In 1994, a group of students at Caol Primary School in Fort William, Scotland, set up an art studio in Room 13 of their school. The children, all aged 11 and under, formed a management team, opened their own bank account and ran the art studio as a business. This all happened because their headteacher gave them free rein to run with their idea and believed that children can do amazing things, beyond the limited beliefs of adults, if they are given the opportunity.
The children went on to employ an artist-in-residence, bought equipment, set up exhibitions, took commissions, sold artwork and began to make a profit. Very soon, Room 13 became well known and the artwork generated achieved critical acclaim in Scotland and then in England. Thanks to a grant, the model began to be replicated in other schools and, in 2004, Channel 4 aired a documentary about the project.
When I became headteacher of West Rise Junior School in England in 2004, I decided that I wanted to start a Room 13. I converted the disused caretaker's house on the school site into a fully functioning art studio on two floors and presented the idea of Room 13 to my staff.
Room 13 is run on the principles of creative freedom, autonomy and trust. Children can come out of class whenever they like, to create films, animations, paintings, sculptures or whatever they wish. The students simply have to stay up to date with their classwork and finish off tasks in their own time.
Realising that introducing Room 13 to a new school, which has different principles and practices, would be challenging for some staff, governors and parents, we decided to travel to Scotland to see it in practice. We needed to find out how the philosophy of creative freedom and trust could work within an educational system that is broadly based on control and mistrust.
The basic message from the headteacher of Caol Primary was simply to allow the students to get on with it. The artist-in- residence said that his role was to be creative and to encourage creativity in the children without controlling or judging how they do that. The children, who by now had evolved the management team model and had a long track record of creative success, were mind-blowing in their maturity and ability to organise themselves, and were shining examples of innovation and unlimited self-belief.
If you believe in something enough, and acknowledge that anything is possible, you can achieve anything. That is what I believe, and I couldn't resist the opportunity to see where my students would take the Room 13 idea and how it would influence the school.
Several years on, West Rise Room 13 is flourishing. We have had four committees, and numerous exhibitions, publications and events. Children have created magnificent artwork, developed their creative autonomy and expanded their minds (and ours) alongside reputable artists-in-residence, who are paid for completely by income generated by Room 13.
The creative ethos and energy of Room 13 has influenced every aspect of the school. It has shown me that children can be trusted, and can do amazing things when they are shown that trust. All teachers need is courage and a belief in what they are doing.
Mike Fairclough is headteacher of West Rise Junior School in Eastbourne, England
10 WAYS TO GET CREATIVE
1. Spray-can stories
This PowerPoint summarises the history of graffiti, from cave painting to Banksy. The information is clear and well-presented, with colourful images that bring graffiti culture to life. bit.lyGraffitiResource
2. A picture is worth a thousand words
Make sure your students can define key art terms, such as "texture", "tone" and "perspective", with this illustrated dictionary that combines simple definitions with visual representations. bit.lyIllustratedWords
3. Art essay toolbox
This resource offers questions to help students formulate critical and analytical responses to works of arts. The worksheet includes lists of words that can be used in students' answers. bit.lyArtEssay
4. Damien Hirst and chums
This introduction to the world of contemporary art gets students thinking about the impact of 21st-century artists. bit.ly21stCenturyArt
5. A portrait of portraiture
This detailed presentation offers an overview of portraiture, including the history of the form and how it can be used to convey meaning. bit.lyPortraitOverview
6. Find a shady spot
Develop students' drawing skills by encouraging them to try a variety of shading techniques. bit.lyTextureTechniques
7. Collecting colours
Teach younger students about the colour families while painting and creating a collage. Plenary questions are used to guide children in responding to one another's work. bit.lyCollectingColours
8. The dark side of art
Children respond to the events of the Blitz in the Second World War by creating striking images, featuring silhouettes against backgrounds of hot or cold colours. A great opportunity to combine art and history. bit.lyBlitzArt
9. Be a model mimic
A booklet and PowerPoint guide students to create a portrait in the style of four major artistic movements: Impressionism, Pop Art, Fauvism and Pointillism. Extension activities are included for more able students. bit.lyPortraitStyles
10. On a theme
This list of popular art themes matched with relevant artists is a timesaver for any art teacher. You can easily find fine art examples to match the theme you are exploring, instead of spending hours trawling through art books and the internet. bit.lyArtThemes.