University of Cambridge Primary: A circle of creativity

University of Cambridge Primary School (UCPS) is built in the shape of a circle, a ring, a doughnut. To get to another room, you have to walk around and around. The green space in the middle has a raked amphitheatre-style seating area and a stage for performances, presentations and the occasional assembly. 

On our RAPS visits, we have seen at least one comparable unusual primary school building. New Bewerley is a spiral, a giant snail shell. USPC is a giant eye looking up at the sky!

This iconic building was erected in 2015 on mud flats in the Eddington area, about a mile or so north-east of the centre of Cambridge. The school is now surrounded by European-style apartments and extensive cycle lanes. We were impressed at how many of the 650 children arrived on their bikes.

Outside the building, we enjoyed visiting UCPS’s allotment facilities – polytunnel, raised beds and sheds. There is also a forest school area which is rapidly growing out of what was until recently waste ground.

Inside, the looping corridors are flanked on each side with door-less classrooms and are filled with displays of books, other learning resources, the students’ artwork as well as these funky reading booths and stylish high-sided bench seats. 

One wall of the reception area consists of these Perspex birds, fish and flowers around which weave the school’s mission statements and inspirational sentiments.

Students had also created this window display of flowers as a specific welcome to Ukrainian students:

One of the school’s values – courage – was neatly portrayed in these Modroc pieces:

We spoke with Executive Headteacher Dr James Biddulph (MA in Music Education, PhD in creative learning), arts team leader Harriet Lang and focus groups of Year 4, 5 and 6 students all of whom were getting excited about the school’s carnival in two-days’ time.

Students in all year groups had learned a dance to be performed en masse. They had also created head-dresses and hats, costumes, flags and banners which were to be paraded around the local streets and back into school to join 200 parents and guests who would watch the performances (including the school’s samba band), check out the Mexican-style chalked artwork that adorned the tiled playground, try their luck on stalls and games, and enjoy the fun fair atmosphere.

As well as this end-of-year Art Week, the school has weeks and special days for Shakespeare, STEAM and World Book Week. UCPS is partnered with Cambridge’s grand Fitzwilliam Museum, the art-filled house and gallery that is Kettle’s Yard, and Festival Bridge East.

It goes without saying that UCPS is centred around creativity and the arts. 

James told us about the development of the school, their ethos and goals: 

‘Because we were in new school, we had to create an enabling space that in which creativity and the arts could arise’

‘Creativity is integral, but we need to make it explicit’ 

‘At UCPS, we are trying to nurture compassionate citizenship, develop children’s agency and foster democratic voices for children through playful inquiry, habits of mind and the arts.’

If you’ve not had the privilege of visiting this inspiring and fascinating primary school, this video will give you a glimpse both inside and out:

Click the picture to watch ‘Release the Imagination’

Our sincere thanks go to Executive Headteacher James Biddulph, arts team lead Harriet Lang and to all of the Year 4, 5 and 6 students who gave us their insights on their creative education at our focus groups.

This entry was posted in arts rich 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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