A Community Art Project

Creating a real sense of community involvement can be one of the most challenging aspects of Specialist School Status and there is always the problem of the secondary school, with its newly acquired pot of money, behaving like the benevolent uncle on a goodwill visit. The Every Picture Tells a Story Project was conceived as part of a long term vision aimed at achieving real collaboration between schools, with an emphasis on staff links and development.

Woodroffe has a rural catchment area that not only covers the Dorset coastline but also spreads inland into the Marshwood Vale.   It works closely with its pyramid of five Primary Schools, each of which has a very distinctive character, and the idea for the project grew out of the pyramid Heads' regular meetings. It was to be funded by a combination of NOF funding for rural schools and Arts College resources.

It was clear from the outset that the class teachers from the Primary schools would need to have ownership of the project if it was really going to work.   The first step therefore was to invite one teacher from each school to visit the National Gallery, accompanied by Woodroffe's Director of Arts, Dot Wood, and a freelance Art Advisor, Roz Woodford. The teachers were not all art specialists so appreciated the support offered by the artists.   A process of discussion resulted in each school selecting two pictures from the gallery on which to base their individual projects.   Prints were purchased and framed and there was extensive discussion regarding teaching possibilities amongst the group.

Roz Woodford visited each school in October and spent at least an hour talking to all the pupils about the paintings their teachers had chosen for them.   The intention was to create a real sense of excitement about the paintings and the work that was to follow. The impact was striking and all the schools were keen to get going.

At this stage, The Woodroffe School made a key appointment. In November, Alison Bowskill was appointed as a Community Art Teacher, her role being to work mainly in the community.   She has no teaching timetable but structures her time according to the demands of the various projects currently taking place.   This year, therefore, she has worked extensively with the Primary Schools on the Every Picture Tells a Story Project but she has also worked with the Lyme Regis Club for Young People, she has helped develop the InSPAration (sic) youth Café, she has worked closely with our excellent local gallery, The Town Mill, and in the summer she is coordinating a Gifted and Talented Summer School for Year 6 and 7 pupils.   This appointment was complemented by another less high profile but equally significant addition to the staff in the form of an Art Technician who has allowed us to present and publicise students' work professionally and effectively.

The Community Art Teacher worked extensively with each school offering support and encouragement across a wide spectrum of activities.   All staff involved felt that they learned a lot, not only about the quality of work which Primary school children are capable of producing but their own practice.

The work resulting from the project was staggering, both in terms of quantity and quality. Pupils created a wide range of mixed media pieces, many of which were strikingly original, and because the classroom teachers were encouraged to see it as their project there was no sense of the children being stifled by a common theme imposed on them from above. Each school was refreshingly different in its approach therefore but united by the same detailed focus on two particular paintings from the National Gallery.   In addition, each school was given a banner to decorate using the colours of the source paintings for the final display.

The Woodroffe School was able to help in many ways, in addition to the vital Community Art Teacher's contribution. Primary pupils had access, for example, to screen printing, Styrofoam prints, clay and a wide range of other activities not normally available to them.   The ability to call on the Art Technician meant that pupils saw their worked displayed as in a professional gallery and thus felt an enormous sense of pride and achievement.

The project culminated in a series of exhibitions and it was at this stage that the community impact became apparent.   Mrs Ethelstone's Primary School hired Uplyme Village Hall to display just their part of the project and managed to fill it, both with art and visitors.   Parents were astonished by the quality of the work produced and the hall was packed for the whole evening.   The big event, however, was the display of the work of all five schools and this took place in the idyllic setting of Marshwood church which was turned into a gallery for the week.   Each school displayed its work under its own banner and it was fascinating to see the range and ambition of all the pupils involved - especially as the schools did indeed involve all their pupils wherever possible. Again, the event was well attended with parents from all five schools, and a number of dignitaries including the Mayor of Lyme Regis and the Director of Education.   The exhibition then moved on to The Town Mill in Lyme, a gallery which usually displays the work of professional artists but which had no qualms about the quality of work presented to them by the schools.

The outcomes of the project have been very pleasing. A real sense of community involvement has been developed and there is now a much stronger group feeling across the Pyramid of schools, so much so that next year's project is already in preparation. In terms of transition, Woodroffe has got to know its feeder pupils better and the children themselves are now much more excited about the possibilities offered at secondary level.   Most significant, however, has been the cooperation between classroom teachers, both across the Primary Schools and with Woodroffe. Primary teachers rarely visit their secondary colleagues and vice versa, and for many this has been a very enlightening experience.

Finally, the most positive outcome has been the sheer enthusiasm demonstrated by everyone involved. The work has been excellent but the children's enjoyment more profound.

Richard Steward

Principal, The Woodroffe School