Beecroft Garden: On a voyage of arts-richness 

We visited Beecroft Garden on a special day – their end of year Arts Exhibition where parents and invited guests could sample the school’s curated creativity. The exhibition was themed around ‘Take One Picture’ – every artwork was produced as a response to Claude-Joseph Vernet’s A Shipwreck in Stormy Seas (1773):

Firstly, let us guide you through this impressive range of paintings, drawings, sculptures and installations, a flood of media, techniques, approaches and ideas.

Reception students has produced these huge gestural drawings – expressive waves and foamy patterns that filled a large portion of one wall:

Reception had also created these ‘Baby Waves’ out of silver acrylic paint, clay, wire, plaster of Paris and … (wait for it) … silver leaf!

Year 1 were exhibiting these ships on a stormy sea. They had worked on creating a 3D effect in the waves and used cut-up and college to place them on their backgrounds with the ships:

Year 2 had looked closely (very closely!) at tentacles. Inspired by the story of the Kraken, they had created observational sketches before they chose and blended colours. Can you spot the messages in bottles?

Year 2 had also been busy creating this ‘Colossal Octopus’ out of wire, newspaper, Modroc and bottle tops. The felt fishes swimming by were made by Year 1 students.

These Year 3 pieces inspired by the work of Kehinde Wiley blend ‘the old and the new’. They used watercolour and a glaze before framing their seascapes using embossed copper corners.

Year 4 had made these clay coral pieces while learning about how climate warming is bleaching and destroying coral in the sea. The pieces were glazed and fired in the school’s kiln:

Again, on the theme of the environment, Year 4 had collected plastic waste to create this ‘Plastic Ocean’. They had fused the plastic bags and netting together using a hot iron and baking paper. 

Those busy Year 4s had also created the Pop Art signs that hung above our heads. They had been inspired by the soundtrack of the shipwreck ‘Take One Picture’ that had been composed by the National Gallery.

Meanwhile, Year 5 students had worked in groups to create these wall-length waves. They built up the layers using graphite, acrylics, oil pastels and, what appeared to be a Beecroft Garden favourite, Brusho!

Also on display were these Year 5 ‘fast fashion’ dresses made for a DT project out of fused plastic and a mix of recycled and natural materials.

Next to the dresses was this card and plaster Pride anchor inspired by Year 6’s involvement with Pride Celebrations and marches:

Elsewhere were these large lighthouses with rotating lights:

… and animations that captured the feeling of being in a stormy sea:

Our tour of the exhibition ended with this large boat hanging upside-down from the ceiling:

A series of poems were stuck to the inside of the boat:

Underneath lay a pile of small boats, symbolically sunk to the bottom of the sea on one of the many perilous daily trips across the English Channel by refugees, many of them children, just like those who had created this moving and conceptual artwork. 

During this busy event, we got to speak with a group of Year 6 students who talked us through their artworks and how they valued the arts at Beecroft Garden. On the walls surrounding our interview table were these self-portraits inspired by the work of Tamara Natalie. The students talked us through the process of creation (it involves photography and gold leaf). 

Many of them identified these pieces as their favourite and most memorable primary school artworks. They told us how they had already made space on a wall at home and how, with this piece in particular, they could express themselves. ‘It just feels like your own’, one of them explained: ‘It feels like it belongs to you’.

They also talked excitedly (‘You can be free. You can do whatever you want. There’s no restrictions!’) about the abstract work they had created inspired by the work of Frank Bowling.

They also enthused about the street art projects they had done after studying the work of Mr DoodleArt Mongers and making the most of the school’s links with Louis Masai and Lionel Stanhope.

Finally, we spoke with Arts specialist teacher Dilys Finlay (Fine Arts Degree from Goldsmiths) and Head teacher Graham Voller (Art Degree from Camberwell College. Art Specialism from Goldsmiths). Both are practicing artists.

They told us about how the school had been in special measures (It was called Brockley Primary at the time). Glenys Ingham was appointed as Head, Dilys as a supply teacher in Reception in 2009, and Graham as Deputy Head in 2010. Glenys underpinned the curriculum with accessible arts education for all children. When Glenys retired, Graham became Head and continued to make the arts and creativity central to the ethos and development of the school.

