During our visit to St Andrew’s Church School, we learned about two main things; the influence that the school building can have on learning and wellbeing, and how students learn outside of the school walls. Both factors – the inside and the outside – have been the subject of considerable and ongoing research (much of it involving St Andrews) which has been put into practice at this creative arts-rich primary.
The school building (the school is bigger than just the building!) is located in central Bath just behind the iconic Royal Crescent and near to other Georgian buildings, such as The Circus, the Jane Austen Centre and other places of historic and cultural interest.
Headteacher and Arts lead Jayne Rochford-Smith explained how St Andrew’s children spend extended periods (weeks) in theatres, galleries, museums and other cultural sites, learning alongside artists and the venue’s staff.
St Andrew’s have been part of School Without Walls for about 11 years, a project developed by Dr Penny Hay and late Headteacher Sue East in collaboration with the Egg theatre in Bath with St Andrew’s as one of the founding partners. Jayne, who has a degree in Fine Art and a Postgraduate in printmaking, was Head of Early Years and Special Educational Needs Coordinator at the time. She worked closely with Sue and Penny to further develop the project.
School Without Walls is ‘underpinned by the Reggio Emilia and House of Imagination approach of allowing children to find and follow their fascinations with the adults facilitating this and scaffolding the learning though a method of co-enquiry. School Without Walls … places the children at the centre of their own learning. By transplanting them into a cultural setting, the conventions, behaviours and habits associated with the ‘classroom’ start to fall away.’
Jayne told us that the two questions that drive the school’s approach are: Where can creativity come from? and; What can we use in our city?
We learned about the initial phase of the project which took place 11 years ago in the Egg Theatre. Jayne explained how, all through the summer term (about seven continuous weeks), the children worked with the team at the Egg Theatre: ‘They worked with the lighting engineer. They worked in the café. They worked in helping people on the reception. They learn about roles and jobs. They learned about communication. They learn maths. They learn English through a creative environment.’
Following this longer project, the ‘School Without Walls’ research was developed into mini projects which allowed for the wider school to experience placements within cultural centres and to use the city for learning. Each class chooses where they want to go. On some of the projects the children then work with and an artist and a documenter.
‘Through research, we have learned how we learn alongside children, and we are the co-constructors, rather than the directors of learning. You’ve got to be responsive to what’s happening on the day. We take them on a creative journey’ Jayne explained.
We learned about an actual journey to the Holburne Museum which took place when Jayne was teaching in Early Years. Fifty-four children were immersed in the theatre for a week. Jayne told us how ‘the 45-minute walk down to The Holburne and the journey back were as much of that exploration as the time there’. On their return journey, the children saw an old-fashioned horse-drawn carriage on the street transporting a couple to their wedding, which led to wedding-themed arts projects on return to the school.
This work has underpinned the development of the St Andrew’s Connected Curriculum. A curriculum designed and built around the City. We were shown a collaboratively produced map of the many local landmarks and cultural and creative places that can be walked to from the school. These include not only galleries and museums but parks, the hospital, a city farm, the council offices, the cinema and the train station. Children have also visited the Ancient Technology Centre in Dorset and have collaborative relationships with Age UK, the local church, secondary schools and Bath Spa University.
‘My job as a Head,’ Jayne commented, ‘is to maintain the collaborations I have with the city. And if you don’t do that, then the school becomes a very insular place’.
This outward-looking approach is balanced by the school’s research-based focus on their internal environment. As newcomers to the school, we were struck by the emphasis on plants, natural light and fresh air. The chairs, tables, floors and other elements of the classrooms and other spaces are made of wood and natural materials. The learning spaces are decluttered.
Desks and chairs have been arranged so that every child can see outside the classroom. Classrooms are designed around a central outdoor space with a tree.
We browsed the school’s extensive Green Classrooms (a ‘collaboration with the Universities of Bath and Bristol, and CaSA Architects to understand the impact of design on health, wellbeing and learning’) Report. This gives precise data about heating, temperature, ventilation, air quality, humidity, acoustics and other factors.
The report has been acted upon with new wooden floors, automatic window vents in the roof and practical processes designed to maximise the children’s learning and wellbeing (and that of the staff) through a biophilic approach. The attention to detail has produced calm, nature-focussed, non-reverberant spaces that we as researchers responded to very positively.
St Andrew’s is also an Eco School and a Stonewall School Champion.
Referring to Loris Malaguzzi’s ‘The Hundred Languages of Children’, Jayne observed that:
‘If you’re going to teach children, you need to know what language they’re speaking.’
St Andrew’s creative arts-rich child-led pedagogy is giving children the best opportunity to speak and be heard.
Our sincere thanks go to Head teacher and Arts lead Jayne Rochford-Smith for her time, insights and openness. Also thanks to Ellen Weaver (Humanities lead and Year 4 teacher), Niamh Collie (Music lead) and the Year 4, 5 and 6 children with whom we spoke during our visit.
You may also be interested in reading our recently-published Art, Craft and Design Rapid Evidence Review – a survey of published scholarly literature on art, craft and design in education.