Collaborative Creativity at Kelsall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local and global diversity at Gomersal Primary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Artists and Art Auctions: Palm Bay Primary, Margate

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

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

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

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

Artist-in-resident Mellissa Fisher

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

Large wall size artwork

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

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

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

Students print making display

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

Palm Bay students' sketch books

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

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

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

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

The colourful sights and sounds of Mellor Community Primary

Coloured glass in school foyer

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

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

Belgrave Road art collage 1
Belgrave Road art collage 2

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

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

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

Bel Giant figure and map covered elephant

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

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

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

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

arts in initial teacher education: the survey

It’s time to report progress on the initial teacher education research we are doing. Our research aims to explore what primary ITE students in England are taught about the arts, for how long, where and by whom. The research is quite complex as we have to get perspectives and information from:

  • University course leaders, university arts specialists, university partner schools
  • School based course leaders, school based arts specialists
  • Teach First course leader and arts specialists

We are also considering whether we can squeeze a small ITE student survey before the end of this school year.  Another possibility, very much dependent on time, is to add in the various support networks run by arts organisations, and subjects associations. 

We will provide the information from the research to several APPG groups that are interested in teacher education and in the arts. While our research is specifically about the arts, it will also shed some light on foundation subjects more generally. 

Can you help?

We are having some difficulty finding the right people to contact in universities and are working our way through several routes to get in contact with all of the ITE courses. We also know of course that everyone is really busy and our request sits alongside many others. 

We are talking with people using a structured interview, but we do also have an alternative – an online survey. If you are a course leader or arts specialist and we haven’t found out how to reach you, and you would like to help, you can complete our online survey. We would be very grateful for your participation. 

Primary university based ITE course leader: 

https://nottingham.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/art-in-primary-itt-survey-hei-course-leader

Arts specialist for university based primary ITE course:  

https://nottingham.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/art-in-primary-itt-survey-hei-art-specialist

Photo: Tate teachers summer school