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

Wix and Wrabness Primary school front

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mosaic Friendship Bench – detail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knowledge, Skills and Creativity tree branch

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

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

Wyburns Primary School front and sign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Gallery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wyburns from the playground

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dezil Forrester

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

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

Minack Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Earthsong has been featured on BBC Radio 3.

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

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

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

Midsummer Night’s Dream score and writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… and these Andy Warhol-inspired Year 1 pieces:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Somerleyton: Small school. Big on the Arts

Somerleyton Primary is in the village of the same name about four miles inland from Lowestoft in Suffolk on the edge of the Norfolk Broads. Despite being the smallest school in our project (60 students), they punch well above their weight when it comes to the Arts and DT.

In the context of our project, Somerleyton are unique in other ways. Like many other houses in this ‘model village’, the school has a thatched roof. And they use the village green as their playing field for PE and other activities.

Before we got to talk with headteacher Oli Clifford, arts lead Victoria Speed-Andrews, teacher Lily Foster and the students, we watched a pre-school street dance lesson. While the session was led by a dancer who rotated around the other schools in the MAT, we found out later that arts lead Victoria Speed-Andrews had a degree from the Royal Academy of Dance on the art and teaching of classical ballet and had worked as a dance teacher for about six years before returning to university to qualify as a primary school teacher. Needless to say, the lively street dance set us up for a day of hearing, watching and learning about the performing arts, Somerleyton’s specialist area. 

We heard about how students had recently performed in front of five hundred or so people at Snape Maltings, an internationally renowned concert hall with which Somerleyton has an ongoing relationship. In previous projects, the students were singing alongside the National Youth Choir for Scotland and the Choir for Cornwall. They had built their performance skills (‘They’re unfazed by that scale of audience or that scale of venue’: Victoria) through the extensive music provision at the school. 

Listen to the orchestra below:

Orchestra rehearsal – The Pink Panther

It was a treat to sit in the middle of the school orchestra as they rehearsed. Half of the students in the school were participating (nearly 30 students) – on flutes, saxophones, clarinets, and glockenspiels. The instruments and teaching are provided by the Suffolk Music Service. Year 6 had built their flute skills through daily ten-minute practice sessions during term one of Year 3 and were now able to read from the scores of the Star Wars theme and a swung jazz piece that we heard.

Victoria told us about the many benefits the students derived from the music sessions: ‘There is a lot of collaboration and teamwork that gets developed through just the orchestra alone … they develop their ability to listen to others. You can’t work on your own. You’ve got to be empathetic’. 

The school are keen to make high quality music tuition accessible to every student. We learned how the children don’t pay for their music lessons or instrument hire. The service is part-funded by PTFA funds through a big annual fete on the village green. The teachers told us how they had fond memories of attending the event when they were children. Somerleyton students are preparing for their appearance at the fete this year – we were thrilled to hear that they were going to sing ‘Village Green Preservation Society’, a Kinks’ song that wistfully captures the idyllic picture postcard setting of duck ponds, thatched cottages and old oak trees in which the school is set. 

The cottages on the green and many in the village are in fact former workers’ cottages for Somerleyton Hall and the Estate. It was fascinating to hear how two of the students had family members who were ex-blacksmiths who still had their forges, bellows and anvils at home. One girl talked to us about making a sword (‘quench it in strong coffee to give it a dark and old fashioned texture’), another about making jewellery with her blacksmith dad. 

With only around ten new students each year, Somerleyton combine year groups; Years 3 and 4 form a single class of around 15 students, Years 5 and 6 combine in a class of 19. Demand is high for the school’s arts-rich offer.

Victoria explained how: ‘because of the region that we’re in, predominantly white, middle class and rural, it’s important for students to have a broad diet and to expose them to other cultures and other people’s opinions. The art and the music are ways in which we can deliver that those experiences for them’.

Years 3 and 4 had just starting a unit on Surrealism (‘it’s really cool because there’s endless possibilities’: Year 4 student). Their studies of Jazz music had expanded to look at Black artists who challenged racial stereotypes. Art teacher Naomi and the team were consciously focussing on diversifying the artists and art movements that the students studied.

As well as the visual arts and DT work that we saw (including the electric powered light-up cars below), the school had links with the Marina Theatre in Lowestoft where they had been involved in a dance festival, and a playwriting competition where the children had their plays brought to life by a team of professional actors. 

The school also work with the Benjamin Britten Pears charity. They have recently produced a fabulous video of their virtual choir performance of ‘Movement’ from EVERYTHING by Russell Hepplewhite and Michael Rosen for the Britten Pears premiere.

Somerleyton are currently involved in the First Light Festival, an event in Lowestoft set up by filmmaker Danny Boyle (his Yesterday was partly filmed in Lowestoft) and fashion designer Wayne Hemingway (local boy!) hooked around a 24-hour solstice party! 

