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.

West Rise Juniors: An incomparable Room 13, Bronze Age, water buffalo-herding school in Eastbourne

You may have seen one or two of the many news reports (Channel 4), TV features (Blue PeterCountryfile) or documentary films (School by the Marsh) about West Rise, an award winning primary school set in a large housing estate, two miles from the sea in Eastbourne.

Click picture to watch West Rise on Blue Peter

You may well have read the headlines about how the students are taught to use guns and knives, or how they forage for food and get to pluck, gut, cook and eat pigeons.

You may be aware that the school leases 120 acres of Bronze Age marshland from the council, on which they have installed a herd of water buffalo, a flock of sheep, cows, pigs, chickens, ducks and geese.

Water buffalo on The Marsh, West Rise Juniors

Or perhaps you’ve caught a whiff of the rumours about how students make art out of the bones of the dead sheep, the skins of the snakes, and bits of other deceased and rotting animals that they find on The Marsh.

Maybe you’ve picked up on the reputation of Headteacher (and current arts lead) Mike Fairclough, through one of his conference talks or books, seen photos of him riding a quad bike pulling a trailer full of kids, or maybe heard him defending the educational use of ‘dangerous’ weapons on mainstream breakfast television?

So why would we, the RAPS team, be at all interested in West Rise when our focus is on the arts?

Well, as we shall see, the school’s values – risk-taking, creative freedom, trust and the autonomy of the students – inform not only their extensive Forest School provision, (led by Helen Stringfellow – they also do ‘Beach School’ on their own beach!), but also the many arts activities that we were lucky enough to see and hear about during our visit.

If you were unaware of West Rise’s love of the rugged outdoors, then you might know them for their Room 13, a student-led arts space in which we conducted our interviews. This creative space is located in a separate building from the school. Forest School equipment is downstairs, Room 13 upstairs. 

Mike came to his Headship interview with the idea of starting a Room 13. With funding from the Arts Council, ten students, their parents, staff and governors flew to Fort William, Scotland to see the original Room 13 and find out how it works before putting their ideas into practice.

The arts provision at West Rise is supported by Karen Stephens, a Higher Level Teaching Assistant and Room 13 lead. She is also the current artist-in-residence at the school, following in the footsteps of a digital artist/animator, ceramicist and book illustrator who have worked alongside the children in Room 13.

The students who comprised the Room 13 committee told us of the benefits that the space and the creative ethos gave to them: 

‘It boosts our imagination, and a kid with a good imagination can turn into something amazing when they’re older’ one of them told us. 

‘It’s making us unique … we can make our own things. We can express ourselves freely and not just do what everyone else is doing’ another explained. 

All of the students in the school get to use Room 13 and from the copious materials, and stacks of art works either drying or in progress, we got a sense that the space was well used.

The school also has a radio station – ‘Sunshine Radio’. Students DJ and broadcast music from there during lunchtimes. Oh, they also have a dark room for photography.

Clearly the ubiquitous creative ethos and Karen’s input into the school’s project-based arts curriculum were informing the art works we saw. We enjoyed these Picasso-inspired one-line drawings, Year 4’s pencil work, and students’ explorations of Mondrian, Haring and other artists.

Some of the painting and drawings that we saw were linked to local geographical features such as the Long Man of Wilmington, a stone/chalk figure cut into a hill, the Snake River, The Wish Tower, the white cliffs of Beachy Head, and other locations strongly associated with the Battle of Hastings, the Napoleonic Wars and World War 2.

As well as smelting to create pendants out on The Marsh (see the Blue Peter video), the students had created pots, beads, tiles and other ceramic pieces in the style of the Bronze and Iron age communities that once lived so close to their school.

Relatedly, the older students had been involved in creating the Causeway and Bronze Age Roundhouse over the lake in The Marsh. Thatching, woodwork and installing large upright posts in water point to the school’s embrace of craft, and design and technology.

The causeway on The Marsh

Mike, Karen and the students also told us about the exciting outdoor arts they had done with Bill Leslie from Leap then Look. Students had participated in sound design and manipulation projects, made floating sculptures, created films and curated an outdoor exhibition. They had also made banners about creativity and the freedom of the arts which they marched around the lake while shouting slogans advocating the arts.