On the subject of their success as a flourishing arts-rich primary school with limited resources, Dilys told us that:

it starts off feeling really expensive, but if you got the right people there and the vision, the money makes itself. If you’ve got the right provision, you can sell the stuff and attract funding. You become an interesting entity and everyone wants to go to your school.’

Graham mentioned how parents are now queuing up to get their children into Beecroft Garden. ‘What parents want for their children’, he told us, ‘is for them to be happy and creative and think outside the box.’

On the subject of the many cultural and creative partnerships and visiting artists, Graham explained that: 

‘you have to make sure that you’ve got the rest of your community involved in what’s going on, which is why it’s so, so important for us to invite people in. You can’t be in a bubble and do this because you want your children to feel that they’re creating something that’s got longevity and an audience.’

Dilys stressed that ‘We always try and choose people who reflect the diversity of the children here’. She also raised the idea of fostering children’s life-long engagement with the arts: 

We need to have artists coming into schools because children need to see outside people making a living. This is a career opportunity. It’s a role model.’

Graham agreed: 

‘We live in London. The creative arts in London are massive. If you break down the economy of London, visual Arts, performing arts and cultural events make up a massive, massive part of the income of this city. Chances are the children are going to have some kind of role in the creative industry, so what better way than to kind of like start them off than with creativity?’

What better way indeed.

Our sincere thanks go to Arts specialist lead Dilys Finlay for inviting us to this special event, to Head teacher Graham Voller for his insights into heading up an arts-rich primary, to HLTAs Stacey and Sebastian, and to the Year 6 students for sharing their enthusiasm for the arts and the guided tour of the school.

You may also be interested in reading our recently-published Art, Craft and Design Rapid Evidence Review – a survey of published scholarly literature on art, craft and design in education.

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

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

With that in mind …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The BALTIC art bus

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

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

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

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

You may also be interested in reading our recently-published Art, Craft and Design Rapid Evidence Review – a survey of published scholarly literature on art, craft and design in education.

New Bewerley Community School: A whirl of Arts and Music

New Bewerley Community School from the air

The whirling snail-shell design of the New Bewerley Community School building perfectly reflects the school’s dynamic and ever-evolving (and long-standing) arts-richness. The arial photo above also shows the sharp edge that represents the focus and purpose that drives the arts curriculum in this Beeston, south Leeds school. A side view of this innovative building would show that the wall-length windows in the classrooms let the light flood in. The school values are ‘Include. Create. Perform.’

We had the privilege of speaking with Headteacher Gary German (Art and Education degree), Arts Lead Paige Hurley (Theatre in Performance and Theatre in Education degree) and In Harmony/Opera North resident music and singing lead Elena Camblor Gonzalez. Between them we learned that, while maintaining their strong visual arts provision, the school is focussing on expanding their performing arts offer. From our focus group interviews with students, we learned all about the many creative and artistic projects taking place.

New Bewerley are one of five schools in South Leeds that are part of the In Harmony programme funded by Opera North to deliver first class music tuition to children who may not normally be able to access that type of cultural capital. They have been involved for six years. Headteacher Gary told us how the programme is not only a way to provide expert tuition for the children but also to up-skill staff. He described how ‘it took hold of the school. We have shaped our ethos and culture around it and have grown into a performance arts-focused school.

In Harmony display board

We spoke with resident In Harmony music lead Elena about her work. Students from Years One to Six have a choir session with Elena every week. She pointed out that, with at least 50 languages being spoken at the school by students and staff from many countries, ‘singing is a great way to includes everyone and make them understand the cultures of other people, and that singing is part of their daily lives.’ We saw Elena rehearsing a group of students on a complex operatic choral piece with actions.

The rehearsal took place in the dome centre of this snail building:

Domed roof of the main hall

We learned how students build their musicianship using the Kodály method which involves lots of singing. Years Three and Four learn stringed instruments, either the violin, viola or cello. At Year Five, they can choose to change to woodwind or brass. The big music room (‘the studio’) is full of these instruments. 

Instruments in cupboards

The older students can take theirs home; they learn how to look after and respect their instruments. We enjoyed seeing them arriving at school with cellos on their backs! When asked about the impact of the In Harmony sessions on the parents and family members, Elena told us that: 

‘Music is very powerful tool in the sense that it doesn’t only include the person who’s doing music, but it makes everyone around that person be involved and touched by music.’

