Cherry Grove: Art is your Human Right

Being a researcher of the arts in primary schools is a privilege. You’ve probably worked that out from our previous blog posts. Our visits to the schools on our list are a combination of a bespoke guided tour around an art gallery, where we can learn why and how the works took shape, and a backstage tour of a theatre where we get to see the nuts and bolts. The experience is overlain with the excited creative buzz of children in classrooms and corridors, some of whom share with us their insights into their arts lessons and clubs in focus groups.

This sense of privilege was at the forefront of our minds as we looked around Cherry Grove Primary near Chester, a Rights Respecting School who, like Torriano and Billesley, embed the workings of their school in UNICEF’s Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Firstly, we were overwhelmed by the vibrancy and colourfulness of many of the student’s art works. The first room we entered was strung with paintings based on the work of Bob and Roberta Smith. With slogans such as ‘Art is Life’ and ‘Your mind belongs to you’, we knew we were in the right place.

Our visual senses were further stimulated by displays of art based on the work of Paul Klee, Jan Gardner and Marc Chagall, and a wall of eye-popping Pop Art/Shakespeare pieces.

Secondly, the students’ work on local buildings and landmarks gave us a strong sense of where we were. 

Creative Arts Lead Zoe Anderson is the driving force behind Cherry Grove’s arts-rich curriculum. She told us how she places an emphasis on the students’ skills in observation, of looking closely, and of ‘opening their eyes’ to see what is in front of them, not what they imagine. She also prioritises children’s skills in drawing.

As a long-standing leader of the school’s creative arts, Zoe is embedded in networks of arts practice. As well as keeping the arts lessons fresh and creative, the visiting artists and CPD sessions seem to be creating something of a regional visual arts style. We have seen this in other regions.

Thirdly, the students had produced art works in a range of media to explore topics such as the Mayans, Romans, Vikings, Galileo, Shakespeare and endangered animals.

Fourthly, while colour was the overriding theme of the first displays we saw, Zoe had worked with the students on a series of striking landscape projects that explored Henry Moore’s ideas of shelter, and the historical transport of paintings from the galleries of the big cities to the caves and mountains of nearby Wales during the Second World War.

Fifthly, the school were partnered with the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal Ballet and the Royal Opera House. Deputy Head Roz Artist told us that the students had been to Stratford upon Avon and performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company. She talked about how it was important to provide such ‘life changing opportunities’ that allowed the children to see the bigger world, and that would be remembered years down the line.

Zoe enthused about how these links had enriched what the school offered and had ‘taken things to another level’. Students had also visited the Tate in nearby Liverpool, all of which, Zoe explained, helped to put the school’s art into wider context, especially around widening the students’ perceptions about the scope and scale of the arts industry, and the possibilities of working in the arts.

Lastly, we were shown some of the students’ sketchbooks and their highly creative topic books. The fold-out flaps and cut-into designs created a sense of interaction while the students’ comments told us how much they loved exploring topics using art and creativity.

Thanks to Creative Arts Lead Zoe Anderson, Deputy Head Roz Artist, and to the focus groups of students from Years 4, 5 and 6, the Arts Ambassadors and those who attend extracurricular clubs.

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.

‘There isn’t a single project that we couldn’t enhance by the use of the arts’: Hillstone Primary

Music and drama run through Hillstone Primary like the River Rea and the Digbeth Branch Canal run through nearby Birmingham, a city named after Boerma, its Anglo-Saxon founder.

How do we, from the East Midlands, know so much about our West Midlands neighbours? Well, Hillstone’s music and drama teacher Keith Farr wrote a musical for the students called The Birmingham Cantata, full of facts about history, heritage and culture.

The songs evoke the sights and smells of the region’s Industrial Revolution, detail the contributions of steam engine pioneers Matthew Boulton and William Murdoch, and celebrate Birmingham’s multi-cultural past and present.

In fact, turning topics into mini-operas is something of a speciality for Keith and his students. For example, after the school had been to watch the full 3-hour version of Madame Butterfly performed by school partners Welsh National Opera, students spent a week rewriting the story and songs in English. Forty-eight of them performed it onstage for their parents back at school.

After watching performances of Stravinsky’s Peter and the Wolf and The Firebird they wrote and composed music for their own Russian folk tales and performed them with a group of schools. They have also created a piece called Three Planets based on the three primary colours.

Students have also worked with the Birmingham Royal Ballet, Birmingham Rep, the Royal Shakespeare Company and many other cultural partners. 