Mike explained that underpinning Room 13, the Forest School work and all of the other arts and crafts activities are the values of gratitude, kindness, resilience, wellbeing and positive psychology.

In the context of this powerful holistic vision, we can see that water buffalo were, indeed, essential!

The last word goes to Mike (from his book): 

I am an artist at heart … My school is my creativity’ (Playing with Fire, 2016: 28).

Our sincere thanks go to Headteacher Mike Fairclough and Room 13 Lead Karen Stephens for welcoming us into their school, and to all of the Year 4, 5 and 6 students for telling us so much about the exciting arts and crafts projects that they do.

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.

Nottingham’s favourite outlaw has an arts-rich school named after him. Welcome to Robin Hood Primary

Robin Hood Primary is a lively arts-rich school in Nottingham. To be precise, the school is situated four miles north of Nottingham in the large Bestwood housing estate, not far from the local town of Arnold. 

Robin Hood Primary in Nottingham

Despite our previous visits to Robin Hood primary on other arts-related business, there were so many new things that we learned about the school during our visit there on a frosty day in January.

For example, we never realised that the school buildings are completely surrounded by green space. It’s perhaps no surprise that the school keeps chickens and that all of the children do Forest School activities in specially created areas. 

Arts Lead Kerry Whiting told us how the students had been making art out of mud and sticks. There was lots of outdoor space for on-stage performances and the reading/learning Tepees, as well as an impressive Gaudi-esque structure that doubles as learning space. 

On our tour, Kerry pointed out lots of individual outdoor and indoor areas that had been developed for break-out, chill-out and small group learning purposes. 

We spoke with Clare Farrelly who has recently started leading Key Stage 1 Music. She also leads the Forest School sessions. We knew that this school takes their music seriously, and it was interesting for us to find out more about how they had been working with Nottingham Music Hub for the past nine years. As we discovered, Nottingham is one of just seven cities running the In Harmony programme, part-funded by the Arts Council. Robin Hood’s KS2 students all get to play either violin, viola or cello.

Clare told us how her KS1 students were enthusiastically working through some of the BBC’s Ten Pieces units. She told us how the singing in class and in assembly, coupled with rhythm and pitch work, was providing a valuable foundation for the extensive instrumental and vocal work that the students do in KS2.

Classroom made of hay!

Unsurprisingly, Robin Hood has a large hall for group rehearsals and public performances. Both ends of the hall can be used as a stage. Like the other musical schools we have visited, Covid has had a profound impact on rehearsals and performances. In 2021-22, Robin Hood are redoubling their commitments to music, dance and drama. 

The school also has a decade-long links with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the associate artists in drama, dance and visual arts. The partnership has led to Robin Hood students performing a Shakespeare play in Stratford.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream display

The school also has long established relationships with Nottingham Contemporary. Working with Assemble – architects from London – students’ clay work will form part of a big exhibition there in the Spring. Robin Hood also partners with Lakeside ArtsNew Art Exchange and Nottingham Castle. We know that there has recently been a big Paul Smith (Nottingham-based clothes designer) exhibition at the Castle. So we were excited to see that the students of Robin Hood had been recreating Smith’s trademark stripes and designs in their sketchbooks. 

Lastly, Robin Hood has an artist in residence who is bringing out the play in everyone. Laura Eldret specialises in multimedia work, installations and play – paper play, water play –  and getting older children and adults to play as part of their art making. Kerry was excited at how Laura was introducing new activities and methods to get staff and students to think about art in playful productive ways.

The school is looking forward to further embedding their dance offer by working with nearby Park Valley Academy, and to working on arts projects for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee this summer.

We would like to thank Head teacher Nicky Bridges, Arts Lead Kerry Whiting, music teacher Clare Farrelly and all of the staff and students at Robin Hood.

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.

Everything with a purpose: Decluttering and decolonising at Billesley Primary

There is a sense of purpose at Billesley. Everything is done for a reason and often, that reason is research. 

The school’s 11-year journey from special measures to outstanding has involved centering the arts and embedding them in everything from the curriculum to the redesign of the physical infrastructure. Principal and Research Director Karl Rogerson, Vice Principal and Curriculum Lead Asima Iqbal explained to us how, working with Billesley’s then Executive Principal and now Head of Curriculum and Virtual School for The Elliot Foundation Multi Academy Trust Johanne Clifton, they made the decision to address issues of student engagement, behaviour and communication, and build morals and respect through a well-informed arts-rich approach.

