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Pupils show off their creativity

An enterprising primary school opened its doors to the community and invited everyone to visit Artopia, writes Raymond Ross

Based on the principles that "young children come hard-wired, genetically predisposed to be creative" (Stanley Greenspan) and that "the principal goal of education is to create people who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done" (Jean Piaget), Newton Primary in Dunblane transformed its school hall and corridors into an art gallery to celebrate the pupils' creativity.

Hundreds of parents and community representatives came over two days to see more than 900 exhibits - two by each of the 470 primary and nursery pupils - in Artopia. (The title was suggested by two pupils and formally adopted by the pupil council.) The astonishing variety included pottery, puppets, paintings and pencil sketches, charcoal and chalk drawings, collages, colour patterns, stitching and silhouettes. They came in all shapes, sizes and subjects, from portraits, princesses, pirates, clowns, "Aborigine Girls", "Rain Dancers" and a "French Maiden", to still life, spotty dogs, socks and fruit bowls alongside imitations of Monet and Picasso and compositions with intriguing titles such as "The Cottage of Wonder" and "Birth of the Dragon".

The exhibits reflected the work done throughout the school year. They were selected and named by the young artists and the quality and quantity could not fail to delight and impress.

Pupils manned the gallery and acted as guides for visitors. And they knew their art. Lisa Goldsmith, of P7, explained the principles of block painting and folding art, discussed her favourite works in detail, and was mildly astonished when a Monet imitation was mistaken for a Van Gogh.

Other pupils ran a cafe offering juices, cakes and biscuits, while young musicians entertained visitors playing pieces on piano, cello, flute, guitar and handbells as well as singing.

The exhibition catalogue was written by P7 pupils and collated and produced by P4s. P7s also made the exhibition labels and mounts, produced the floor plan and wrote the press release.

Two P5 pupils helped teacher Jenny Dobbie (the chair of the gallery working party) to visit local businesses, raising pound;300 of advertising sponsorship for the catalogue, and arrange for a dozen to choose works of art to display on their own premises for a month following the exhibition.

The school also received over pound;1,000 from Stirling Council to promote its success at being creative, innovative and enterprising.

"It's about involving the pupils, parents and community as part of Stirling's Determined to Succeed strategy, introducing the pupils to life skills," says Elizabeth Mitchell, the headteacher.

"Being a whole school initiative makes it easier to share expertise, skills and interests and to make sure that creativity, innovation and enterprise permeate the curriculum."

Newton Primary's first whole school initiative was held last May, when it organised a three-week Olympic-style games, with opening and closing ceremonies and class work on the ancient Greek civilisation. Since then it has organised a technology open day and a Wonder of Winter concert. It intends to keep the momentum going with a whole school initiative once a term.

On June 17 a Highland games event will be held, with caber tossing and other field sports, Highland dancing, piping and Scottish food laid on (yes, haggis will be on the menu). The event will be overseen by a specially appointed chieftain. In tandem with preparation, classes will explore Scottish culture and history.

"It's important that children get fun at school," says Mrs Mitchell. "The gallery shows them that art can be fun as well as hard work and it's in keeping with our school motto - suggested by a P3 pupil - 'Fairness, Friendship and Fun'.

"It's important to celebrate their work and to bring the community in, as well as recognising the support of the 30 volunteer parents, the staff, school board and PTA."

Hard work it certainly was. Ms Dobbie spent three or four hours every night for a month preparing for the exhibition, she says.

"It's intensive but short term and it's worth it to see the pupils' sense of enjoyment, enterprise and success," Lisa Goldsmith was returning for a two-hour evening shift of ushering parents around. "It's great fun" she says.

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