Collaborative Creativity at Kelsall

On our recent travels around England visiting arts-rich primaries, we have noticed that many schools have developed, and continue to grow their arts-richness through a close working relationship between the Head Teacher and the Arts Lead. This is one of our ‘emerging themes’ – something we will explore in more detail later.

One such creative double-act is doing wonders for the arts at Kelsall Primary school, a rural village school about 4 miles away from Tarporley in Cheshire.

While we have met other dynamic arts duos on our travels, what was perhaps most interesting here is that Head Teacher David Wearing and Arts Lead Jon Clayton have developed their visual arts skills, ethos and pedagogy alongside, and in combination with their roles at the school. 

While their active status as musicians pre-dates their days at Kelsall (David has been here for 10 years, Jon for 20), neither had a background in the visual arts when they arrived. Jon told us how his passion for visual art and his ‘loose’ experimental style took shape through primary teaching.

As examples of idiosyncratic primary arts practice and pedagogy, we were drawn to these Year 2 pieces from recent visits to the nearby woods:

Under Jon’s tutelage, the students at Kelsall have developed a distinctive semi-abstract style based on the extensive use of sketching, reworking, and a ‘no mistakes/no rules’ approach to art making. Jon explained to us how after building basic skills through structured lessons, the students could enjoy the freedom, independence and confidence of art making. He encourages the students by telling them to ‘go with it’ and asking for their thoughts. Jon repeatedly referred to the children’s sense of joy and play when creating art in this way.

Displays included students pictures of animals (gorillas, tigers, orangutans, deer, turtles, crows, etc.), self-portraits, buildings, Guernica, and astronauts. They were using art to explore issues of plastic pollution, endangered species, refugees, war and other subjects.

While Jon told us that the students’ art was always based on something tangible, he described how working in semi-abstraction avoids many of the frustrations that students encounter then they strive for realism and a closely copied photographic approach. ‘They’ll always be rubbing out’, he explained.

Jon and David were also creating their own artwork in the Art Room, after school and in the holidays. Their work was stored alongside the students’ work in the Art Room and other spaces in the school, there to inspire students and to use as explanation of techniques and approaches. Both men self-publish a series of books of their art work which could be found in corridors and classrooms.  

The students’ work had been entered in many local primary arts competitions. David told us that the school had voluntarily withdrawn from many of them in order to let other schools win occasionally (!). 

Kelsall’s whole school curriculum is based entirely around ‘high-quality’ books, used as ‘pathways’ to link specific artists, topics and issues. For example, there is a display of ‘No Outsiders’ portraits in the reception area.

As with all of the arts-rich school we have visited, there are many more arts activities taking place at Kelsall that could not be covered in any detail in a short blog piece. The short list for Kelsall includes:

  • A full-size statue of Nelson Mandela and extensive Black Lives Matter art works in the reception area
  • Twenty glockenspiels (!) plus equipment and performance spaces for the school Rock Band and other performance work
  • An in-development Room 13-style student-lead outdoor arts space
  • Gilbert and George

Thanks to Head Teacher David Wearing and Arts Lead Jon Clayton for inviting us into your school and to the students of Kelsall for sharing their experiences of their arts-rich education.

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.

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About liammaloy

Senior Research Fellow in the School of Education, Uni of Nottm with Prof Pat Thomson on the Researching Arts in Primary Schools (RAPS) project looking at arts-rich schools in England. Research interests include arts education, and issues of pedagogy in music and media made for children and families. Extensive experience as a Lecturer in Popular Music, media and culture at a various universities and FE colleges. His book 'Spinning the Child: Musical Constructions of Childhood through Records, Radio and Television' (Routledge 2020) looks at how recorded music contributes to constructions of childhood in specific socio-historical settings. He performs music for children and families with his band Johnny and the Raindrops.

3 thoughts on “Collaborative Creativity at Kelsall

  1. Thanks for profiling this inspiring art rich primary school at Kelsal alongside the others so far.

    I know that your RAPS project is confined to England but I wondered whether you may want to make an exception and include one example from Scotland. If so, you are most than welcome to come and see us at Abbeyhill Primary School in Edinburgh where we believe we are the only arts-rich school in Scotland of its kind with over 50 artists and curators in residence since 2013 delivering project-led activities which culminate at our local community arts festival Colony of Artists every September. In my capacity as the curator-in-residence I will be pleased to welcome you and show you around. Iliyana Nedkova. P.S. Please find further details here: https://iliyananedkova.wordpress.com/2021/09/11/artists-in-residence/

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    • Thanks for the offer, Iliyana. Sounds like you are doing fantastic work! We might be in touch at some point. You are correct – the RAPS project is solely focussed on primary schools in England. All the best with what you do.

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