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.

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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.

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