We have written before about how little we get to see music and drama performances during our research visits. At Hillstone, we were lucky enough to watch (and sing along with) Keith’s pre-school rehearsal of a recently composed musical nativity, and attend (and participate in!) the after-school choir session.

The students’ enthusiasm for music performance was palpable. Immediately after one of our focus group interviews, Year 5 students insisted on playing for us on their guitars, trumpets, violins and clarinets, and singing some of the songs that they were rehearsing. 

With all of this musical confidence flowing through the school, it is no surprise that Keith places his emphasis on the process – the various problem solving, technical and other skills that the students learn while they are creating, shaping and rehearsing a work. 

Head teacher Gill Sparrow told us of her passion and support for the cross-curriculum integration of the arts, and for Keith’s methods. ‘There’s nothing that you couldn’t write a song about or create a dance to’ she explained, before adding ‘there isn’t a single project that we couldn’t enhance by the use of the arts’.

School bandstand

In addition to the benefits of the process, Gill stressed that everything that the students did had to have a purpose. That might be in the form of an exhibition, or a performance at the school or at local old people’s homes, or in the toy designing-and-making project they did with a professional toy maker.

As well as enhancing the curriculum and making it more enjoyable, Gill told us how the arts were particularly important for her students, their families and the local community. 51% of the students are on Free School Meals; the children’s families score high on markers of abuse and deprivation; many parents are third generation unemployed.

Gill told us that while many middle-class children may have easy access to ballet, the theatre and the wider arts, her mission is to provide ‘brilliant opportunities’ – high quality arts experiences that children have the right to access. As an arts-rich school for all of Gill’s 20 years as Head, the arts were enriching the school and transforming individual lives.

For example, one student had been taught some photography techniques by a teacher. He then went on to win a photography competition.

Every year, parents and carers attend the ‘Music for a Summer’s Evening’ concert in which at least a quarter of the children are involved (after auditions!). Teachers dress in posh clothes and local dignitaries attend. The audience has learned to take the event seriously – parents now stay until the end, watch all of the students perform, and clap after each act.

While Gill talked of the precarity of having arts specialisms driven by just one person, she has been keen to share her passion and knowledge by setting up ArtsLink, a network for Birmingham primary arts teachers.

The immersive environments in the school, produced through weekly workshops with arts professionals, themed around A Midsummer Night’s Dream (corridor installation, costume design, banners, performance, etc) and a Chinese Temple are lasting testaments to Gill’s commitments to an arts-rich education. 

The students’ enthusiasm for music, drama, and the wider performing arts were matched by the liveliness of their sketchbooks and by the art works on display around the school. 

So, in the words of one of the songs from The Birmingham Cantata:

Ignite the torch and lead the way. The light spreads far and wide.

Opens eyes and strengthens ties. Forward to the future.

Thanks to Head Gill Sparrow and Music and Drama lead Keith Farr for their warm hospitality and insights into their arts-rich school. Thanks also to all of  the students we met and interviewed.

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.

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.

Music and the performing arts thrive at Anston Greenlands – Here’s how

If, like Anston Greenlands, your primary school has a strength in music, you will know that your ability to sing together and play instruments has been severely limited over the last 18 months or so.

As a band member (since the age of 12) and a songwriter, Head teacher Alex Wirth is not only passionate about the music (and the arts in general) in his school, but has come up with innovative ways of providing exciting musical learning experiences. The methods may have been influenced by lockdown but are now proving valuable in themselves.

From our point of view, researching music and performing arts in schools can be challenging when compared with visual arts. Only occasionally do we get to see dance, drama, instrument or singing rehearsals, and so far on our RAPS visits, we have not seen a final performance.

Unlike drawings, paintings and other visual arts, music is not displayed on walls or tables. We rely on students and staff to give us their verbal insights into music and performing arts activities. So, when we can, we love to see it and hear it!

So it was exciting to discover how Alex and the team at Anston Greenlands had been using songwriting, singing and recording during lockdown to produce songs and videos for the school’s YouTube channel (200+ videos).

For example, ‘These Four Walls’ is a whole-school lockdown-themed rock anthem, features ideas, words and singing from the students and playing from the Head and musician parents and friends. Most importantly, the song was put together while many of the students were learning from home. They sent in their remote vocals and air-guitar videos to sit alongside those of their in-school classmates.

Screen shot from Anston Greenlands' 'These Four Walls' video on Youtube

The school’s dedication to creating original songs (and videos and artwork) for YouTube dates back to ‘My Fight’, a song they did in aid of WarChild.