Lead Practitioner and Arts Lead Angie Watson, currently studying for an MA in (Arts) Educational Leadership, told us how, as one of the Education Endowment Foundation’s 28 Research Schools, Billesley serves as a hub for educational research, sharing and discussing findings with other schools (including the other 28 schools in the Trust) through courses, webinars and coaching programmes. Research is also shared and utilised in the school through an extensive CPD and mentoring programme. 

Research on the impact of classroom design on students’ learning by the University of Salford led to changes that have included decluttering the learning spaces and corridors, making classrooms and reading spaces more comfortable and ‘homely’, adding lots of plants, softening the lighting and completely re-vamping the toilets. This is known as Biophilic design. 

Responding to the idea that the physical environment can improve not only academic success but behaviour and wellbeing (of staff as well as students), the school was ‘cleaned up’, redecorated and rebranded using just three colours – white, purple and green – the colours of the Suffragettes. Karl, Asima and others took an analytical child’s-eye view of the classrooms before removing anything that might distract the students from their learning by overloading their working memory. This included taking down many of the arts displays on the walls. We learned that the students had visited the nearby Digbeth Custard Factory and Selfridges store to get a perspective on what their new school environment might look like.

The critical analytical approach extends to the students. As part of the Philosophy for Children (P4C) programme, students regularly practice their skills in questioning, discussion and reflection, digging deeper into what they feel about the arts and what particular art works and artists might mean to them.

Billesley is also a Rights Respecting School (see also our blog post about Torriano). They have used their focus on the Articles of UNICEF’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) to frame projects on child refugees, child slavery and other issues. Asima told us how this works in practice at Billesley. Students not only know how their arts and other work links to one or more of the Articles, but also discuss how they can be proactive about their Rights. More importantly, Asima asserts, the students think about how to be proactive about the Rights of children in countries where they don’t have Rights, countries that have not ratified the treaty (such as the USA and Somalia). 

Billesley is a Rights Respecting school

Asima told us about a scheme in which the students boxed up presents and items for children in need. She told us how ‘that second level, about being proactive as a global citizen for children across the world, is probably more relevant for these children now because, even though we’re in an area which is quite deprived, they do have a standard of living and quality of life that wouldn’t be on the same level as children who haven’t in terms of Rights’.

Relatedly, Billesley has the Red Tree Fund, a charity set up following the death of a much-loved TA. The Red Tree Fund which focuses on developing the physical and mental well being of all children and has contributed towards developing ‘safe spaces’ across the school , and a Community House that distributes food boxes and serves as a comfortable space for families, carers and support workers.

Of course, we got to see some of the students’ art work, in their sketch books, in the corridors and on the new plinths. We also got to hear about their dance, drama and music lessons; Ray’s whole-class drumming sessions were proving very popular!

We aso learned about the school’s decade-long association with Stans’ Café who have worked on theatre projects, a giant marble run, the long roll of local neighbourhood-focussed art work that we saw on our visit, and the whole-school student-led research-based ‘What is a School?’ performance and book.

Billesley, which represents over 40 languages and 50 cultural backgrounds, also partners with Birmingham Rep, The Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games (through the British Council), the RSA’s Performing Pedagogies, the Open Theatre (with a focus on autism) and is involved in other university research projects such as the Durham Commission and their research into creativity in education.

During the lockdown in 2020, Billesley conducted a thorough review of their curriculum, embedding the arts more deeply, and making sure that it reflected the needs of the ever-changing community. Decolonising the curriculum meant that Columbus and Darwin were replaced by radical women.

While there is comparatively little mention in this post of the specific arts activities in which the students are involved (rest assured, the students told us about plenty), we want to thank all at Billesley for helping us build a detailed and nuanced picture of what arts-rich schools do, how they reflect the community, who they link with, what they look, sound and smell like, and what they stand for.

Thanks to Lead Practitioner and Arts Lead Angie Watson, Principal and Research Director Karl Rogerson, Vice Principal and Curriculum Lead Asima Iqbal and the students of Billesley for sharing their thoughts and experiences and for welcoming us into their 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.

The ArtsMap video for this school and the 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.

