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.

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.

Hotspur: Where the arts and creativity flow like the Ouseburn through Heaton

At RAPS, we have become experts at assessing arts-rich schools from the outside. Even before we step into the reception area, we pick up clues about how the school values the arts, creativity and wellbeing, how it welcomes students, parents and staff onto the site, and how it uses art to interact with families and the local community.

With that in mind …

Every street that surrounds Hotspur Primary has been ‘traffic calmed’ during school hours. No driving is allowed. Parents and students walk, cycle or park their cars further away. We were told that Hotspur are the first school in the country where this has happened. Located in the middle of the Shieldfield estate in Heaton, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, this is quite an achievement. Our visit (we cycled in!) coincided with visits from the BBC and the local press. SusTrans were fixing bikes and promoting cycling to school.

Facing the traffic-free streets, the outside fence was a long colourful art gallery created by students during lockdown:

The main school building nestles in trees and greenery – perfect for keeping cool on hot days. This dedication to nature and the outdoors extends to the school grounds and to the huge playing field and woods, the Forest School area, the sensory and flower gardens, the recycled greenhouse and the pond. 

There is also an outdoor classroom and beautifully designed areas in which to relaxed, be inspired and learn in creative and artistic ways. The students told us about an annual outdoor project where they don’t use their regular classroom for a week. 

Hotspur is well situated for cultural trips. The city centre is just 20 minutes’ walk away. The students and arts lead Jack Gardner talked about visits to the Laing Gallery and the Hatton Gallery at Newcastle University. The Sage is also walkable. 

Heaton itself has a reputation as a creative and artistic district while nearby Ouseburn has a host of arts studios and venues with which the school collaborates.

As we discovered, Hotspur have many cultural partners, something we are finding is characteristic of our art-rich primary schools. For six years, the school has participated in the Shakespeare Schools Festival creating performances with and at Northern Stage (‘the largest producing theatre company in the North East of England).

While we were there, Jack (his background is in Drama) was working with students on The Tempest, both in school hours and in an after-school club. All of the children in Year 5 and half of Year 6 were involved in some way as performers. This year, the Shakespeare Schools Festival takes place in the People’s Theatre which has a 111-year history as a non-professional community theatre. George Bernard Shaw once performed there! Five schools in the charitable Ouseburn Learning Trust will perform alongside a a local contemporary dance group. 

In fact, all three of the staff we interviewed had strong professional backgrounds in the performing arts (another pointer to the school’s arts-richness). Head teacher Kevin McVittie toured the world in Riverdance and has performed at Madison Square Gardens. Kevin talked about nurturing the students with a rounded opportunity-rich curriculum ‘to help them discover their spark’ something Kevin says he found in dancing. He explained how:

They get to experience a holistic curriculum and they get to be firmly steeped in values and beliefs that are ethically strong. I would say that our children leave Hotspur being able to look at the world with the eyes of an individual and able to interact with the world with compassion and empathy. And be someone that’s looking to have a voice in the world and be able to share that.

The students told us how Kevin had surprised them with a performance in the Hall. Hotspur has installed this long mirror and a sprung floor for dance lessons.

Music lead Joe Johnston was a full-time musician. He moved into working with music in theatres and venues including the Sage, leading choirs and teaching music in schools and other settings to children and older adults. Joe talked about his use of Kodaly, talked us through his rainbow stave and showed us the range of instruments played by Hotspur students:

We were told that the previous Head was a musician and was especially keen on singing.  We discovered that Hotspur take their singing very seriously. They have achieved a Platinum Sing Up award ‘for their singing activity and ability to inspire their communities through singing’.The choir has sung at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the Sage and at Newcastle City Hall where they sang with the other schools in the Ouseburn Trust. 

Apart from the fence gallery, we saw other visual art – 3D paper sculptures, a long textile map of the river Ouseburn and its buildings, and this quilted rainbow ‘No Outsiders’ handprint wall hanging.

The school had also taken part in the ‘Take One Object’ project with the Great North Museum: Hancock, Newcastle University and two other local primary schools including RAPS school West Jesmond. Students had worked with two objects from the collection for two weeks to produce creative writing and art. The project involved families and visits to the other schools. You can see the results here.

Finally, the students talked excitedly about the BALTIC ‘art-in-a-bus’ travelling gallery that drives around local schools. 

The BALTIC art bus

Its current project is ‘What’s for Tea?’ – food themed art! The students told us that when the bus came to Hotspur, they had made art out of sour dough. They talked about pieces made of shells that were made to look like meat and explained that the work was about fake meat and the ‘cardboard’ that makes its way into the burgers made by fast-food restaurants.