As well as the substantial music provision, New Bewerley are also partnered with Northern Ballet, Leeds Playhouse and theatre company Wrongsemble

Leeds Playhouse and theatre company Wrongsemble. The companies spot talented children and invite them to workshops at weekend in order to further develop their skills. Gary spoke about his mission to instil skills in his students that could help them go further in performing arts in their future schools, universities and careers.

Speaking from a leadership perspective, Gary pointed out that ‘if we are investing in music, drama, dance and art, then that becomes the curriculum. It’s not an add-on. It’s not something we squeeze in and drop something else. We have to make sure that those opportunities are woven into our long term and medium-term plans, that they’re done properly, and that nothing else is sacrificed at their expense.’

Arts lead Paige guided us around the school’s arts displays and spaces. We were impressed by the focus on ceramics (note the kiln below). 

She guided us through the spiral curriculum where students build skills in specific media through regular revisits. For example, we learned how students make pinch pots in Year One and Two by drawing them out before adding detail with oil pastels. 

In Year Three they create a watercolour wash again adding oil pastels. By Year Four they make clay Saxon cups, scratching in their designs before applying the glaze before the go in the kiln.

Year 6 students had made these multi-media final pieces, representing London during the Blitz. They used clay tiles, oil pastels and pen. 

Year 5 students had created Anglo-Saxon broaches using clay slips, adding extra textures and embellishments before incorporating textiles in the form of weaving and sewing.

Students have also made these clay Remembrance Day poppies:

Year 3 had worked with artists Skippko on a six-week series of ceramic and multi-media Science-themed projects. Entitled ‘How does your garden grow?’, the work incorporated photography, flowers imprinted into clay, and creating and decorating clay pots with images of still life plants.

The school were also partnered with The Tetley Contemporary Art gallery in Leeds for which New Bewerley were a flagship school. Through The Tetley, Year Four had been investigating Ghanaian art, language and symbols.

The students’ sketchbooks were full of vibrant drawings and paintings, including these artworks produced after studying Jean-Michel Basquiat during Black History Month. In these activities, the students have used their reading skills of retrieval, interpretation and commenting on the creator’s choice to understand a variety of media. 

New Bewerley are working towards their Cultural Cohesion Quality Mark:

Students had created art and creating writing on the subject of inclusion with reference to murdered local MP Jo Cox:

Finally, Paige had recently created an arts ‘dictionary’ so that teachers and children can look up an arts-based word with which they are unfamiliar. Not only does it give students the vocabulary for critically engaging with the paintings, sculptures and other artworks, but it contains knowledge about art forms, artists and key ideas.

There is a clear journey to success that the arts-based curriculum takes us on’, Paige told us.

Many thanks to the students of New Bewerley and to Headteacher Gary German, Arts Lead Paige Hurley and In Harmony/Opera North resident music lead Elena for speaking with us.

You may also be interested in reading our recently-published Art, Craft and Design Rapid Evidence Review – a survey of published scholarly literature on art, craft and design in education.

Springfield Juniors: Giant Jewellery, Jubilee and Puppetry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soil erosion had been investigated through dance:

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

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

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

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

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

Stained glass window with individual students’ self-portraits

You may also be interested in reading our recently-published Art, Craft and Design Rapid Evidence Review – a survey of published scholarly literature on art, craft and design in education.

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

Wix and Wrabness Primary school front

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mosaic Friendship Bench – detail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knowledge, Skills and Creativity tree branch

You may also be interested in reading our recently-published Art, Craft and Design Rapid Evidence Review – a survey of published scholarly literature on art, craft and design in education.

St Andrew’s Church Primary: A Green School Without Walls

St Andrews Church Primary front

During our visit to St Andrew’s Church School, we learned about two main things; the influence that the school building can have on learning and wellbeing, and how students learn outside of the school walls. Both factors – the inside and the outside – have been the subject of considerable and ongoing research (much of it involving St Andrews) which has been put into practice at this creative arts-rich primary.

The school building (the school is bigger than just the building!) is located in central Bath just behind the iconic Royal Crescent and near to other Georgian buildings, such as The Circus, the Jane Austen Centre and other places of historic and cultural interest.

The Royal Crescent

Headteacher and Arts lead Jayne Rochford-Smith explained how St Andrew’s children spend extended periods (weeks) in theatres, galleries, museums and other cultural sites, learning alongside artists and the venue’s staff. 