Suffragettes, STEAM and Sustainable Development at Torriano Primary

Torriano is a Rights Respecting arts-rich primary school in the Camden/Kentish Town area of London. With a socially and economically diverse community, this school values the rights of all children. 

Since 2009, the school has been part of this UNICEF initiative to embed the rights of children and young people’s in their practice and ethos. This means that much of the curriculum, learning and school dialogue are framed by the 42 Articles. For example, Article 29 states that ‘Education must develop every child’s personality, talents and abilities to the full.’  

The work displayed around the school reflects both an understanding of these rights of the child and the school’s strong focus on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In practice, this means that many of the works of art and creative products that we saw on our visit had SDGs and articles referenced. This ensures that everyone can clearly see which issues and Articles are being addressed.  

Our lead for the day was Kat Branco, Head of Curriculum, Culture and Innovation and Year 6 teacher, with a degree in philosophy, a professional background in charities and non-governmental organisations, currently studying for a Masters in education policy. 

On our guided tour, we saw a number of these large Suffragette banners on the walls. Gender equality signs (SDG 5) appeared on a number of the displays we saw, hilighting the legacy of work on gender equality. 

There were large displays of Black History Month art work in the main hall. One project focused on a soldier from World War 2, others on local artists Michael Kiwanuka and Daniel Kaluuya. Daniel is an alumni of the school and spoke to the children from Hollywood in 2020.  

The students had also recently done work based on the French Tunisian artist JR who creates community based participatory art works, often with a socially political theme. The students, supported by the school’s Artist-In-Residence Jim, adopted JR’s black and white cut and paste aesthetic to create (sometimes huge) self-portraits. These represent who the children are ‘Proud To Be’ and link to the 2021 Black History Season national focus.

Torriano was full of plants! The school had worked on projects based on sustainability, green energy, recycling, urban regeneration, bees, cleaning up the air, and making art out of rubbish. Recycling, re-using and rewilding are evident across the school, both inside and out. 

Students had created a ‘Harnessing the Sun’ machine as a way to use solar energy for ‘Repowering Torriano’. This was their Year 4 STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths ) project focus in 2021, linked to their Electricity science unit.  

The school also has a vegetarian ‘Earth Kitchen’ – a separate building which the children use for Food Technology lessons every half term. Fortnightly, the Waste Food Café opens; left over food from the school canteen is used to make nutritious smoothies.

As you have probably guessed, there was strong focus on STEAM. We have read all about how the Arts could be seamlessly integrated into a curriculum that also covers Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. In fact, we have recently finished a 3-month Rapid Evidence Review which included us looking at STEAM education from all over the world. Torriano showed us exactly how well this could work in a primary school.

These displays in the large main hall use art, craft and creativity to explore issues that combine maths, coding and computing, as well as historical and social context.  

This large head is Ada Lovelace, created to celebrate her crucial role as the first computer programmer, algorithm writer and skilled mathematician. The students had made Ada from long hole-punched strips of paper, imitating the first coding from the Analytical Machine. In class, they had also created hole-punched card computers and other work on the topic. Fans of Ada will know that her mum was also a mathematician and her Nottinghamshire-based (like us) father was a poet. Ada was breathing STEAM before it became popular! This was a good example of how learning about historically significant polymaths could help to give context to coding lessons for all children. 

While giant heads and sun-capturing machines are eye-catching products that showcase the behind-the-scenes learning processes, we were excited to see a number of (again, sometimes large) displays which used art, design and creativity to make exploratory processes visual, and to show how parts of systems connect. The students had created these biological artistic info-graphic pieces based on the work of Fritz Kahn. 

Referring to Torriano’s arts-integrated curriculum, Kat said: ‘It helps us understand new ways of thinking, ways that we didn’t necessarily think of before’. She stressed the need for the various dance, animation and other projects to be linked to a meaningful context.

Executive Head Helen Bruckdorfer explained how the arts were perfect for making complex issues such as social justice, inequality and citizenship understandable and tangible. She talked of the arts’ role in developing the advocacy and agency of the students, and of promoting their right for self-expression and their right to be heard.

Ongoing plans are looking to further develop and create more meaningful partnerships with local schools, parents, communities, and the many cultural organisations that are within a short bus ride of the school. We wish them well. 