Subsequently, the bus had visited the local housing estates where the students could talk expertly to their parents and families about the art displays on the bus, what they had created and make new intergenerational art.

On a hot day, it was wonderful to be in this creative, calming, car-free environment and learn all about how the arts can inspire children, their families and their communities. 

Many thanks to Arts lead Jack Gardner for arranging our visit, showing us around and giving us insight into Hotspur’s art-rich offer. Our thanks also go to Head teacher Kevin McVittie, Music lead Joe Johnston and to the Year 5 and 6 students and Arts Ambassadors for their perspective on all things creative and artistic.

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.

Springfield Juniors: Giant Jewellery, Jubilee and Puppetry

Our visit to Springfield Juniors in Ipswich corresponded with their festival for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. All day, the school was buzzing with parents and family members. 

Musical theatre performances and choirs performed in the main Hall and also in the cool performance space (pictured above) that links the two main buildings. In other rooms, parents visited exhibitions of students’ arts and craft and soaked up the creativity that flows through this arts-rich school.

Up until this point in our visits, we had only heard about schools’ preparations for the big event. Today was the real thing! But as every teacher knows, and as Head teacher Louise Everitt explained, the performances and colourful displays of Queen-themed hats, cakes (being sold to raise funds) and other art works are ‘a combination of many weeks of work and planning’. 

Louise told us that ‘it’s great to have parents coming back in to see exactly what we’re doing’ and how the event was an opportunity to share the students’ learning and promote conversations at home. The school also has regular Tea Afternoons where parents can learn about what their children are learning and gain some skills alongside them.

Some background: Springfield Juniors (344 students in Years 3 to 6) is a Rights Respecting school on a terraced street one mile outside of Ipswich town centre. While the school has a long tradition of arts and creativity, and still retains a strong commitment to the visual arts, there has been a recent shift of emphasis towards the performing arts. 

We spoke with Assistant Head and Arts and Culture lead Beth Taylor (they also have specialist teachers for Music and Art). She described how her recent year-long training on the Leaders for Impact course with the Royal Opera House Bridge had reenergised her commitment to arts education. With only 12 to 16 places offered each year and a rigorous application and interview process, Beth enthused about the power of being immersed in workshops, sessions and networks of ‘like-minded amazing people’ who advocate for arts and cultural educational. 

I was passionate before,’ she told us, ‘but now feel like facilitating a cultural and creative education is my calling.’ Beth has now set up an Arts and Culture Network for leaders and teachers in local schools.

Clearly, Beth’s commitment to the arts and culture was contagious. Year 5 and 6 students talked enthusiastically about visits to and performances in Snape Maltings, a concert hall in a rural area about 20 miles from the school. 

They had also made ‘jewellery for giants’ out of ModRoc. These massive rings and trinkets could be found all around the school:

Jewellery for Giants: Author’s hand included for size!

Annually, Year 6 students work with the Young People’s Puppet Theatre (YPPT). The students told us how they had created their own knee-high puppet from a wooden kit. They had then chosen and made the clothes, created the hair, and painted the faces and hands. They told us how they had begun creating and decorating the sizable backdrops for the staging area, all the while learning how to operate the puppets and create scenes and stories.

Since our visit, Beth sent us some of the feedback from parents and students about the puppet performances:

‘YPPT helped me realise that just because we are young, it doesn’t mean we can’t do hard work. We can do anything we want now and in the future.’

‘What a fantastic opportunity for all the children. My son said it has been the highlight of his school experience so far.’

Read more feedback on this innovative project here (parents) and here (students).

Each of the other year groups has a half-term, timetabled project with an outside organisation or artist in addition to their regular arts provision. Year 5 work with the Shakespeare Schools Foundation/The New Wolsey Theatre (An Ipswich theatre); Year 4 with African drum-makers Wooden Roots and Year 3 with dance artist Sam Moss

The rest of the year is punctuated with additional opportunities as and when they arise. These include working with performance poet, author and script writer Murray Lachlan Young,  local illustrator and muralist Catalina Carvajal and local author Fred Sedgwick as well as trips to the local libraries and museums. 

Beth told us how the intention is to allow children to absorb as many cultural and creative experiences as possible so they are able to form opinions, a sense of self and learn transferable life skills.

We spoke with the Arts Ambassadors. They told us how they are involved in planning and shaping the arts curriculum. Their opinions, suggestions and ‘voice’ feed into a cycle of learning. Each cycle has to start with a ‘Wow’ moment – usually a trip or visit from an artist – and end with a product, performance or exhibition. Their planning documents were attached to their own dedicated Arts Ambassadors board:

The arts here are embedded into all subjects. It is the ‘golden thread’ that runs through everything. The students’ skills, talent and creativity were on show on the busy walls, filled with a wide range of media, and in their sketchbooks.

