Creation in the community

Art teacher Joanne Chipol explains how working both with practising artists and the business community is boosting the performance of students in many ways

Visitors to Hayes School one evening last year were surprised to find students in our main glassed-in walkway sitting on benches and recreating the London Underground through dance and improvisation - all the work of Hannah, aged 16. They may have been even more surprised to find Warwick's (aged 16) large-scale male and female silhouettes on our toilet doors depicting suggestive luscious foodstuffs. Anthea had designed spiders made out of umbrellas to place in odd corners.

It was all part of SightSite: a project in which our Year 12 art students made site-specific work for the school with Justin Ward Turner, our artist in residence. The brief was to explore the school's contemporary architecture by producing works that affected the space or subverted it through sculpture, painting, photography, video and performance.

Quintin blew up a photograph of a waterfall to a huge size, cut it into sections and stuck them up so people walking up the stairs thought they were climbing through the water. Tom made a long print of a photo, inspired by Samuel Taylor Wood's storyline photographs, and stuck it along the main upstairs corridor. Entitled "The Wedding Rehearsal", it showed people preparing to have their wedding photos taken.

Students raised pound;300 for materials by carol singing and performing at the Glades shopping centre in Bromley, Kent, at Christmas. Support from local business has been one of our ambitions and was crucial to the success of this project. In particular, the students couldn't have managed without the help of Andy McLean, one of the management team of the shopping centre.

Hayes School has a tradition of producing work through artist-in-residence schemes. For instance, artist Jessica Voorsanger has worked with our Year 12 students to promote the Fluxus exhibition at the Royal Festival Hall in London: she also involved Year 11 students in making a film for one of the Meltdown festivals. Some of our Year 12s have collaborated with Jessica making paving stones with personal memorabilia embedded in them for the Feeringbury VIII show, where they were shown alongside well-known artists Gavin Turk and Mark Wallinger.

This term at key stage 4 we are working with sponsorship from the Bromley Educational Business Partnership. Year 10 students are working with Justin Ward Turner to produce sculptures for the Glades shopping centre.

The title of the project is "Above and Below", and the students are using found materials to create mobile sculptures of insects, fish and birds. They have to work with the Glades retailers to source their materials, which tests their ingenuity and social skills. It's up to them to approach shop staff with their letter of introduction and negotiate appropriate cast-offs from stores like Marks amp; Spencer. We have begun the process by challenging Year 10 students to make sculptures in an hour out of natural and found materials - a peacock out of an old Christmas tree and scraps of blue material; a scorpion out of twigs, leaves and paper bags.

It is delightful, in the words of Yvette Bellis, former head of art and now assistant director of sixth-form, to see Justin Ward Turner, a former student of Hayes and a graduate of the East London College, "come back to inspire the next generation". He was involved in the school's first residency seven years ago, when we produced a mural based on the history of art.

For both Above and Below and the SightSite project, the students were inspired by the artist Bill Woodrow. Woodrow both recycles and sculpts, has shown at Tate Modern and is best known for his gnarled tree on top of books which occupied the vacant plinth in Trafalgar Square last year.

He came to support the students at their private exhibition in April. Input from a "real" successful artist gave the students an insight into how art could be a career. One girl is now bent on going to art college. Input from the Glades centre inspired the students to take a professional attitude, working to deadlines and taking health and safety requirements into account.

Positive comments, such as "you really pushed the boundaries" from one parent, have stimulated discussion and encouraged students to choose art in their GCSE and AS options (37 have chosen AS this year, as against 14 in the last year of the old A-level. Most plan to continue to A2).

Students seem more aware of their surroundings, appreciating the work that goes on in the school. "It's the best project so far," said Luk, aged 15. He's been in every lunchtime to work on it. Key stage 3 students are now aspiring to the same standard as the sixth-form. It has enlarged their ideas of what kind of art is possible, since so much of our art is conceptual.

Restrictions on storage, funding and exam criteria can stifle students into producing only small-scale and easily stored pieces of art. At Hayes, the head of department, Maureen Rapanakis, and I refuse to accept this. The function of an art department is partly to help students pass exams but, more importantly, we should inspire students to think for themselves. Others agree: we work closely with the Institute of Education on their artist-in-residence programme, and consistently achieve high A-level and GCSE standards. Last year, all 14 students at A-level gained A grades. Hayes is now aiming to achieve mediaarts specialist college status, as we believe that through creativity students can achieve high grades across the curriculum.

The Year 10 artwork will be on show in The Glades Shopping Centre, Bromley, from July 11-31. Tel: 0208 466 8899Email: j.chipol@hayes.kent.sch.ukJoanne Chipol teaches art at Hayes School, Kent

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