Thanks to Head of Curriculum, Culture and Innovation Kat Branco for organising and hosting our visit, and to Executive Head Helen Bruckdorfer (on Zoom) and Head of School Holly Churchill for their sharing their insights.  

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.

Beneath the streets and above our heads: London’s Soho Parish Primary

In this phase of our RAPS project, we are visiting 40 arts-rich primary schools all over England. Apart from their distinctive arts-richness, our schools were chosen (from a much longer list of recommendations from arts bridge organisations) for their diversity. We have deliberately selected a variety of locations (urban, suburban, seaside, rural), counties, types (academies, faith schools, free schools, etc.), sizes (from less than 100 students to over 700), demographics (affluent, deprived, a combination – economically and culturally) and interesting arts curricula, pedagogies and ways of timetabling. Our job is to capture the uniqueness of each school with all its opportunities and challenges. RAPs project leader Pat Thomson refers to the ‘thisness’ of educational institutions.

With all of that in mind, let us introduce you to Soho Parish Church of England Primary, situated in the heart of London’s West End.

The school  is linked to the 450-year-old St Anne’s Church, a 4-minute walk down Wardour Street and Old Compton Street. The church gardens are often used for outdoor learning, so much so that an ‘Art Loo’ has been installed that only students from the school can access with a special key.

Now a tall Victorian building built in the 1870s, Soho Parish is situated on the corner of a busy block of offices, bars and shops. There is evidence that there has been a local school since the 1600s. One side of the school has ornate architecture, the other, a plain doorway. We suspect that most people may walk past daily and not know that the school was there. Staff told us that, for as long as anyone can remember, Soho Parish has been an arts-rich school. 

The school rubs shoulders with the many nightclubs, theatres, performance venues, cabaret bars and visitor attractions that characterise Soho and the immediate area. 

Inside, the school is a maze of brightly-coloured corridors and staircases (so you can tell which area you are in) and has retained many original features – high ceilings and school bells.

Soho Parish school hall

There are three floors above ground and one below. It amazed us to think that the main Hall, the music room and other spaces were beneath the busy streets and pavements.

View from the playground

Standing in the small playground, we were surrounded on every side by offices and tower blocks which are a mix of private and social housing.

Innovatively, the playground had been extended upwards with a multi-level structure made of netting, ropes, decking and a roof terrace.

However, an unusual location and a quirky building alone are not enough to make it onto our list! Arts lead Hannah Peaty showed us some of the students’ art work – based on the work of James Rizzi (‘Mapping the City’), the alien book character Beegu (about the idea of home) and the British/Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare (a library of individual book spines), and others.

Students from all year groups had also helped to make this impressive wall-sized mosaic that reflected their diverse backgrounds and the local environment.

Large mosaic

Three years ago, Hannah set up a network for arts teachers in Westminster schools which now links the school to the Craft Council, the Primary Shakespeare Company and other partners. She spoke of the benefits that an art-rich curriculum can offer the students – self-confidence, self-esteem, self-expression, and the creativity that helps them think outside the box and make connections.

While the school faces specific challenges (like other Westminster primaries, applications are down by 25%), the countless museums and galleries within walking distance, or a short hop on the bus, provide Soho Parish with perhaps unparalleled cultural learning opportunities for primary school children.

For example, Hannah told us how the Year 6s do a yearly scriptwriting project with the Soho Theatre in which professional actors perform the students’ scripts. We learned how the West End theatres sometimes offered the school unsold tickets for matinee performances. Staff spoke about links with the National Gallery and, more unusually perhaps, art and design projects with the London Transport Museum. In addition, the school choir had sung at the Christmas tree lights switch-on at Downing Street. Like one or two other staff on our visits, Hannah told us that she politely has to decline some of the many offers of projects and partnerships.

As part of a project with local architect Antonio Capelao, the students had designed Christmas lights, 21 of which were chosen to be made into actual illuminations that surrounded the school’s block. The big switch-onwas conducted by the Mayor of Westminster and the school’s two student Mayors, dressed in their robes with the keys to Soho for the day.

Mindfulness room - green with cushions on the floor and soft lighting

Finally, to balance and compliment all of this busy creative activity, Hannah teaches mindfulness. For 30 minutes each week, each student gets to chill out, focus and be alert in a dedicated basement room. This quiet space seemed far away from the hustle and bustle of the central London streets above our heads.

