Art in action

How Estcots Primary School got the whole school community involved in a collaborative art project

‘We had been thinking for a while about undertaking a curriculum-enrichment project that would bring the wider school community together. We also wanted to brighten up our entrance hall and corridors, so we decided to hold an Art Week. The main focus of the week would be to produce good-quality, collaborative artworks that all 420 pupils would have a hand in creating.

I put together a small committee of staff members from across the school and it took us around six months to plan. Our Art Week took place in the spring of 2019, which made it a nice break from SATS revision for our Year 6 children. During the week, all learning would be focused on art, and every child would be able to take part in a number of art workshops and activities, using a range of techniques and materials.

Each class was also given a famous artist to study – from Picasso and Monet to Kahlo and Banksy – and pupils were tasked with producing a piece of artwork in that style. This worked so well that from September we decided to rename our classes after these artists, the idea being that children study that artist as part of their learning for the year. This means Reception children will have studied seven artists by the time they leave the school.

Throughout the week we also experimented with a mindfulness project. This involved playing music in classrooms, laying down a huge roll of paper on the floor and letting children explore their feelings though art by drawing how they felt. We tried playing different types of music to see what effect this would have on the drawings. It was a really positive experience for the children and it’s something we’ve continued to do from time to time.

As well as serving a learning purpose, we also wanted our Art Week to be a community-enrichment project. Some of the activities were run by teachers and some by visiting artists and craftspeople, and we also had lots of parent volunteers, as well as helpers from our local secondary school.

To pay for all the art materials and the visiting artists and workshops, we asked for a donation from parents of £5 per child, and also received £5,500 from our PFA. Because the PFA and parents had funded the projects, we wanted to get them involved. Many came in to assist with the workshops, and we also organised a family art session one evening during the week, to involve the whole community and get children, parents and teachers working together.

We invited the artist Darcy Turner into school to hold a workshop with staff and some of the children. Darcy produces amazing 3D sculptures from tightly rolled sheets of newspaper, and we then got staff to demonstrate the technique at the family art evening.

Parents and children formed teams of around five to six people and were given the challenge of creating a piece of furniture out of newspaper. The process involved rolling up the newspaper tightly and sealing each roll with wallpaper paste before putting it through a special roller to make it tight and strong. These newspaper ‘sticks’ could then be tied together with cable ties to make a 3D structure. We showed them a stool for inspiration, and the winning team made a very impressive useable chair.

The evening was free to attend and we offered spaces on a first come, first served basis, limited to 100. Parents donated old newspapers and Darcy lent us the rollers – so all we had to supply was the wallpaper paste and cable ties, keeping costs to a minimum. We received really positive feedback, with many parents commenting on how enjoyable it was to work together with their children on a project for once, and to meet and work with parents from different year groups. The event was very oversubscribed, so if we do it again we would consider holding it over two evenings.

We did consider holding an art exhibition at the end of the week, but we felt some parents wouldn’t appreciate being asked to spend a considerable amount of money to buy their child’s artwork having already donated money to the project. Instead, we offered the children’s individual crayon artworks (canvases featuring wax crayons that ‘bleed’ onto the canvas by melting the crayons with a hairdryer) to parents for a nominal fee of £3 each.

All other artwork produced was used to decorate the school. By the end of the week, each child had created their own canvas self-portrait, clay flower, butterfly, feather and ceramic tile, all of which were incorporated into bright and impactful displays in our entrance hall. These included a huge pair of colourful wings (made from the feathers), a collage of hundreds of butterflies, and a floor-to-ceiling montage of 465 self-portraits on canvas, featuring all pupils and most staff, painted in an array of styles.

It took us over two days to put all the artwork up and I’ll never forget the noises the children made when they first walked in and saw it. Whenever we have visitors in school they always comment on the displays – they really are stunning.

It’s definitely something we’d consider doing again – perhaps with the focus on a different part of the curriculum – as a way to get the school and its wider community to come together and collaborate.

It was a very positive experience for all involved, and I can’t believe how much we were able to achieve in just one week.’

  • Rachel Brock, headteacher, Estcots Primary School, East Grinstead, West Sussex (420 pupils)

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