As a year 6 teacher and mother, I am very aware of the pressures on pupils at this time of year and, more often than not, art takes a back seat in the classroom until SATs are over. My own children have commented that “we’ll get to do art again once SATs are over” and, in previous years, I have been guilty of saying exactly the same to classes at my school. I completely understand why this happens as the pressure to "get results" from pupils mounts but, is this the right decision?
Watching my Year 6 class relax this afternoon as they made collages of their favourite characters from The Hobbit showed me exactly why art should continue to be taught throughout the year, no matter what other pressures there are. During the lesson, pupils talked about the relevance of parts of a map of Middle Earth for inclusion in their collage and they used extracts from The Hobbit text to plan their piece of artwork. Without knowing it, they were actually carrying out vital preparation for their poetry unit and were also completing a reading comprehension by using the written character descriptions to inform their designs. Using the maps helped them with their understanding of grid references and we even discussed coordinates. Not one pupil complained or lost engagement with the lesson and my, somewhat challenging, class was so absorbed that I was even able to play gentle music in the background. So, in one art lesson, I could mentally tick off maths, reading, writing preparation and geography. Not bad for one hour of collaging!
I firmly believe that art has a soothing and restorative effect on many pupils and, at this difficult time of year, isn't that exactly what they need? If art lessons are carefully tailored to link to the class text or other teaching units, they can support SATs preparations whilst also bringing a sense of calm and creativity to the busy classroom.
Laura Shiell is Arts Subject Leader and Year 6 class teacher at Shrubland Street Primary School.