A small beige dog lying on a green blue tartan rug

Relatedly, we got to meet Crawford, the in-training school therapy dog, a calming presence for us during our interviews and for all who inhabit this truly unique primary school. 

Many thanks to Art Lead Hannah Peaty for her time and efforts in organising our visit and explaining everything. Thanks also to Head Louise Ritchie and all of the other staff and students for their insights. 

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 the 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.

Local and global diversity at Gomersal Primary

Gomersal is an arts-rich primary school less than 10 miles from Bradford, Leeds and Huddersfield, situated in extensive green space. Deer and sheep are regular visitors to the woodlands that adjoin the school.

During our tour of the school, we saw many student art works created during class walks to the nearby woods and fields: flowers, insects, leaves and trees were all used as inspiration for work in textiles, ceramics, painting and installations.

Year 4, 5 and 6 students told us about their many visits to local arts places. The school has links with the nearby Longside Gallery at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The children talked excitedly about the work of Henry Moore, Andy Goldsworthy and Barbara Hepworth. They had recently created figures in the style of Antony Gormley who was born just 3 miles from the school. 

Students also spoke about their visit to the nearby David Hockey-associated ex-mill now art gallery and studios Salts Mill. Some mentioned going to the art gallery in Cartwright Hall, just 7 miles away, with their families to see pieces by Hockney, Anish Kapoor and LS Lowry.

In the legacy of Titus Salt and the dominant local industry of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the school had just secured funding to set up a textiles base that will help raise the profile and standard of textile work in this and other local schools. 

As well as the richness of the arts and culture in the immediate area, we were struck by the diversity of the art forms and artists with which the students were working. 

Much of this was either on display or being created in the large, light and vibrant Art Room. Our tour of the school coincided with a class doing a printing project. 

The Art Room was full of the students’ art work; Celtic crosses, shop fronts, skeletons, skulls, dresses and masks packed this busy space. 

As academics and researchers, at home in libraries and archives, we were thrilled to see these roller storage units being used for the copious arts materials. 

The Art Room also contained its own library: the books here covered a dazzling diversity of artists and their art.

Our photos don’t capture the music that was playing while we were in the Art Room, or the buzz of excitement from the children as they created their prints.

Speaking of music, one of the parents and school Governor is Andi Durrant, a high-profile DJ, producer and broadcaster. He now takes time to teach the students how to use the equipment in the music production/radio room – a well-resourced facility stocked with sample pads, midi keyboards, sampling and sequencing software, a mixing desk and microphones. Students had been creating own dance music recordings.

The sense of diversity extended to the themed art works that were on display from recent cultural and religious celebrations – Dewali, Hannukah, Black History Month, Bonfire Night, and Remembrance Day.

The striking minimalistic art works in the library took us back to our childhoods and returned us to the school’s immediate environs. The creator of The Mr Men and Little Misses, Roger Hargreaves, was born and raised in the adjoining village of Cleckheaton.

Finally, we saw some bespoke paintings which included lines from a poem, co-created by staff and students. Located in and around the Head’s office, they seemed to sum up the whole-school arts-focussed ethos that underpins this, and the other arts-rich primaries that we are privileged to visit during our RAPS research project. 

Thanks to Head Teacher Melanie Cox and Arts Lead Mandy Barrett for their warm welcome, insights, guided tour and coffee.

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 buzz of Ramsgate Arts

Ramsgate Arts Primary school
Ramsgate Arts Primary

Every day at Ramsgate Arts Primary, Key Stage 2 students finish their school day at 2pm. An unusual way to maintain and develop their arts-rich status, you might think. That is until you find out that from 2pm until 4:15pm, the students attend arts-focussed ‘compulsory’ after school clubs. During this time, class teachers do their PPA and CPD activities while the six specialist staff in the visual and performing arts take over. 

The school’s timetabling was clearly benefiting the students (and the staff) that we spoke with during our day-long visit.

Since 2017, Ramsgate Arts has existed in the Newington suburb, very close to four other primary schools. It’s decision to brand as arts-rich was based on existing staff’s experience, passion and professional engagement with the arts. As a new build and a relatively new venture, there is a palpable buzz of excitement from staff and students. 