Head teacher Oli told us how creativity was very much at the heart of the school (it is one of their four core values) and how it impacts every part of the curriculum.

In this Jubilee year, Somerleyton are gearing up for extra performances on the Green, at street parties and beyond. As a tiny school that makes a big tuneful and rhythmic noise, we wish them all the best now that singing and performing to an audience are very much back on the agenda.

Listen to the choir below:

Somerleyton choir

Many thanks to Headteacher Oli Clifford, arts lead Victoria Speed-Andrews, teacher Lily Foster and the selection of Year 4, 5 and 6 students whom we spoke with on out visit to Somerleyton Primary.

Note: If you are ever lucky enough to visit this bucolic village, bear in mind that the train only visits every two hours. We made sure we got to the station in plenty of time!

Somerleyton station
Somerleyton station

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.

Fourfields Community: Richness in the Arts and Design Technology creates the happiest primary school in the U.K.

Fourfields Community Primary is a two-form entry school in Yaxley village, near Peterborough, Cambridgeshire. While some parents commute from here to London or Cambridge, this traditionally rural area has pockets of deprivation. The school has doubled in size and increased its racial and ethnic diversity over the last few years due to the rapid development of the nearby housing estates. 

Like other arts staff we have interviewed, Fourfields’ Arts Lead Irene Goldsmith has a professional background in a related field. She was a design studio manager working for big clothing brands (Top Shop, Miss Selfridge, Harrods) out of studios in London and Oxford. She also worked on album covers and music merchandise for pop stars in the 1980s.

We also spoke with Helen Avory, the Design and Technology Lead. From the display boards and projects that we heard about, it was clear that Helen had created a strong presence for the subject. On the displays, the students were referred to as ‘Designers’ (and ‘Artists’). DT students had won the ‘Best Presentation’ in the yearly Lego design competitions.

The art and DT work at Fourfields had been influenced not only by Irene’s previous career, but also her more recent MA in International Education. For her dissertation, she had researched the use of alternative school spaces with a particular focus on the school Hall. She told us how lots of big arts and DT projects were done in the Hall, the playground and other spaces that might not often get used for such purposes.

The school had other specialist teachers – for dance, drama and music. We heard from the Year 4, 5 and 6s how much they enjoyed the performing arts and how this area was beginning to flourish again after two difficult years of Covid.

The school was big on competitions! We learned how Fourfields was the only school to enter their Reception and Year 1 students into annual dance competitions, and how these young dancers melted the hearts of the judges and other schools’ staff. 

Assistant Head Jake Heather had also won a competition. He was voted the ‘Happiest Teacher’ in the National Happiness Awards.

In 2017, the school won the accolade of the ‘Happiest Primary School’ in the same awards. They were also highly commended in 2019.

Some of Jake’s happiness might stem from the fact that he leads the ‘philosophy for children’ lessons. As well as coaching other staff in this area, he facilitates discussions with his Year 6 students around arts appreciation and topics that are on the news. Jake told us how the discussions are informed by the school’s strong commitment to oracy, and how they foster the students’ respect for others, their listening skills and the depth of their critical thinking. Fourfields was the first school we visited where the war in Ukraine had informed classroom activity.

Fourfields is a great example of how the arts-richness of a school can flow through every child, teacher, and senior leader, and out through the school gates. Head teacher Sue Blyth is an opera singer with a professional background and a penchant for unleashing her vocal cords in corridors and classrooms.

As the Arts Lead, Irene places an emphasis on the use of sketchbooks for developmental work. These are not only used in art lessons but are ready to pull out in other subjects. The students all have a separate portfolio folder for completed work. 

Irene also told us how, when the budget allows, she provides high quality sketchbooks, paper, brushes, paints and other arts materials, especially for the Key Stage 2 students. Good resources, she explained, produce better outcomes, and the students place more value on the subject. 

There was an extensive art gallery of framed student work, complete with information about the artist, the media and the name of the piece.

EYFS students had been experimenting with texture, colour and collage inspired by the book ‘The Animal in the …’

Year 1 had been doing some block printing inspired by Andy Warhol.

Year 2 had been colour mixing, then marbling and creating silhouettes to make these pictures inspired by the Great Fire of London

Year 3 had made some collages and artworks about the rainforest.

These animal pencil portrait drawings are by Year 4.

Year 4 had also been working on their mono printing.

These Year 6 works show how they have been drawing and completing the other half of different images, as well as applying their colour mixing skills.

Irene’s design skills had been put to good use on these murals. More were planned. 

Fourfields has a lighthouse design on the front of the school, an apt metaphor for how they illuminate the local community through carol singing in the playground and visits to perform in old people’s homes.