The Battle of Hastings was represented in these long 3D murals and as a comic strip:

Soil erosion had been investigated through dance:

We also learned about the ‘creative careers assemblies’ where students get to interview a range of professionals from creative industries. Beth told us how she was keen to ensure that ‘what we’re doing in school reflects the culture of our society and increases the cultural capital of the children in terms of experience and opportunity.’ 

We asked about how the school’s arts and culture impact on the local community. Beth explained how ‘some of the parents didn’t get the opportunities that were providing for their children. Every child in this building impacts a myriad of people because we’re talking about some really large families and communities in this area.’ 

She went on to describe how the school are ‘doing the same for the parents as we’re doing for the children. It is all vicariously through them.’ 

With the feast of arts on offer on this special day, it was lovely to see parents and family members fascinated, amused and sometimes moved to tears by the children’s creativity. 

We would like to thank Assistant Head and Arts and Culture Lead Bethany Taylor for organising our day and sharing her thoughts and experiences, Headteacher Louise Everitt, and the selection of Year 4, 5 and 6 students, and members of extra-curricular clubs that we spoke with.

Stained glass window with individual students’ self-portraits

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.

Wix and Wrabness: Creating an arts-rich school is a team effort

Wix and Wrabness Primary school front

Here at RAPS, we are not only interested in what goes on in our 40 arts-rich primary schools. We are also keen to find out how each school became artistic and the reasons why they started to pursue a creative pedagogy. And while some of our schools have been arts-rich for as long as any of the existing staff can remember, Wix and Wrabness is an excellent example of how vision, purpose and inspiration can transform a school – its students, staff and the wider community.

Wix and Wrabness, a school of 117 students is sited in the small rural village of Wix in Tendring, Essex about 15 miles east of Colchester. The mixed demographic of students come from Wix, Wrabness, Clacton-on-Sea and other areas of high deprivation including Harwich.

We spoke with Head teacher James Newell and Deputy Head and Arts Lead Vanessa Lindsay about the school’s journey. Both had worked previously at Two Village Church of England Primary for several years in different roles. It was there that they developed what became the Garden of Curiosities which they describe as ‘a really creative space’ in which artists from all over the country would come to work with the students. 

James took up the Headship at Wix and Wrabness six years ago. He was soon joined by Vanessa as Deputy Head and Arts and Culture lead. James’ first goal was to create a curriculum that was driven through the arts. ‘When you’re trying to make a big change like that, you need more than one person to do it’ James acknowledged.

James’ and Vanessa’s senior leadership roles have allowed them to take their creative arts-rich child-led (‘going out and exploring rather than being told what to learn’: James) vision to new heights. 

That’s been the beauty here’, Vanessa explained: ‘We’re both leadership and we’re absolutely driven with it, whereas before we had that drive, but the leadership didn’t really buy into it, so ultimately it wasn’t very sustainable’.

The results are evident in this intricate Year 5/6 clay work and the large topic-themed 3D door-mounted sculptures:

Also on display were other three-dimensional art works themed around the Mayans, Mexico, Egypt and China:

The pair talked to us about the importance of working with external artists and cultural partners in sustained and meaningful ways so that the staff, students and artists build productive relationships. 

Among the list of artists and partners were local sculptor Nicola Burrell who worked with students on their D&T landscapes, mosaic artist Anne Schwegmann-Fielding who collaborated on creating the friendship bench at the front of the school (below), local mixed media artist Juliet Lockhart and creative performance artists the Grand Theatre of Lemmings.

Mosaic Friendship Bench – detail

James and Vanessa testified to how studying on the Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination Certificate of Professional Studies at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge had inspired their arts and cultural education programme Curious Education.

They have also led CPD for the Colchester teacher training consortium and staff at the school have had training via the Let’s Play programme associated with the National Theatre in London. Vanessa worked with a director from the National to create an ‘unusual’ and innovative nativity with the KS1 students. The process was immersive and multi-faceted; the play was performed in-the-round.  

Wix and Wrabness also have strong links with the Royal Opera House. The students have visited the huge aircraft hangar space in Purfleet where the sets for the ROH are made and the wigs and costumes stored. ‘Broadening their horizons doesn’t necessarily mean leaving the area’ James explained.

The pair are working hard to spread their arts-rich message to the wider community and ‘bigger networks’. They have recently been selected by the Royal Opera House to act as consultants and hosts for a six-week CPD course on bringing the creative industries into primary schools.

Their outward-looking artistic approach is displayed on the walls and corridors, and in the students’ sketchbooks and art folders where BAME heroines and Jaspar Johns nestle with the Queen, Culture Club and banks of colourful ukeleles.

