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 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 which 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 Newlyn Art Gallery and Cornwall Council as part of the Think, Talk, Make Art project funded by Arts Council England, the first time such art works have been allowed into a school. These include a large canvas by local (St Ives) artist/sculptor Barbara Hepworth

The school established links with Newlyn Art Gallery to facilitate the selection of the pieces and make plans for the children to act as curators and guides once the art works had been re-installed in their original home (still delayed by Covid). The scheme has been extended by a successful application for Paul Hamlyn Foundation Teacher Development funding to get artists from Newlyn Art Gallery to work with teachers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Earthsong has been featured on BBC Radio 3.

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

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

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

Midsummer Night’s Dream score and writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… and these Andy Warhol-inspired Year 1 pieces:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marine Academy: Cheerleading for primary arts

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

Marine Academy Primary Ofsted quotation

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

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

Early years outdoor learning area

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

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

Music and arts room

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

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

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

To Plymouth and beyond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

‘Our children bounce in every morning’: LIPA Primary and High School

Situated next to Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral (the largest religious building in Britain!), LIPA Primary and High School is the arts-rich junior sibling of Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (‘big’ LIPA) and LIPA Sixth Form. 

Needless to say, creativity is woven through the school’s arts-enriched project-based curriculum, as well as all of the extra-curricular clubs, performances, displays and partnership projects we saw and heard about on our recent visit.

Starting with two reception classes in 2014, this free school now runs to Year 7. From September 2021, they became an ‘all through school’ that will eventually provide education for children from ages 4 to16. The school will have a Year 7 and a Year 8 from September 2023.

From the classrooms, we could see across the whole city, including Catholic Cathedral, the famous Liver Building and the Albert Docks – an inspiring sight! 

This all-encompassing view of an extremely cultural city serves as an apt metaphor for the extent to which LIPA Primary and High School partner with local arts institutions, draw on Liverpool’s vibrant culture and work with their community.

We loved seeing art works representing a Lambanana, a mermaid at nearby Crosby Beach and a rainbow containing some of the 45 languages spoken by children at the school. All were on display in this circular Art Room with large windows, situated in the ‘pepper pot’ on the corner of the school.

In the corridor, there was a long ‘In My Liverpool Home’ display. Ken Dodd, Cilla Black, Ricky Tomlinson, Lilly Savage and other local celebrities could be found among the houses and landmarks. Eighteenth century wash-house pioneer, public health reformer and working-class entrepreneur Kitty Wilkinson could be seen peering over the Cathedral where she is immortalised in stained glass. Students had recently visited her grave there. 

In my Liverpool Home

There were also drawings of fireworks exploding over the Liver Building and examples of Chinese writing – LIPA Primary and High School is located around 100 metres from Chinatown. We also learned about the students’ visits to and performances in the Cavern Club.

Artist in residence of six years, Jayne Seddon, told us about some of LIPA’s other learning projects. With her professional practice in ecological arts, Jayne leads the school’s Eco Arts Club who create drawings and art works, often in the green spaces around the Cathedral’s Oratory, right next to the school. Reception and Year 1 have created a wildflower garden and lots of nature art in this space.

Year 2 had recently visited Tracey Emin’s pink neon text art in the Cathedral before making their own similar art works. Arts Lead Rebecca Oakes and Jayne told us how Emin’s art had stimulated the children’s critical engagement; it prompted them to question the nature of art and discuss the place of living female artists in relation to the ‘great Masters’.

LIPA children have been involved with Light Night (‘the biggest cultural celebration in Liverpool’) for the last four years. They have created public-facing music performances, exhibitions and arts workshops.

Students were also involved in an innovative ‘art and astronomy’ project that emerged from a contact with staff working on a new robotic telescope at Liverpool John Moores University.

Students told us how working on arts projects had helped them process the effects of the taxi explosion at the Women’s Hospital, less than a mile from the school. The school understands the cathartic role of art in their lives of their students and their communities.

It almost goes without saying that LIPA Primary and High School have a strong commitment to music and the performing arts. With expert music, dance and drama teachers, a number of performing arts teaching and performance spaces and the capacity to draw on specialist staff from big LIPA and the Sixth Form, this school are training the next generation of LIPA graduates while flying the flag for primary performing arts. 

One final project exemplifies not only the school’s strong links with local institutions, but also their expansive world view.

LIPA Primary and High School have partnered with the Open Eye photography gallery, located on the Albert Dock. The school are working on a project called ‘the Story of Liverpool through its trees’ that connects children with their parks and the history of the city.

The school also has links with the Katali Museum in Kenya which has a rainforest as part of the museum. Jayne and Rebecca told us about a planned visit to the Open Eye in which LIPA students would link by Zoom with the Kenyan students in order to share their tree-based art works and see each other’s environments. On the afternoon visit, LIPA students would not only see the other children walking in a rainforest and be able to ask them questions, but would also work with a musician to write a song in the gallery. 

Jayne commented that she loved the two-way dynamic of working with children as artists, and stressed ‘the expanse of knowledge that can be implemented through one project’. We were unsurprised when Rebecca told us that: ‘Our children love being in our school. They bounce in every morning. They love learning’.

Our thanks go to Arts Lead Rebecca Oakes for organising our visit. Thanks also to Head teacher Greg Parker, artist in residence Jayne Seddon and to the students of LIPA Primary and High School for their valuable insights into their arts-rich 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.

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.