As well as music videos, YouTube was integral to projects about the environment, history and other topics. For example, Alex had posted a series of video messages ‘from the future’ which were tied to the arrival of a big mysterious package in the playground and a sustainability theme.

Not only are the videos a great way to showcase students’ work (to families and arts-in-schools researchers!) and engage them in time-travel adventures, these short films have kept students and families tuned in and involved during lockdown and beyond.

Finally, Alex and the team had made another Covid-inspired change to the school, this time to the physical structure. Last Spring, frustrated by the lack of opportunity for his students to sing, dance and make music together indoors, they had a light bulb moment. 

In a blur of activity, Alex got on the phone, hired a digger, went out onto the school field with the caretaker and a TA, and dug the school an amphitheatre. The curved and raked seating was completed with a substantial wooden stage, perfect not only for the music, dancing and drama work they were doing in school, but also for hosting parents, families and the local community to open-air performances.

While the sun struggled to get over the horizon during our wintery visit, the photos of the children singing in the summer sun lifted our hearts. We could almost hear the music – a sure sign that whatever the challenges, schools like Anston Greenlands will keep primary music and performing arts alive and thriving.

Many thanks to Head Alex Wirth, Deputy Kate Roberts and all of the Year 4, 5 and 6 student who gave us an insight into the arts in 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.

How the Arts have transformed Feversham Primary

Feversham is a large primary school located in Bradford Moor, an area of pronounced social deprivation less than a mile from Bradford city centre. It is an exemplar of how the Arts can transform a school. 

After being placed in special measures a decade ago, the decision was made for music and drama to form the core of the school’s connected curriculum. This has not only produced excellent results in maths, reading and writing, but has contributed to the students’ confidence, positivity and friendliness, all factors noted in the school’s recent Outstanding Ofsted report.

Our day-long visit began with a lively assembly in which Year 3 students used music and drama to depict the employment and education of Victorian children. The graphic depictions of working conditions and punishments elicited a flood of questions from the rest of the students.

Our guide for the day was Arts Lead Alisa Yates. We began our tour in the large, light and open Arts Studio. A wide range of media and techniques were displayed on walls, drying on racks and hanging on strings. 

Alisa has written an article all about this creative space in the latest edition (#33) of NSEAD’s AD Magazine. In it, she talks about promoting independent thinking and a proactive approach.

There was a corner ‘curiosity’ area with comfy seating where students could use the miscellaneous objects as stimuli for sketching and inspiration.

Alisa showed us the table of pestles, mortars, gums and stones used to make paints and dies. We were told how the children would learn about the process of grinding and combining ochre and other materials to make powders and pigments that would become the colours they use for their own art works.

The Art Studio also contained light boxes for a stop-time iPad-based animation project. Alisa told us of her professional background in photography from the age of 16 often working with her own team of stylists and technicians. She is a current arts practitioner specialising in watercolour painting, photography and textiles.

Her ongoing exploration of media and techniques, and passion for experimentation was evident not only in the vibrant Art Studio, but also in the conversations we had with Year 4, 5 and 6 students. Their many arts activities at Feversham are documented in this ‘Art Studio’ blog. Alisa also curates this ‘Art Academy@FPA’ blog which includes stimuli, activities and learning materials.

Led by Alisa, the school had been involved in a quilt making project. Feversham students, in partnership with the Bradford 2025 Year of Culture bid, made a video to explain the project and to ask other schools to contribute squares that communicated something about their ‘Untold stories, [and] Hidden Communities‘. The 200 individual squares were sewn together to create ‘a collection of memories and histories’ specific to the area and to the children.

We also met Jimmy Rotheram, Senior Leader for Music – probably the only one in the country, he told us. It was Jimmy who was leading the assembly earlier. Starting as a supply teacher eight years ago, Jimmy has developed an effective and influential music programme based largely on his training in Kodaly and Dalcroze, undertaken alongside his teaching. As a primary music expert, Jimmy and the music pedagogy of Feversham (up to six hours of music per week) have been featured in The Guardian, on the BBC, and in podcastsYouTube videos and teaching magazines.

Jimmy talked about his mission to get the music of his many Muslim students more widely recognised. Like Alisa, Jimmy has a professional arts background – in music performance, a record deal and working in the industry.

Jimmy told us: ‘I have had formal music training. I just always found reading music far more difficult than someone of my musical ability should have done. It wasn’t until I discovered alternative ways of developing musical reading that my own ability to read music managed to catch up, and I discovered that all children could learn to read music well if taught in more child-friendly ways‘.