To seal the deal, Wix and Wrabness are an Arts Award Centre. Their Year 5 and 6s have achieved Bronze awards through artwork based around the Royal Opera House’s design challenge. They have Platinum Arts Mark status, a Music Mark award and are proud to be a Wellbeing Hub.

With Covid currently on the back foot, the team are planning to transform their summer school fete into a celebratory arts-packed festival. Building on a half-day creative den building experience with students and parents, the festival will feature a disco, circus skills, storytelling, drama and live music. Get behind us in the queue for your Access All Areas pass!

We would like to thank Head teacher James Newell, Deputy Head and Arts Lead Vanessa Lindsay, and the many children who came to speak with us about their arts-rich experiences.

Knowledge, Skills and Creativity tree branch

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.

Wyburns: ‘You can hear the life in the school’

Wyburns Primary School front and sign

One a day of SATs (the Year 6s were doing them), Ofsted (in the building) and Covid (still affecting schools and RAPS visits), it was refreshing and inspiring to see and hear about the many artistic and creative things going on at Wyburns.

The school’s extensive arts-richness has been driven by Head teacher Kath Sansom over the last nine years or so. Her passion for the arts and her considerable background in music and the visual arts have informed not only the curriculum, but also the colourful open-plan layout of the classrooms and these large canvas collages that she created with students:

With the classroom walls replaced by brightly coloured perspex panels and the doors removed, the buzz of classroom activity seeps through the school. As Year 5 teacher Jessica Franco explained: 

You can hear the life in the school. It creates a community. We all feel like we’re in it together and we’re part of a team’.

In the background of our interview recordings, you can hear children practicing their singing for the Queen’s Jubilee performances. The rehearsals of ‘God Save the Queen’, a Queen medley, ‘Tomorrow’ from Annie, and other selections convinced us that ‘the school is always singing’ (Jessica again).

From staff and students, we built a picture of the school’s commitments to the performing arts. As well as the frequent singing assemblies, classes had created their own plays and musicals. There was also Musical Monday with a weekly focus on musicians from diverse genres, and Wyburn’s Got Talent.

We learned about visits to Basildon Towngate Theatre to see the pantomime (for which some students have auditioned), the Palace Theatre, at which students had performed ‘You Can’t Stop the Beat’ from Hairspray with other schools, and the Royal Albert Hall.

The students also talked us through what goes on in the various clubs – Ukelele, Dance, Rock Steady (lunchtime band club) and Watercolour among others.

Arts Lead Lisa Welsh told us how she was drawing on her background in animation and media studies for one of the Year 5 projects. They had recently created flip books and computer-based animations.

Wyburns is in Rayleigh, Essex, about 6 miles inland from Southend. We are in Anne Boleyn territory here! 

As well as doing art projects about the seaside, we heard of a Year 5 photography project where the students investigated and documented their immediate environment. Inspired by the work of Ansel Adams, Jessica told us how the students were not only learning about composition and editing, and creating high-contrast black and white photos, but also ‘getting outside, getting a bit active and really using their imagination to think – “how am I going to tell this story”’.

The Arts Club and Arts Ambassadors are trained in arts techniques by Lisa before passing them on to their classmates. They had raised money to buy the materials for the frames (made by Lisa) for this gallery of student art:

Our Gallery

We heard about cross curricular literacy-based projects, one of which focussed on a book about a polar bear. The students had chosen to recreate one of the pages by layering tissue paper by sticking it with PVC glue so that when the pages dried and were put up on the window, the light shone through and brought them to life.

On the subject of cross-curricular arts work, Jessica said that staff were always ‘looking for where that sparkle is going to come out. Sometimes students are so focused on their maths and their English, they forget how exciting school can be.’

Lisa has worked with class teachers to help the students create these large 3D papier Mache models of Wales and Ireland (England and Scotland were there too!): 

Wyburns pride themselves on being able to accommodate a large percentage of SEN students. Their arts-rich creative curriculum was clearly central to this provision. Lisa gave us an example of one of her dyslexic students who despite struggling in other subjects was thriving in arts sessions.

Students can produce something that they can be proud of’ Lisa said. ‘When they shine somewhere else, it gives them that boost’.

With all of the colour and buzz of the interior, Wyburns’ extensive playing field, oak tree-centred playground, pond and Forest School area provide a restorative balance.

The school has a strong focus on mental health and wellbeing on which Assistant Head Jo Woods leads. Like some other schools in our project, Wyburns is a Unicef Right Respecting School. They are also making good use of Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats.

We hope the Jubilee concert, the SATs and the inspection went well, and that the combination of colour, art, music and green space continues to nurture and inspire all who pass through Wyburns.

