridor walls were displays of students’ work inspired by a range of artists including abstract expressionist Alma Thomas, Georgia O’Keefe, and the colourful pop art of Keith Haring.
We loved seeing how the large display board in the art room was evolving with each set of new artistic creations attached over the previous ones.
As well as the art room, the school had been built with a long dance studio with mirrors and a beam along one wall and professional lighting on the ceiling. SLTs had insisted on retaining this space during the build despite pressure from the architects. The library was moved to an upstairs corridor. We were lucky enough to watch a dance rehearsal in the main hall high-end lighting in the dance studio and main hall. The whole class were working on a contemporary performance delivered by a young specialist dance teacher. The staging and computer-controlled lighting rig to were testament to the school’s commitment to the performing arts.
The large music room was stocked with guitars, ukuleles and percussion instruments. We liked the framed retro jazz art pictures in the room.
There was also an outdoor stage in the Early Years playground. The children improvised a Frozen-inspired song, dance and percussion performance for us which they called ‘Rock Elsa’. A ‘Music and Storytelling Shed’ sat permanently next to the stage.
Like a work of art in progress, SLTs insisted that the curriculum at Ramsgate Arts was not yet finished. The immediate focus is to get the children and community back in school and re-engaged after Covid. More work was needed to properly embed the innovative and progressive initiatives, they told us. The drama teacher told us how he had developed the curriculum largely from scratch using his own research and initiatives. The sense of newness and of openness to partnerships and collaborations (the school already works with the Turner Contemporary and Dreamland in nearby Margate, the Ramsgate Arts Barge and others) was palpable on our visit. We wish them well on their journey.
Thanks to Head Nick Budge, Deputy Hanna Beech and Head of Arts Hannah Dannell for inviting us in and showing us around.
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.