West Jesmond: ‘Here we are free’

West Jesmond is a vibrant arts-rich primary in Newcastle upon Tyne. During our visit in Jun where we interviewed staff and students and had an arts-focussed guided tour, we learned about the many creative arts-based activities taking place there. 

We also learned that the school has a long history of arts-richness. There has been a school on this site since the days of Queen Victoria. The existing school was built in 2009. It is now part of the charitable Ouseburn Learning Trust. West Jesmond has over 600 students, over 50% of whom have English as an Additional Language. 

We saw artworks that focussed on the local community. KS2 students had produced these large and colourful ‘Our Jesmond’ canvasses, all signed by the students:

KS1 had mapped their school grounds and the local area to tell ‘The Story of Jesmond’:

Now in his second year as Art curriculum lead, Glen Hopkins told us about his mission to foster individual expression and creativity, and to get children to consider themselves as artists. Glen also talked about how he has expanded the use of sketchbooks to Years 1 and 2 with an aim ‘to make them as realistic to what an actual artist sketchbook would look like … personal and lived in.’ There was a renewed focus on process rather than outcome. 

Glen also spoke about how he and the students work closely with the outreach programme at the BALTIC, a contemporary art gallery space on the Tyne. He takes inspiration from Access Arts and the school’s membership of Culture Bridge North East. West Jesmond is also partnered with Scottish Opera who work in intensive sessions with the students and staff to pull together productions in a single day. 

The KS2 choir has around 50 members. They had three performances in June which included pop up events around the city. Student artwork fills some big bords at the Jesmond Metro Centre.

Every class this year has visited the four-story Hatton Gallery which is based at the university. Year 5s were preparing for a trip to the final year art degree show that week. Students also visit the Laing Art Gallery in the city centre and participate in workshops there.

Within the school, there were two arts projects that caught our attention. Firstly, the whole-school ‘Take One Book’ project dominated the display boards around the school. The book was The Dam which had provoked a range of responses in different media. Some included a combination of creative writing and art. 

In another major display, Year 6 students had been using art to explore the conflict in Syria and been inspired by the work of Syrian artist Safwan Dahoul. The students told us how they had learned that art can be about ‘struggles and challenges’ and how art can have many deeper meanings.

They had also created art works on the subject of the shipbuilding industry in Jarrow. They told us how they had learned about workers’ rights and how women were not included in the industry.

We saw a drawing project inspired by the work of Michael Volpicelli which included interesting use of tones and shading created through the use of written text.

There were also these movement drawings based on the work of Ben Shahn:

Other contributions to the wide range of media and techniques included spoon-based art for World Book Day, artistic chairs as part of a Great Exhibition of the North project and plasticine flowers.

Finally, a large papier mache dragon sculpture hangs over the reception area. This dynamic and flaming collaborative art project keeps everyone at their creative best!

Papier mache dragon

Many thanks to Art curriculum lead Glen Hopkins, deputy head Tom Jones, and to the Year 4, 5 and 6 students and the two art groups to whom we spoke.

Here we are free

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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