Many thanks to Arts Lead Lisa Welsh for organising our visit and for her insights into the curriculum. We would also like to thank Assistant Head Jo Woods, Year 5 teacher Jessica Franco and all of the students with whom we spoke. 

Wyburns from the playground

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.

Newlyn: The opportunities and challenges of a seafront Cornish arts-rich primary school

Newlyn is a small fishing village on the south coast of Cornwall just over a mile west of Penzance. The school of 120 students sits just up the hill from the seafront. Even on a misty morning, you can see St Michael’s Mount from the library’s big bay window.

And while Newlyn Primary school is on the same street as a long-established and prestigious contemporary art gallery, in the same village as three private commercial art galleries and a short mini-bus drive from places of arts and culture, Newlyn town is an area of high poverty. Head teacher Isabel Stephens told us that ‘50% of our children come from an estate which is in the bottom 10% economically in Europe. 43% of the children are on free school meals.’

Four years into her role, Isabel talked about the substantial changes she had made to the curriculum in order to rebrand the school around the arts and encourage parents (and staff) to apply. In fact, the arts now drive ‘everything’ – students study a diverse range of artists while focussing on skills progression and conceptual understanding.

For example, the students spoke of their recent visit to a workshop by ex-Brixton resident Denzil Forrester, as part of Black Voices of Cornwall’s Captured Beauty exhibition at the Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange. Denzil’s large canvas in the gallery was of a reggae sound-system event, full of dancers and DJs. 

Dezil Forrester

Denzil told the children how he used to sketch in the semi-darkness of the dancehalls, capturing the dynamic free-flowing movements of the dancers. The students were excited about the workshop and their own ‘gestural drawings’, sometimes created with charcoals and pencils in each hand. 

The students also talked about their visits to the dramatic cliff-top open-air Minack Theatre to watch plays and musicals and to perform themselves. We learned how Year 5 were putting the finishing touches on their performance of a scene from The Tempest in collaboration with other local schools.

Minack Theatre

We were excited to discover that Newlyn Primary has its own art gallery. A diverse range of paintings, collages and sculptures are currently on loan from the Arts Council Collection and Cornwall Council Schools Art Collection as part of the Think, Talk, Make Art project. The gallery includes an abstracted print by St Ives artist/sculptor Barbara Hepworth which you can see alongside some of the other artworks in the slideshow below.

This two-year programme of CPD has been funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation Teacher Development Fund and enabled nine primary schools in West Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly to create in-school galleries. 

The galleries form the basis of a programme of artist-led CPD. The teachers involved share what they learn with staff and students. Their new knowledge and understanding informs the curriculum. There are plans for the students to act as gallery guides, covid permitting. 

Cat Gibbard, Programme Curator for Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange told us:

‘The project was inspired by an earlier collaboration in 2019 between the school and Newlyn Art Gallery where Year 5 students selected ten pieces of artwork to hang in their school from the Arts Council Collection (funded by The Arts Council Collection and Cornwall Council). 

This was part of the gallery’s New Voices programme which invited underrepresented groups from the community to curate. It was the positive impact of this in-school gallery on the whole school community that inspired the gallery to develop their learning and reach more schools, inviting Newlyn to be the lead school for the Think, Talk, Make Art funding bid.’

Isabel talked about being ‘properly terrified’ at the monetary value of the art works; one child said ‘I can’t believe that Newlyn school children are allowed something like this’. Once again, we had to remind ourselves that we were in a primary school, not a contemporary art gallery. 

Isabel described the impact of the gallery as ‘absolutely huge’:

All of the work I was doing on behaviour and respecting others could be reinforced by the fact that they had the gallery’ she explained. ‘The children were trusted with something and their behaviour towards it has always been totally respectful’.

She also talked about a rise in the students’ self-esteem and their vocabulary and language from guiding visitors (like us) around the art works and offering their commentary.

Like many other schools, Newlyn are rebuilding their strong music and performing arts provision after Covid. Cornwall schools were hit later than other regions, but just as hard, due to their geographical isolation.

The students’ art works on the walls and in their sketchbooks matched the vibrancy, diversity and impact of those in the loaned gallery:

The students talked to us about doing arts projects around the local culture and locations – tin mining, fishing, Saint Michael’s Mount, dragons and legends. They also described printing onto paper with actual fish! They were also excited at being involved in the upcoming Golowan festival parade.

‘I think you’ve got to be quite brave to focus on art’ Isabel explained.

Rest assured that the ‘brave new world’ promised in Shakespeare’s The Tempest is taking shape in the form of this fascinating arts-rich primary school.

Many thanks to Head Teacher Isabel Stephens, Art Coordinator and Year 4 teacher Rebecca Rollason, teacher Julie Wood, TA Rowena Baldwin and the Year 4 and 5 students we spoke with 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.