Here are just a few examples of the art works and projects that we saw. 

The professional work of one of the art teachers and trained arts psychotherapist Karen Vost was displayed in the light and open reception area. The vibrant light boxes of police ‘mugshot’ photos of Elvis Presley and David Bowie are accompanied by Karen’s explanatory text and are examples of her wider work on mugshots. These pieces explore ‘… the criminalisation of people for activism or self-expression …’.

Karen’s work was displayed alongside equally professionally presented works by the students. Their ‘Take One Picture’ whole-school projects were the most prominent pieces in this area. The wide-range of art forms and media – textiles, hanging sculptures, drawing, painting, collage, etc. – were annotated with explanations and interpretations.

In the large art room where we interviewed staff and students and on corridor walls were displays of students’ work inspired by a range of artists including abstract expressionist Alma Thomas, Georgia O’Keefe, and the colourful pop art of Keith Haring. 

We loved seeing how the large display board in the art room was evolving with each set of new artistic creations attached over the previous ones.

As well as the art room, the school had been built with a long dance studio with mirrors and a beam along one wall and professional lighting on the ceiling. SLTs had insisted on retaining this space during the build despite pressure from the architects. The library was moved to an upstairs corridor. We were lucky enough to watch a dance rehearsal in the main hall high-end lighting in the dance studio and main hall. The whole class were working on a contemporary performance delivered by a young specialist dance teacher. The staging and computer-controlled lighting rig to were testament to the school’s commitment to the performing arts.

The large music room was stocked with guitars, ukuleles and percussion instruments. We liked the framed retro jazz art pictures in the room.

There was also an outdoor stage in the Early Years playground. The children improvised a Frozen-inspired song, dance and percussion performance for us which they called ‘Rock Elsa’. A ‘Music and Storytelling Shed’ sat permanently next to the stage.

Like a work of art in progress, SLTs insisted that the curriculum at Ramsgate Arts was not yet finished. The immediate focus is to get the children and community back in school and re-engaged after Covid. More work was needed to properly embed the innovative and progressive initiatives, they told us. The drama teacher told us how he had developed the curriculum largely from scratch using his own research and initiatives. The sense of newness and of openness to partnerships and collaborations (the school already works with the Turner Contemporary and Dreamland in nearby Margate, the Ramsgate Arts Barge and others) was palpable on our visit. We wish them well on their journey.

Thanks to Head Nick Budge, Deputy Hanna Beech and Head of Arts Hannah Dannell for inviting us in and showing us around.

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.

Artists and Art Auctions: Palm Bay Primary, Margate

Art leader t-shirt. Screen print. Green shirt, black letters

In the arts studio cabin at the front of the beach-top Palm Bay, five artists-in-residence (A.I.R.s) work and teach. In exchange for the use of the space, the equipment and the materials, the artists work directly with the school’s Young Arts Leaders (YALs) and increasingly, with teachers and staff at drop-in sessions, such as the Clay Club. We were lucky enough to visit this multi-functional space and talk with two of the artists as well as watching the YALs working on their ‘Arts Leader’ screen print t-shirts.

Palm Bay arts studio cabin - painted white
Artist-in-resident Sara Jackson

Artist-in-resident Sara Jackson, a Fine Arts graduate, talked about being inspired by spaces. She had created art from sail cloth and worked in the nearby caves and other seaside spaces.

Artist-in-resident Mellissa Fisher

Fellow A.I.R. Mellissa Fisher, a graduate of the innovative art/science Broad Vison programme, told us of her interest in nature and the body and how art can make the invisible visible. She was working on a body-cast piece with lots of ears that explored tinnitus. She has previously created (grown?) ‘living sculptures’ from the bacteria on her own face.

Large wall size artwork

This focus on organisms was a good metaphor for the organic ways in which the YALs learned from these artists before passing their new understandings on to their classmates, and to the general public for whom they offer guided art tours at the nearby Turner Contemporary. ‘Art is about sharing’, Mellissa told us.

The influence of the YALs, the A.I.R.s and the school’s top-down commitment to the arts was evident in the abundance of art works framed and displayed on walls and in corridors.