St Andrew’s have been part of School Without Walls for about 11 years, a project developed by Dr Penny Hay and late Headteacher Sue East in collaboration with the Egg theatre in Bath with St Andrew’s as one of the founding partners. Jayne, who has a degree in Fine Art and a Postgraduate in printmaking, was Head of Early Years and Special Educational Needs Coordinator at the time. She worked closely with Sue and Penny to further develop the project. 

School Without Walls is underpinned by the Reggio Emilia and House of Imagination approach of allowing children to find and follow their fascinations with the adults facilitating this and scaffolding the learning though a method of co-enquiry. School Without Walls … places the children at the centre of their own learning. By transplanting them into a cultural setting, the conventions, behaviours and habits associated with the ‘classroom’ start to fall away.’

Jayne told us that the two questions that drive the school’s approach are: Where can creativity come from? and; What can we use in our city?

We learned about the initial phase of the project which took place 11 years ago in the Egg Theatre. Jayne explained how, all through the summer term (about seven continuous weeks), the children worked with the team at the Egg Theatre: ‘They worked with the lighting engineer. They worked in the café. They worked in helping people on the reception. They learn about roles and jobs. They learned about communication. They learn maths. They learn English through a creative environment.’ 

Following this longer project, the ‘School Without Walls’ research was developed into mini projects which allowed for the wider school to experience placements within cultural centres and to use the city for learning. Each class chooses where they want to go. On some of the projects the children then work with and an artist and a documenter.

Through research, we have learned how we learn alongside children, and we are the co-constructors, rather than the directors of learning. You’ve got to be responsive to what’s happening on the day. We take them on a creative journey’ Jayne explained.

Our learning journey – reading area

We learned about an actual journey to the Holburne Museum which took place when Jayne was teaching in Early Years. Fifty-four children were immersed in the theatre for a week. Jayne told us how ‘the 45-minute walk down to The Holburne and the journey back were as much of that exploration as the time there’. On their return journey, the children saw an old-fashioned horse-drawn carriage on the street transporting a couple to their wedding, which led to wedding-themed arts projects on return to the school.

This work has underpinned the development of the St Andrew’s Connected Curriculum. A curriculum designed and built around the City. We were shown a collaboratively produced map of the many local landmarks and cultural and creative places that can be walked to from the school. These include not only galleries and museums but parks, the hospital, a city farm, the council offices, the cinema and the train station. Children have also visited the Ancient Technology Centre in Dorset and have collaborative relationships with Age UK, the local church, secondary schools and Bath Spa University.

My job as a Head,’ Jayne commented, ‘is to maintain the collaborations I have with the city. And if you don’t do that, then the school becomes a very insular place’.

This outward-looking approach is balanced by the school’s research-based focus on their internal environment. As newcomers to the school, we were struck by the emphasis on plants, natural light and fresh air. The chairs, tables, floors and other elements of the classrooms and other spaces are made of wood and natural materials. The learning spaces are decluttered. 

Desks and chairs have been arranged so that every child can see outside the classroom. Classrooms are designed around a central outdoor space with a tree. 

We browsed the school’s extensive Green Classrooms (a ‘collaboration with the Universities of Bath and Bristol, and CaSA Architects to understand the impact of design on health, wellbeing and learning’) Report. This gives precise data about heating, temperature, ventilation, air quality, humidity, acoustics and other factors.

The report has been acted upon with new wooden floors, automatic window vents in the roof and practical processes designed to maximise the children’s learning and wellbeing (and that of the staff) through a biophilic approach. The attention to detail has produced calm, nature-focussed, non-reverberant spaces that we as researchers responded to very positively.

St Andrew’s is also an Eco School and a Stonewall School Champion.

Referring to Loris Malaguzzi’s ‘The Hundred Languages of Children’, Jayne observed that:

If you’re going to teach children, you need to know what language they’re speaking.’ 

St Andrew’s creative arts-rich child-led pedagogy is giving children the best opportunity to speak and be heard.

Our sincere thanks go to Head teacher and Arts lead Jayne Rochford-Smith for her time, insights and openness. Also thanks to Ellen Weaver (Humanities lead and Year 4 teacher), Niamh Collie (Music lead) and the Year 4, 5 and 6 children with whom we spoke during 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.