Horfield: Self-portraits, choral speaking and a 100-strong choir at this ambitious Bristol primary

Horfield is a Church of England primary of 407 students located three miles outside of Bristol town centre.

During our visit, we got to see and hear how the visual and performing arts were being used for inspiration (staff talked about ‘the magic of learning’) and personal transformation.

All of the Senior leaders that we spoke with have arts backgrounds. Assistant Head Kirsten Cunningham has a Degree in Music and an MA in musicology and continues to perform as a singer and orchestral percussionist. She also works for Bristol Beacon as a music consultant. Arts coordinator Laura Hilton has a Degree in Art and Design and has worked as a freelance fashion textile designer and a visual manager for Debenhams and Marks and Spencer.

The sense of purpose and ambition for the arts was palpable in this ArtsMark Platinum school. We were told how staff were recruited for their arts specialisms. In addition, cultural partners and expert practitioners were utilised to lift the quality of learning and teaching, and to provide new exciting new experiences. 

All students in the school have the opportunity to play an instrument, and from Year 3, to sing in the 100 strong school choir. The long list of peripatetic lessons includes double bass, euphonium, cello and cornet. The staff were excited to tell us about Earthsong a large, funded project that provides free music lessons for five years in thirteen Bristol schools. 

Earthsong has been featured on BBC Radio 3.

Laura told us that the arts ‘give every child an equal voice’ and explained how the school draws students from a very wide range of socio-economic backgrounds.

Students had worked with composer Richard Barnard from Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, one of the school’s partners. 

Year 4’s music composition work was arranged for us to see. Richard Barnard has made short videos of him performing the children’s scores on piano. See if you can follow the dots!

Midsummer Night’s Dream score and writing

We were invited to an in-class performance of Labi Siffre’s anthemic ‘Something Inside So Strong’. The Year 4’s strong harmonies and confident call-and-response parts reminded us of music’s power to communicate hope and resistance in the face of oppression. 

‘Something inside so strong’ sung by Horfield’s Year 4s

We also got to see a Year 1 class practising their choral speaking. The actions and performance were clearly helping the students to remember and communicate a lengthy piece of text. 

Music and visual art were combined in these blazing firebirds inspired by the music of Stravinsky:

Horfield’s art curriculum focusses on skills progression and techniques – colour, drawing, understanding space and shape, textiles, printing, etc. 

Kirsten talked about how they balance skills with creativity: ‘We are really deeply ambitious for our children. You can see that the quality of the work is really high. Teaching these technical skills can take their learning further. But at the same time, that meaningful memorable ‘wow’ factor is really important too.’

Horfield use self-portraits to document and assess students’ progress. They have taken part in Art Bytes, a national art and EdTech programme for primary, secondary and SEN schools that combines an inter-school art competition with a bespoke virtual gallery. 

Horfield’s top three selections will go forward to wider regional and national competitions The winner is on one of the display boards below. Choose your winner before clicking here to see which ones the school selected. 

As well as the realism and detail that had caught the judges’ eyes, we were impressed by these striking colourful semi-abstract Year 5 self-portraits:

… and these Andy Warhol-inspired Year 1 pieces:

The visual arts were also being combined with writing in creative and artistic ways.  ‘Imagination Station’ is their way of encouraging children to explore and be brave visually, and to fuse images with words to inspire high quality creative writing.

High quality texts are used as the inspiration for creative visual responses:

Each year, the school adopts a ‘metaphor’ which is visualised through art works, creative writing, song composition and the sharing of books. This year the metaphor ‘journeys’ allowed children to consider not only the journeys of explorers and migration but also metaphorical and imaginative journeys.  

From students and staff, we heard about how the arts are being used to explore issues such as homelessness and the natural world. The students worked with resident composer Claire Alsop to compose Song of the Sea.

Kirsten told us how getting real-life artists and composers into the classroom enabled students to see themselves as artists and to understand that they could pursue this as a career. 

‘Our role and privilege as teachers’, she explained, ‘is to open doors to them, and for them to experience art and be inspired by art in its widest forms.’ 

We can testify that such arts-richness is as equally inspiring for grown-up arts education researchers!

Thanks to Assistant Head Kirsten Cunningham and Arts Coordinator Laura Hilton for hosting us, and to Creative Writing lead and Year 6 teacher Kirsty Jones and all the Horfield students who spoke with us and sang to us.

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.

The ArtsMap video for this school and others in the RAPS project are available on the RAPS Youtube channel. The videos have been produced by students to showcase the arts in their primary school.

