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:
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.
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.