YALs started as a four school project back in 2017. The programme works in partnership with the Turner, and is a product of the Art Inspiring Change project that has included 20 parents and fostered children’s leadership skills, alongside their substantial engagement with the arts. The A.I.R.s told us how through the arts, the YALs were learning how to solve problems, collaborate, and visualise. They talked about how the arts gave the children the opportunity to dig deeper and ask profound questions about the very nature of art.

Students print making display

The A.I.R.s were just one way Palm Bay were using to maintain and develop their arts-richness by providing high-quality materials and experiences. Arts lead Mel Tong has developed an Art Auction. This year, 70 pieces have been donated by a mix of high-profile local artists and designers, and parents/family members. The event has grown in size and profile over the last four years or so. Initially held in the school hall, this year’s auction will take place in the Turner.

Palm Bay students' sketch books

The auction is conducted by local celebrity potter, and long-term supporter of the arts at Palm Bay, Keith Brymer-Jones, and attended by the local community. Mel told us how the proceeds have funded a kiln, printing materials, theatre visits and support all of the arts provision at the school.

Mel encourages the students to keep reworking their art. ‘There’s always something more that can be done’ is her message. The artists-in-residence and the art auction were developed in response to frustrations with the limitations of arts materials and arts budgets. These initiatives are evidence of Palm Bay’s ongoing commitment to the arts, and to the creative, innovative ways of meeting the inevitable challenges.

By the way, when we arrived in the rain in the morning, the arts studio was white (see above). When we left at the end of the day, it was covered in colours and design selected and created by the students. And it was sunny. The transformative power of the arts!

Palm Bat arts studio cabin - painted in bright colours and bold geometric designs

Our thanks go to Arts lead Melanie Tong, Head Lizzie Williams and all of the artists-in-residence and students from Palm Bay for hosting our visit.

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 colourful sights and sounds of Mellor Community Primary

Coloured glass in school foyer

Mellor Community Primary in Leicester is a vibrant primary school bursting with colourful attention-grabbing artworks. From the light streaming through the glass in the foyer through the art-filled corridors to the open-plan library space at the centre of the school, the bright colours and constant music characterise the school’s dedication to the arts and culture of the local community.

Two long collages stretch along one of the corridors, the results of the students’ art trip to the nearby Belgrave Road (AKA The Golden Mile). The students had captured not only the colourful shops in their collaborative artwork, but also the sensual impact of the flowers, traffic lights, cars and people that they must have seen while they were there. This was a great example of ‘bringing the outside in’ and how primary schools can use the arts to link with and reflect their local communities.

Belgrave Road art collage 1
Belgrave Road art collage 2

The idea of colour was central to many of the students’ art displays. In the Antarctica project, Year 3s explored primary, secondary and tertiary colours and blended them to create vivid skies and seas. Other sensual aspects were explored in their 3D box multi-media Antarctica landscapes produced during the period of home learning.

Among the artists and styles explored were displays of work inspired by Kandinsky and Pop Art. Both popped with the characteristic primary colours, swirls and shapes, and popular cultural references. Another set of artworks captured the sights and sounds, culture and contributions of the Windrush generation. Watercolours of Peak District landscapes showed the students working with more muted colours to create perspective and layers.

At the centre of the school is a brightly lit open-plan library that doubles up as a vibrant gallery space. There are large sculptures, such as the mannequin of local legendary giant Bel, or an elephant covered in maps. Glass display cabinets and frames, and shelves full of student arts work stand side-to-side with ‘professional’ works.

Bel Giant figure and map covered elephant

Overlooking the library/gallery is Mellor Radio, a dedicated radio room full of microphones, headphones, recording equipment, and even a ‘going live’ red light. The colourful sounds of the student-curated playlists are broadcast continually in the corridors throughout the school day. The teachers and students that we spoke to loved how their school was full of music.

The radio room is also used by students to make podcasts and record their voices for other projects. They had made jingles saying ‘This is Mellor Radio’ in the wide range of languages spoken by the students – 98% have English as a second or additional language. The jingles were interspersed with the music to create a fun student-voiced soundtrack to school life.

The project was integral to the school’s focus on oracy. The students practiced this art of verbal communication when they spoke to us in their focus groups. The clarity and projection of their voices really brought their insights and stories about the arts to life!

Thanks to Arts Lead and Deputy Head Anthony Hibble for organising our visit and showing us around.

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.