Marine Academy: Cheerleading for primary arts

Marine Academy is a double Outstanding primary that sits next to Marine Academy Secondary high up on a hill about three miles outside of the centre of Plymouth. The school’s partnerships with local cultural and arts institutions and networks of arts-rich education are extensive. 

Marine Academy Primary Ofsted quotation

The school is part of the Ted Wragg network of thirteen Devon schools that promotes a ‘passion for education and the difference it can make to further social justice, progression self-esteem and ultimately success for our children’.

They are also a National Support School. Headteacher Siobhan Meredith is a National Leader of Education (NLE). Senior Leader Nicola Keeler is the inclusion lead. Kingsley Clennel-White is the music and arts lead and the Dartmoor Leader of Education for Music. All three have roles in which they share their good work across regional teaching networks such as the Exeter Consortium

Early years outdoor learning area

In a deliberate move, the school has grown year on year from a single class of 26 reception students to today’s 480 allowing staff to learn how to embed the arts in meaningful and sustainable ways. 

Marine Academy has links with the University of Plymouth. Kingsley told us how his students had been there recently to work with clay, do some screen printing and to watch music performances. He used to be a guitarist in a Heavy Metal band; he proudly showed us his amps and Ibanez guitar, always ready to pull out and shred in the large well-stocked music-and-art room. 

Music and arts room

As an experienced multi-instrumentalist, Kingsley’s remit is to grow the number of students that take instrumental lessons. While most of the peripatetic sessions were funded by families (the school funds the lessons for less well-off students), the fees for many of the school’s 31 extra-curricular clubs were funded by the school.

We also spoke with Holly Holden-Turnbull, a Schools Direct trainee teacher (through Exeter University) who was currently bringing her passion for music to her Year 6 class. Holly has an extensive background in music and composition which includes a languages Degree with a focus on ethnomusicology, six months in Cuba during which she recorded a collaborative album, and experience touring as a musician and singer. Holly’s expressed her enthusiasm for primary music: ‘I feel really strongly about making sure that children experience art and music. From my own experiences, these have really helped me to most effectively express myself’.

We spoke to member of two of the 31 clubs – the cheerleaders and the street dancers. The street dancers had performed alongside other schools on The Hoe. The cheerleaders are taught by Emily from the Plymouth City Patriots Basketball team. They told me how cheerleading combines dancing, singing/chanting, athletics and gymnastics. They were excited that they might get to cheerlead at a Patriots game. Two of the group had had diving (artistry + athleticism) coaching sessions with local Olympians Tom Daley and Tonia Couch and had been earmarked as showing promise.

To Plymouth and beyond

We learned how the arts are central to the school’s strong commitment to the students’ mental health, wellbeing and inclusion. Kingsley provides bespoke arts and DT interventions for the students. These have included working on graffiti artworks, technical drawing, creating a playlist of songs that could then regulate the student both at school and home, and a raft of music-based interventions. Kingsley told us how the school’s pianos and keyboards had proved a particular success for many SEND students.

Other ‘symptoms’ of the school’s commitment to the arts and creativity are the rabbits, chickens, guinea pigs and other animals; the storytelling area; and decoupage, cake-making and other courses for parents run at the school by On Course South West.

As well as arts work linked to the local community, China, the world’s population and biomes, Marine Academy were celebrating their near-sea location with links with the National Marine Aquarium (the UK’s largest!) and the city’s naval past and present with a field gun after-school club. 

National Marine Aquarium (the UK’s largest!) and the city’s naval past and present with a field gun after-school club.

Kingsley told us about an ambitious project as part of the Mayflower Four Hundred commemorations which would have involved a thousand-strong children’s choir performing on the Hoe, telling the story of the Mayflower voyage through a ‘very complicated piece of musical work’. Unfortunately, COVID prevented the realisation of the project. We very much hope that as the pandemic loosens its grip, Marine Academy, and other arts-rich primaries with a passion for the performing arts can once again work towards such big collaborative events in front of audiences.

We also learned about Clan-Kind, a Plymouth based project designed to ‘develop a deeper connection between place and community by bringing together diverse groups to learn about the natural or built heritage in their neighbourhood in a participatory and unexpected way.’ The school has formed a ‘clan’ called the Five Well Wishers. 

Kingsley explained: ‘Just across the road and down a little bit, there’s an old hedge which we explored. We went down to an area where we found three water wells, which are still viable. Students were amazed that that community has been there for hundreds and hundreds of years, and that hedge was over two thousand years old’. 

A local person taught them about foraging and what plants could have been sourced for food in the past. The children went on to create a triptych in layered tissues paper, pulses and foam board using iconographic symbols to create a folk history of the area, something they also investigate in Year Five when creating Totem tiles as part of their clay work.