The staff were also sharing the light by working with and learning from other schools. Irene’s progression documents are now being used in more than a dozen schools. Fourfields continue to evolve their arts curriculum through networks of practice, training days, as well as sharing ways of working and documentation.

To seal the deal, the school has a whole green-screen wall, perfect for the various film making projects that we had seen story-boarded in the students’ sketchbooks.

Lastly, Fourfields has a bright red double decker bus parked in the playground. This is the school’s library and is also used for storytelling. The interior has been converted for the purpose. Irene added some additional painting, stickers, stencils and accessories to enhance the space. The eye-catching designs were created by students through an in-house competition.

Red double decker library bus at Fourfields

Our visit to Fourfields Community Primary was organised by Arts Lead Irene Goldsmith. Thanks to Irene, Assistant Head Jake Heather, Design and Technology lead Helen Avory and the students for telling us all about the many arts things 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.

Lansbury Lawrence: The thriving arts-rich legacy of The Festival of Britain

Lansbury Lawrence Primary was built in 1951 as a model school for the Festival of Britain. It was originally two schools. One was named after Elizabeth Lansbury, wife of George Lansbury, socialist leader of the Labour party, pacifist and conscientious objector, and Oliver Postgate’s (The Clangers, Bagpuss, Ivor the Engine) grandmother. The other was named after Susan Lawrence, then the MP for East Ham.

The Lansbury Estate is situated in Tower Hamlets, an area with history of social unrest and one of the most deprived areas of London, yet less than a mile from the central business district of Canary Wharf. 98% of the students at Lansbury Lawrence have English as a second language; the majority are of Bangladeshi origin.

This student-presented video on the school website, made by the school’s Arts Council, gives a good overview of the school and its history.

The school still retains many of the original 1950s features. These include the modernist now-grade II listed (irreplaceable!) Peggy Angus tiles – a design highlight of the Festival – in the foyer, the dinner hall and infants classroom – along with large windows which provide lots of natural lighting throughout the school.

Lansbury Lawrence foyer/reception area

Despite its urban setting, the school grounds contain ample green spaces, a secret woodland and trees that the Queen Mother planted, all protected by the terms of the Festival. The school now does Forest School learning, has an Edible Classroom and keeps chickens.

The links to the immediate local community were explicit. 

The children were collaborating with architects to re-design nearby Chrisp Street Market (also built for the Festival) as a Celebration City. They had visited the area, been granted special permission to climb up in the high clock tower and started creating initial ideas. Their models contained dream venues such as a zoo, funfair and a donut shop.

How has Chrisp Street Market changed over time?

Another project in progress was designing a new sculptural structure for the front reception area. This would display the school’s archive collection, and the models of structures contained photos of the school from the 1950s.

There was a wide range of media, styles and techniques on show in the art room, a large light (modernist!) space with lots of space to dry and store works in progress. 

There was also student art works on the walls and in the corridors including a mouth-powered drawing tool, movable cam machines and impressive Year 2 portraits of Emmeline Pankhurst (see top right)!

In the main foyer, next to the Peggy Angus tiles, sits the Michael Rosen Story House – a doll’s house in which each room, and the tiny objects inside them, represents a key incident in Michael’s incredible life.

Arts Lead Kerri Sellens gave us more information:

‘The box is a Barbican Box project. They used to do them annually. It was devised with Michael, around storytelling and his family history, then they invited schools to use the resource within the curriculum. The box has been gifted – one of four and ours to keep, and the children love it! We’ve been creative where we use it within our English and History curriculum, but it has been used within RE and P4C too’. 

The box contained a ‘volcano bag’ – full of essentials – always ready to grab if you had to leave your home in a hurry. Students are asked about what they would take with them and the things that are really important to them. Some of the rooms represent Michael’s family escaping persecution and the Holocaust. Kerri told me how one of the Year 6 topics is refugees, immigration and migration routes. To the students and staff at the school who came to the UK as refugees, the Box helps to make the learning purposeful and relevant.

There was also a shoe with diamonds hidden in the heel as a way for the family to pay and bribe their way across Europe. We are great admirers of Michael’s work, and having some knowledge of his links to Oliver Postgate and hence to George Lansbury, the Box seemed like a very precious and pertinent thing to be found in this school foyer.

The children had created their own 1950s-style box rooms complete with in-progress clay furniture. 

In a design project to create a set for a theatre, one of the students had won a competition run by the Royal Opera House. He won tickets for his whole class to watch the Romeo and Juliet ballet at the Royal Opera House.

Dance has been a focus of arts development at Lansbury Lawrence over the past few years.

While the students’ many and diverse art works show how the immediate area has changed physically and cultural since the Festival of Britain and the early 1950s, the school continues to radiate the sense of growth and optimism that characterise its modernist roots.

