Wavell Junior School faces fairly unique circumstances which challenge pupil attainment, but they’ve met that challenge by giving pupils more freedom of self-expression and by using Artsmark.
An investment of a few hundred pounds was all it took to transform Wavell Junior School. A visit to a well-known furniture retailer resulted in a haul of professional-looking picture frames and suddenly a display of children’s work became a gallery. The gallery now greets you as you leave reception and enter the main body of the school. It represents a significant shift in how the staff interact with both the parents and children. There are now regular gallery opening events, curated by the art club students and attended by many. Nibbles and drinks add to the experience and the quality of the art on display justifies all of this attention to detail.
Wavell is not a typical school. Located in Catterick Garrison, 84% of its intake is currently made up of the children of serving military personnel and last year only 38% of pupils that sat their Year 6 SATs exams had been there since the start of Year 3. There is a permanent display board in reception that shows the pupils that are leaving each month and the new arrivals. It is updated monthly and it needs to be.
The transient nature of the school’s population means that, whilst pupils are good at making friends quickly and welcoming of newcomers from all corners of the globe, they often struggle to maintain deep friendships, losing the friends they have made as they move on to new postings. As there are so many interruptions to their schooling, pupils can be below national average in terms of numeracy and literacy. Presumably then, the school focuses solely on these core subjects at the expense of everything else? Not a bit of it. Assistant Head Teacher Lara Vinsen explains,
“Whilst we work incredibly hard to close the gaps in their academic knowledge, the multiplicity of the arts subjects is just as important. It helps to give our pupils a sense of identity, place and safety.”
Having held Artsmark Gold 3 times prior to the new Artsmark award being launched in 2015, Jill Eagle, specialist Art teacher, was ready for the onslaught of auditing and paperwork that would await. She was pleasantly surprised by the changes. Not only was the school improvement journey of the new Artsmark award streamlined and aligned to what she was already doing, it also gave her a clear structure on which to build. Jill explains,
“Starting with the Development Day, we got so much from our Bridge organisation. The Quality Principles in particular gave us clear areas in which to improve and helped us to think about ways in which we could start to give ownership of work over to the pupils.”
The school now has a homework schedule that gives pupils the freedom to choose what they create and the rewards are obvious. The quality, amount and pride in the work has risen enormously; it took me fifteen minutes to leave the school because so many pupils wanted to show me the wonderful creations they had made for homework!
More significantly, the school now has an annual Creativity Day. A Creativity Day at Wavell means handing over the teaching of anything creative to the pupils. Jill asks for volunteers to share their passions and skills with their peers in 20-30 minute sessions. She and Lara have been amazed at the success. Over the three Creativity Days held, they have seen everything from knitting to ukuleles, from singing a song to yoga. What has been most impressive for the staff has been the variety of students willing to lead wonderfully disciplined and inspiring sessions, and these have been a huge boost to the pupils’ confidence and self-worth. Lara believes this is vital,
“Our students sometimes lack confidence in their own abilities and can feel very displaced. The Creativity Day empowers them and helps them to see what they can do.”
Last year there were 72 different pupil-led workshops on offer. One particular highlight for Jill was when a pair of Year 3 girls planned and taught ballet to a Year 6 boy. For her it represented all that was beautiful about the school and all that the Artsmark process had given her: the idea for handing over complete ownership of the learning, the inclusive and friendly nature of the school’s pupils, and the willingness from the pupils to try something new. I asked what Lara and Jill’s advice to staff is when preparing for the day. They laughed and said, “We tell them to stand back and enjoy the show!”
Jill has enjoyed four years as a specialist Art teacher and the impact of her work is obvious in the Gallery and in the classrooms. Her focus is on expression; if studying flowers for instance, she will start with the Victorian Botanicals and its emphasis on precision but then compare it with William Morris and then Monet. Pupils therefore can select approaches and not be constrained by what they can do well or with precision. Jill’s role has changed this year and she is handing over the Art teaching to her colleagues. This she feels is vital for the future of the school and its staff. Every teacher needs to be proficient in facilitating the arts, otherwise the school’s arts output finishes when the specialist leaves.
My visit to the school was one of the most moving visits I have ever experienced. I spoke at some length to six pupils in Year 5. At first they were keen to tell me about the art work they were doing, inspired by their work examining Mayan culture. Very quickly though they moved onto telling me about how long their serving parent was away for and how much they were looking forward to them getting back. I was struck by two things: first, I was struck by their openness and ability to support each other through these difficult times. And secondly, I saw in that brief conversation exactly why I love the arts and why they’re so important at Wavell and for all young people – they allow us to connect with other people and feel safe and inspired in the moment. What else is there?
This Case Study was written by IVE associate Dave Herbert.
For more information on Artsmark please visit our Artsmark page.
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