Many thanks to Arts and Music lead Kingsley Clennel-White, SL Nicola Keeler, Schools Direct trainee Holly Holden-Turnbull and the students with whom we spoke 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.

Greenside Primary: It’s time for your close-up!

Greenside Primary is a school of around 220 students located in Shepard’s Bush, West London. They are currently celebrating their 70th year. The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee is a nice tie-in to their own festivities. Their modernist building is Grade II* listed. A WW2 bomb crater in what is now the playground (‘the Learning Garden’) has been turned into an amphitheatre, a reminder of how much this part of London was hit in the Blitz. 

Greenside has a unique feature (we think). They teach through film. In fact, they are a film factory! Not only is the curriculum hooked around movies; the students also study filmmaking and animation. The school’s green screen gets lots of use! The rooms and corridors are decorated with film posters, props and movie memorabilia. Star Wars is well represented!

All year groups work with one film every half term. There are rules to ensure diversity. This year, at least one film has to be in black and white (Year 3 were looking at Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator), one in a foreign language, one about a journey (physical or spiritual), one musical, etc. Only one can be an animation. Year 5 were currently working on 2001: A Space Odyssey which they had linked to another 1952 event – the Viking rocket and the beginning of space exploration.  

The school was also focusing on the 1952 film Singing in the Rain. Year 6 were due to perform Bugsy Malone at the end of the year. Unsurprisingly, Greenside has strong links with the British Film Institute

Developed about five years ago, this innovative approach to primary education was the vision of Executive Head Karen Bastick-Styles, supported by her film-fanatic SLTs, Head teacher Robin Yeats and Deputy Head Georgina Webber. The team were given a blank slate by the Elliot Foundation Academies Trust to redesign the curriculum based on their ideas for the ideal school. These included creating emotive artistic immersive experiences through film that could inspire the children’s writing and other subjects.

Robin told us that: ‘we are a very multicultural school in very multicultural city. We have lots of children whose first language is not English’. He explained how ‘film is a great leveller. Even if you don’t have any English language, you can still watch a film and interpret the images.’

Each student from Year 1 to Year 6 has an iPad loaded with movie making and design apps such as iMovie and iMotion. Year 5 were working on their film posters using Canva while we were there. We spoke with ICT lead and Year 4 teacher James Tilden who told us about the commitments of time and resources necessary to keep up that level of IT. Each classroom needs a router!

Greenside also has an innovative timetable. Every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday is a STAR day which mean that the English, Maths and topic work gets done by STudents As Researchers. Thursdays are Crew days where Years 1 to 6 combine to do projects in specific topic areas, just like a film crew. In addition, classes take breaks on a flexible basis (lunchtimes are fixed) according to whenever the teacher and students feel best. We also learned about ‘specialisms’. Every Friday from 11:00 until 12:30, Years 1 to 6 mix and work with a different teacher every half term on a topic or skill in which that teacher is an expert.

As RAPS researchers, we are interested in the extra things that arts-rich schools do alongside their arts – pointers to a wider ethos and philosophy of an arts-rich primary education. With that in mind  …

Greenfield is entirely vegetarian. Sometimes parents come in to cook a culturally specific meal for everyone at lunchtime. There is also a big push towards sustainability. Co-arts lead and our liaison on the day Ciara Finney told us how the younger students are doing lots of work around the value of bees. The older students told us how they have created art works around issues such as net carbon neutrally, ‘no dig’ gardening, and the damaging effects of fast fashion and fast food. 

The allotment garden was thriving! Parents come in to help the students with growing vegetables and flowers, composting and nurturing seedlings in the greenhouse and cold frames. Did you spot the piles of chitting potatoes in the Head’s office in the photo of the giant clapper board above?

Alongside the film resources, Greenside has a radio station for podcasts and broadcasts. Use the QR code on the photo below to tune in!

Some of the students visited the Glastonbury festival last year to film a piece with Little Amal, the giant puppet of a Syrian refugee girl who walked across the UK trying to find her mother. They talked about having to do take after take, walking across the same field, holding Amal’s hand while not looking at the drone cameras. True professionals! Watch a backstage clip here.

As well as films, podcasts and vegetables, the students had also created work around the Empire Windrush and the Caribbean people who arrived in London in the late 1940s.

The students showed us some of their recent watercolour pieces and spoke about how much they enjoyed creating the different techniques with the brushes.

Trust us. There are many more creative and artistic things going on at Greenside, too many to mention here. You’ll have to wait for the Director’s cut!

Many thanks to Head of School Robin Yeats, co-arts lead Ciara Finney, ICT lead and Class 4 teacher James Tilden and all of the Year 4, 5 and 6 students who shared their insights on their inspiring and innovative school. May the force be with you!

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.