He bases his teaching largely on singing, rhythm and body percussion. You can read more about his ethos and methods here. His book (to be published in the Spring) will explain his methods to other music and performing arts teachers. 

We were impressed by the time, effort and dedication that Alisa and Jimmy spent working with the Early Years and reception children and staff. It was clear that, through the arts, the school were building skills and confidence from a young age. On our visit to this area, we enjoyed the subdued lighting, stand-up easels and attention that had been paid to creating a warm and inspiring environment. As a demonstration of how Jimmy has embedded his approach to music across the school, a group of reception children were assembled to participate in a spontaneous singing and movement session.  

As well as music, singing, quilt making and the Arts Studio activities, students had been working in collaboration with the Joss Arnott Dance Company.

The school is currently undergoing extensive expansion. The main hall has already been extended to incorporate a stage and the new site will include an updated music room. The transformation continues.

Feversham is a story of how arts pedagogy, arts leaders with professional arts backgrounds, and the creative application of continuing professional development can transform a primary school, drive the curriculum and inspire many others beyond the school gates.

Our thanks go to Arts Lead Alisa Yates for showing us around, to Senior Leader (Music) Jimmy Rotheram for his time and insights, and to all the staff and students at Feversham for their warm welcome.

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.

Collaborative Creativity at Kelsall

On our recent travels around England visiting arts-rich primaries, we have noticed that many schools have developed, and continue to grow their arts-richness through a close working relationship between the Head Teacher and the Arts Lead. This is one of our ‘emerging themes’ – something we will explore in more detail later.

One such creative double-act are doing wonders for the arts at Kelsall Primary school, a rural village school about 4 miles away from Tarporley in Cheshire.

While we have met other dynamic arts duos on our travels, what was perhaps most interesting here is that Head Teacher David Wearing and Arts Lead Jon Clayton have developed their visual arts skills, ethos and pedagogy alongside, and in combination with their roles at the school. 

While their active status as musicians pre-dates their days at Kelsall (David has been here for 10 years, Jon for 20), neither had a background in the visual arts when they arrived. Jon told us how his passion for visual art and his ‘loose’ experimental style took shape through primary teaching.

As examples of idiosyncratic primary arts practice and pedagogy, we were drawn to these Year 2 pieces from recent visits to the nearby woods:

Under Jon’s tutelage, the students at Kelsall have developed a distinctive semi-abstract style based on the extensive use of sketching, reworking, and a ‘no mistakes/no rules’ approach to art making. Jon explained to us how after building basic skills through structured lessons, the students could enjoy the freedom, independence and confidence of art making. He encourages the students by telling them to ‘go with it’ and asking for their thoughts. Jon repeatedly referred to the children’s sense of joy and play when creating art in this way.

Displays included students pictures of animals (gorillas, tigers, orangutans, deer, turtles, crows, etc.), self-portraits, buildings, Guernica, and astronauts. They were using art to explore issues of plastic pollution, endangered species, refugees, war and other subjects.

While Jon told us that the students’ art was always based on something tangible, he described how working in semi-abstraction avoids many of the frustrations that students encounter then they strive for realism and a closely copied photographic approach. ‘They’ll always be rubbing out’, he explained.

Jon and David were also creating their own artwork in the Art Room, after school and in the holidays. Their work was stored alongside the students’ work in the Art Room and other spaces in the school, there to inspire students and to use as explanation of techniques and approaches. Both men self-published a series of books of their art works. These could be found in corridors and classrooms.  

The students’ work had been entered in many local primary arts competitions. David told us that the school had voluntarily withdrawn from many of them in order to let other schools win occasionally (!). 

Kelsall’s whole school curriculum is based entirely around ‘high-quality’ books, used as ‘pathways’ to link specific artists, topics and issues. For example, there is a display of ‘No Outsiders’ portraits in the reception area.

As with all of the arts-rich school we have visited (browse this blog for more examples), there are many more arts activities taking place at Kelsall that could not be covered in any detail in a short blog piece. The short list for Kelsall includes:

  • A full-size statue of Nelson Mandela and extensive Black Lives Matter art works in the reception area
  • Twenty glockenspiels (!) plus equipment and performance spaces for the school Rock Band and other performance work
  • An in-development Room 13-style student-lead outdoor arts space
  • Gilbert and George

Thanks to Head Teacher David Wearing and Arts Lead Jon Clayton for inviting us into your school and to the students of Kelsall for sharing their experiences of their arts-rich education.

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.

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.