Beecroft Garden: On a voyage of arts-richness 

We visited Beecroft Garden on a special day – their end of year Arts Exhibition where parents and invited guests could sample the school’s curated creativity. The exhibition was themed around ‘Take One Picture’ – every artwork was produced as a response to Claude-Joseph Vernet’s A Shipwreck in Stormy Seas (1773):

Firstly, let us guide you through this impressive range of paintings, drawings, sculptures and installations, a flood of media, techniques, approaches and ideas.

Reception students has produced these huge gestural drawings – expressive waves and foamy patterns that filled a large portion of one wall:

Reception had also created these ‘Baby Waves’ out of silver acrylic paint, clay, wire, plaster of Paris and … (wait for it) … silver leaf!

Year 1 were exhibiting these ships on a stormy sea. They had worked on creating a 3D effect in the waves and used cut-up and college to place them on their backgrounds with the ships:

Year 2 had looked closely (very closely!) at tentacles. Inspired by the story of the Kraken, they had created observational sketches before they chose and blended colours. Can you spot the messages in bottles?

Year 2 had also been busy creating this ‘Colossal Octopus’ out of wire, newspaper, Modroc and bottle tops. The felt fishes swimming by were made by Year 1 students.

These Year 3 pieces inspired by the work of Kehinde Wiley blend ‘the old and the new’. They used watercolour and a glaze before framing their seascapes using embossed copper corners.

Year 4 had made these clay coral pieces while learning about how climate warming is bleaching and destroying coral in the sea. The pieces were glazed and fired in the school’s kiln:

Again, on the theme of the environment, Year 4 had collected plastic waste to create this ‘Plastic Ocean’. They had fused the plastic bags and netting together using a hot iron and baking paper. 

Those busy Year 4s had also created the Pop Art signs that hung above our heads. They had been inspired by the soundtrack of the shipwreck ‘Take One Picture’ that had been composed by the National Gallery.

Meanwhile, Year 5 students had worked in groups to create these wall-length waves. They built up the layers using graphite, acrylics, oil pastels and, what appeared to be a Beecroft Garden favourite, Brusho!

Also on display were these Year 5 ‘fast fashion’ dresses made for a DT project out of fused plastic and a mix of recycled and natural materials.

Next to the dresses was this card and plaster Pride anchor inspired by Year 6’s involvement with Pride Celebrations and marches:

Elsewhere were these large lighthouses with rotating lights:

… and animations that captured the feeling of being in a stormy sea:

Our tour of the exhibition ended with this large boat hanging upside-down from the ceiling:

A series of poems were stuck to the inside of the boat:

Underneath lay a pile of small boats, symbolically sunk to the bottom of the sea on one of the many perilous daily trips across the English Channel by refugees, many of them children, just like those who had created this moving and conceptual artwork. 

During this busy event, we got to speak with a group of Year 6 students who talked us through their artworks and how they valued the arts at Beecroft Garden. On the walls surrounding our interview table were these self-portraits inspired by the work of Tamara Natalie. The students talked us through the process of creation (it involves photography and gold leaf). 

Many of them identified these pieces as their favourite and most memorable primary school artworks. They told us how they had already made space on a wall at home and how, with this piece in particular, they could express themselves. ‘It just feels like your own’, one of them explained: ‘It feels like it belongs to you’.

They also talked excitedly (‘You can be free. You can do whatever you want. There’s no restrictions!’) about the abstract work they had created inspired by the work of Frank Bowling.

They also enthused about the street art projects they had done after studying the work of Mr DoodleArt Mongers and making the most of the school’s links with Louis Masai and Lionel Stanhope.

Finally, we spoke with Arts specialist teacher Dilys Finlay (Fine Arts Degree from Goldsmiths) and Head teacher Graham Voller (Art Degree from Camberwell College. Art Specialism from Goldsmiths). Both are practicing artists.

They told us about how the school had been in special measures (It was called Brockley Primary at the time). Glenys Ingham was appointed as Head, Dilys as a supply teacher in Reception in 2009, and Graham as Deputy Head in 2010. Glenys underpinned the curriculum with accessible arts education for all children. When Glenys retired, Graham became Head and continued to make the arts and creativity central to the ethos and development of the school.

On the subject of their success as a flourishing arts-rich primary school with limited resources, Dilys told us that:

it starts off feeling really expensive, but if you got the right people there and the vision, the money makes itself. If you’ve got the right provision, you can sell the stuff and attract funding. You become an interesting entity and everyone wants to go to your school.’

Graham mentioned how parents are now queuing up to get their children into Beecroft Garden. ‘What parents want for their children’, he told us, ‘is for them to be happy and creative and think outside the box.’

On the subject of the many cultural and creative partnerships and visiting artists, Graham explained that: 

‘you have to make sure that you’ve got the rest of your community involved in what’s going on, which is why it’s so, so important for us to invite people in. You can’t be in a bubble and do this because you want your children to feel that they’re creating something that’s got longevity and an audience.’

Dilys stressed that ‘We always try and choose people who reflect the diversity of the children here’. She also raised the idea of fostering children’s life-long engagement with the arts: 

We need to have artists coming into schools because children need to see outside people making a living. This is a career opportunity. It’s a role model.’

Graham agreed: 

‘We live in London. The creative arts in London are massive. If you break down the economy of London, visual Arts, performing arts and cultural events make up a massive, massive part of the income of this city. Chances are the children are going to have some kind of role in the creative industry, so what better way than to kind of like start them off than with creativity?’

What better way indeed.

Our sincere thanks go to Arts specialist lead Dilys Finlay for inviting us to this special event, to Head teacher Graham Voller for his insights into heading up an arts-rich primary, to HLTAs Stacey and Sebastian, and to the Year 6 students for sharing their enthusiasm for the arts and the guided tour of the 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.

This entry was posted in arts rich, Uncategorized and tagged , , by liammaloy. Bookmark the permalink.

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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