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A Dali start for younger children

A pilot scheme is introducing under-11s to everything from Bizet to the Bolshoi.Lessons on Salvador Dali, the Bolshoi Ballet and Bizet could be taught to all under-11s under a push to raise their appreciation of the arts.

Children as young as five in Cardiff are taking part in a trial scheme to boost participation and interest in cultural pursuits. And organisers hope to roll out ArtsMark across Wales next September alongside the introduction of the play-led foundation phase for three to five-year-olds.

The scheme, run in association with the Arts Council of Wales, encourages teachers to weave whole-school arts events across the curriculum.

Schools do not have to focus on classic European arts and culture - Oakfield Primary, for example, is learning about Chinese art, dance and music. The school joined in the scheme 18 months ago and has recently been awarded a Gold ArtsMark for its cultural teaching excellence.

Headteacher Dave Pedwell suspended the curriculum for a week to concentrate on a series of linked events around the central theme of Chinese arts and culture.

He said: "It took a lot of planning but what we ended up with was very much along the model proposed for the national curriculum in 2008 - moving away from teaching on a narrower subject basis and towards a cross-curriculum, thematic approach."

Staff and pupils turned each classroom into zones linked to the China theme and there were costume parades, music and dance, along with artwork on the walls.

"We brought in professional artists who are experts in Chinese music, calligraphy and even lionhead dancing to work with the children," said Mr Pedwell.

"Pupils work in small groups, developing skills in an interesting way. We have a number of challenging children and occasionally we have had to withdraw someone, but most responded well.

"Sometimes children are frustrated by their ability to succeed in the more basic curriculum but they get involved in this and suddenly they feel good about themselves. They are often the ones who come up with some of the most interesting ideas."

He said staff found the arts-focused approach rewarding.

"It's tiring because you're doing all this on top of the main curriculum. But if children feel positive about something it encourages them to try more in other areas."

Julie Ashfield, Cardiff council arts education officer, says to date 22 schools have joined - well above the initial six that agreed to take part in the pilot.

"It's about recognising good practice in schools where the role of the arts is high on the agenda," she said. "We believe this helps us to see children's strengths. It's also good for looking at key skills - problem-solving, creative thinking and working collaboratively.

"Staff are enthusiastic, too, it's exciting for them to work with professional artists."

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