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

Wyburns Primary School front and sign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Gallery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wyburns from the playground

You may also be interested in reading our recently-published Art, Craft and Design Rapid Evidence Review – a survey of published scholarly literature on art, craft and design in education.

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

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

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

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

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

Dezil Forrester

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

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

Minack Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You may also be interested in reading our recently-published Art, Craft and Design Rapid Evidence Review – a survey of published scholarly literature on art, craft and design in education.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You may also be interested in reading our recently-published Art, Craft and Design Rapid Evidence Review – a survey of published scholarly literature on art, craft and design in education.

Queen’s Park: How the Arts are inspiring Primary students in Brighton

With so many creative projects, events and institutions in Brighton, it was great to hear how Queen’s Park Primary were involved in the local arts scene. More later. Firstly, let’s hear from the students and staff about the arts they do in school.

The groups of Key Stage 2 students, Arts Councillors and Arts Ambassadors told us all about building models of Anderson Shelters, creating work in the style of British artist Sonia Boyce, working on their ‘big wave’ pictures, decorating their ceramic tiles, and working with pencils on their hand drawings.

Some of the students had contributed to this colourful sea-themed mural that spanned one side of the playground:

Head teacher Anne Cox explained the value of a creative arts-rich curriculum:

‘The children are confident, articulate and know their abilities, but want to try things and explore things. They think through the arts’. 

One of the Year 6 students gave us an example: 

‘I let my imagination go onto the paper, so now I can finally see it better than I did in my mind’.

Queen’s Park are a Creativity and Arts Champion school. You can read more about how this Artsmark scheme builds their creativity and helps link their arts to the wider communities.

Year 4s were enjoying their Project Based Learning (PBL), a recent change that will be expanded to other year groups. Anne explained that PBL, creativity and the arts can inspire and engage students which can impact on their maths, English and other subjects.

Arts lead Mhari Smith (BA in Fine Arts and Sculpture, worked as a puppet maker and puppeteer for six years in London) told us about the role of the Arts Ambassadors (one in each class across the school) in raising the profile and skill levels of the arts. The students get trained up by staff on specific techniques or artists. Then they cascade what they learn to their classmates and teachers, as well as staff and Heads from other schools.

Year 1 had been looking at the work of Brazilian-born Beatriz Milhazes:

Year 2 had created some vibrant work around the book ‘Ziraffa’ about a real-life giraffe who toured the world in the 1800s:

Year 3s had been inspired by the colourful playful work of another Brazilian, Romero Britto

KS1 students had been getting abstract in the style of Turkish artist Fahrelnissa Zeid:

Fahrelnissa Zeid art

… and also in their studies of Guyana-born British artist Frank Bowling who has created a famous painting ‘about’ Brighton.

Frank Bowling art

Headteacher Anne Cox, Mhari, Music lead Gabi Buxton and the students gave us a fantastic insight into the events and organisation that help focus and inspire the arts in the school.

The children were especially excited about Let’s Dance – a week-long event where 78 schools, colleges, universities and dance groups get to ‘Dance at The Dome’.

Students were also involved with the Children’s Parade where 5000 local children make banners and figures, and march them through the streets as part of the Brighton Festival.

We learned about Let’s Play, a link-up with the National Theatre in London through The Primary Programme. Mhari told us how Years 1 and 5 had a tour of the theatre and got to learn about the lighting and staging. They made props and scenery and then performed on the stage in front of their families. She explained how she could ‘really see some of them grow and mature’ by ‘being leaders, working together, being innovative and making decisions’. The school are also working with the Theatre Royal in Brighton. Year 5 were rehearsing hard to perform The Snow Queen there.

Gabi talked us through the school’s 15-year partnership with the Brighton Early Music Festival through which the students take part in concerts and participate in workshops in the school. Students enthused about the sessions they had been doing with djembes, ukuleles and a range of instruments through the Soundmakersprovision as part of the Brighton and Hove Music Service. As the singing lead, Gabi told us about the challenges of working with school choirs and classes over the past two years.

On a cold day full of sunshine and snow showers, it warmed our hearts to see the students getting excited about a ‘secret song’ they were learning for a special person at the school (!), and to hear bursts of the songs for the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations. 

The future of the world is in this school

Many thanks to Headteacher Anne Cox, Art lead Mhari Smith, Music lead Gabi Buxton and to all of the students we spoke with at Queen’s Park.

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.