BLOG: Third Artsmark Award for West Rainton Primary

01 July 2019

BLOG: Third Artsmark Award for Rainton Primary

By Jennie McVicar, Art Coordinator, Rainton Primary School

At West Rainton Primary, our school ethos very much underlines our commitment to developing ‘the whole child’. In our school, we see the value that quality experience of the arts adds to academic progress because of pupils’ personal development, cultural experience and nurturing of their well-being, that an arts rich curriculum provides. This is echoed in a comment from our Year 4 class teacher, 'Our most recent Artsmark journey has created wonderful opportunities to open children's minds to possibilities beyond their immediate experience. It has asked them to question their personal beliefs and challenge their creativity and removes barriers, which has built a passion for learning.'

This year we were thrilled to receive our third Artsmark Gold award. As a team, we thoroughly believe that each of our Artsmark journeys has helped us to constantly look for ways to add to the level of challenge in the arts for children, and to widen their experiences. One example of this was our Year 5 class taking part in the Shakespeare School’s Festival where children led the production of a 30 minute version of Macbeth, which culminated in a professional theatre experience.

A significant change, that has been evident during this particular round of Artsmark, was an increase in staff competency in teaching arts units. This allowed us to foster a more innovative approach to the arts, through the pupil’s leadership. It would not have been possible in previous Artsmark rounds, due to teachers feeling more confident with more prescriptive units of work. This however, did not fully inspire and engage all pupils like our current curriculum allows. Because of this increase in pupil’s ownership of arts projects, we were able to take a step back and allow pupils to lead activities, such as, brass rehearsals and mini performances with special friends.

Another example of progression in the arts, which was prompted by our Artsmark journey, was our involvement in Arts Award. This year a targeted group of pupils, with strengths in the arts have, for the first time, worked towards their own Arts Award. As part of the award, these pupils led our contribution to this year’s ‘Take One Picture’ project, run by The National Gallery. We are delighted that their printing project is currently being exhibited in the gallery. One of our pupils commented, 'I really enjoyed the Take One Picture project, as it was a fun experience to make the blocks and the posters. It is really special to have our work in the art gallery, as loads of schools entered with amazing art, but it was really good to win, as we have never won before.'

In addition, this round of Artsmark has enabled us to really fine tune elements of our arts provision. With extending our provision down to two and three year olds, policies and pedagogy on Early Years’ development has formed much of our school improvement planning. We deliberately sought out, during recruitment of staff, people who would foster an early love of the arts, which has ensured that all pupils in Early Years benefit widely from rich arts experiences.

Although we feel that our school sits comfortably within the Gold Award, we are constantly making steps towards achieving elements for the next level. For example, we now have a strategic lead governor for arts and culture, who has attended training on overseeing a rich arts curriculum in school. He meets regularly with staff to review arts provision, ensuring we allocate precious resources to the areas where it is most needed. This has led to new partnerships, as we recently took part in a heritage project, based around local suffragettes. Pupils decided, as a final piece, to create a mosaic with an inspirational message, which every child contributed to along with a ceramic artist - Sue Kershaw. The art piece was so striking that we were awarded ‘Heritage Schools Award’ for our efforts in intertwining history and art so skilfully.

The trickiest element of our Artsmark renewal was to make wider provision for gifted and talented pupils, in all areas of the arts. Our aim was to build a pathway to encourage those children identified into specialised arts clubs and or careers, following a model we already had in place in school for those gifted in sports. The lack of funding for arts nationally was our biggest stumbling block, so we had to be more creative in how we reached our goal. In September 2018, we were able to source a drama coach to run an after school club once a week with 15 children, equal proportions of boys to girls, which was incredibly successful. This was self-sustaining financially and created a route out to additional drama sessions on evenings and weekends. We were then able to identify scholarship places for gifted and talented pupils who maybe, otherwise would not have had this opportunity. The club worked towards mini performances for the other school children throughout the year. In addition, two A-level students, from Durham University, have since joined the club as additional coaching support and, in particular, with one of them being male, this has inspired more pupils to pursue drama in their future plans. This differs from our original plan, in that we had planned to team up with music students, however there was such a lot of interest in the new drama club that we decided to approach students from the University to support us in this project instead.

We are determined that financial constraints will not impact upon our beloved arts curriculum, and welcome the news that Ofsted’s new framework will place a bigger emphasis on provision within the arts going forward. For us, this is significant recognition of the power the arts has in developing self-confident and well-rounded children is crucial. With this is mind, we look forward to beginning our next Artsmark journey.