The Creativity Cart

Thanks to Arts Lead and Assistant Head Kerri Sellens for organising our day and showing us around, Head Teacher Owen O’Regan for the warm welcome, and to all of the students whom we met and interviewed about the arts they do at Lansbury Lawrence.

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

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

School 21: Community, Openness and Humanity in Primary Arts

Arts-rich primary schools come in many shapes and sizes. The forty schools on our list were chosen to reflect this diversity. As well as ensuring a spread across the country that takes in urban, suburban, seaside, and rural schools, we deliberately selected different types of primary school.

School 21 is an all-through 4-to-18 years, three-form entry Free school in Stratford, East London. For them, Primary is Reception to Year 4. With Primary, Middle and Sixth form all in the same building, spaces and resources for their Primary arts are often shared with the older students. For example, Primary children had access to some of these amazing music spaces and resources.

Our guided tour was led by Primary Arts Lead Simon Santhanam. Simon is a trained Primary teacher with a specialism in art. We observed Simon teaching a class in the school’s large, light and open art room.

We got a good sense of School 21’s progressive approach to the arts from the art works displayed on the walls and shelves of the art room. Most noticeable were the giant papier-mâché heads of world leaders and political figures. There were also some posters and banners, all part of a project around politics and activism, a ‘The Queen is Dead’ multi-media work, and students’ models for playground ideas.

The school’s commitments to linking the arts to political and social issues was evident in the extensive work we saw around Black Lives Matter, refugees, LGBTQ+ and other issues. 

For example, in the corridors, there were two large Keith Haring-inspired murals in which each figure was based on a posed student. As part of the project, Year 3 students learned about Keith’s life, his work, and his death from Aids.

There were also a range of large, framed artworks of the school’s ‘Diversity Champions’. These two of Harvey Milk and Temple Grandin caught our eye.

Simon and Primary Head Meg Drummond told us about how diversity was central to the way that School 21 valued the arts. Students are encouraged to find their own individual style without worrying about ideas of perfection or getting it wrong. Simon explained: ‘I really want children to feel confident in their art making and to be able to express themselves’. 

The idea of self-expression is hard wired into the school’s ‘head, hand and heart’ ethos via their project-based curriculum. Meg and Simon told us how this approach fostered a thoughtful critical approach and knowledge of arts theories (head), stimulated emotions, expression and wellbeing (heart) and built technical skills in the use of various media (hand). 

The school has specialist arts teachers as well as visits by practicing professionals and ‘passionate parents’. The Primary students also make good use of their local area. The Olympic Park is very close, as are the canals that run through this area. Students had recently visited both sites to look at ecosystems, wildlife and nature.

School 21 has strong links with the nearby Discover Children’s Story Centre, an immersive space for narrative work and storytelling.

Simon, Meg and the students told us about their visits to the Science Museum (11 miles away), the Sea Life Centre (8 miles), Mud Shoot Farm (5 miles), and Tate Modern (6 miles away). With such cultural riches nearby (all are between five and eleven miles away), we learned how these trips are sometimes the first time some students have ever been on an underground train.

One of the school’s visits to the Tate was part of a project by high-profile artist Steve McQueen to photograph every Year 3 class in London. Not only were the photographs displayed at the school, but students and staff got to visit the resulting exhibition at the Tate.

We also learned about arts projects and regular exhibitions that brought parents, carers and families into the school to view their children’s work. The annual Big Draw festival and other arts workshops involve parents working alongside their children on collaborative art works.

This long exhibition of self-portrait plates on the outside fence was the product of a parent-child after-school session. Some students told us that this was one of the highlights of their school experience. As a fun and colourful display, the plates are artistic representation of the high levels of diversity at School 21.

Meg and Simon repeatedly mentioned how much they valued the role of the arts in the wellbeing of their students. Simon is training as an arts therapist. He spoke of wanting to develop this role within the school, carving out a space to work with students one-to-one and in groups. He was already helping other staff to integrate therapeutic methods into their arts teaching. Simon mentioned how such an approach helps students deal with ‘difficult lives’ and trauma.

The older Primary students told us how they had participated in arts projects around issues that were important to them and their communities. These included deforestation of the rain forests and gun crime. Simon told us how a therapeutic approach is about ‘being able to understand yourself and being able to move forward in life … about being able to be truly free and imaginative, and really focusing on the process rather than the end product’.

As an Ofsted rated Outstanding school, School 21 is now part of a growing network of pioneering, progressive schools rooted in the arts and in community. We also paid a quick visit to the nearby School 360 and learned about how oracy, play and outdoor learning are at the heart of their pedagogy.

We wish them all the very best in their important work.

We would like to thank Arts Lead Simon Santhanam for being our host and guide. Our thanks also go to Primary Head Meg Drummond and to all the students who took the time to share their thoughts about the arts 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.

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.