Solid progress

Sculpture as a means of expression can inspire confidence in pupils.

Hazel Wood reports on a new national prize for schools

"Zac has never been interested in drawing, colouring or anything that involves a penpencilcrayon," wrote his mother to Michele Bowman, moving spirit behind the first National School Sculpture Competition organised by the Robert Bowman Gallery Trust. "His handwriting is under special needs supervision. To be considered artistic when he so obviously has an extremely immature ability in drawing has been fantastic for him. His sculpture, as a medium, has given him much needed confidence. It has helped him in too many ways to express."

Michele is passionate about sculpture, and was saddened to see art education increasingly sidelined in a system geared towards exams. In other countries -especially the US where it is used as a medium to help children with learning difficulties - sculpture is highly valued. So in December 2003 she launched the competition with prize money of pound;10,000 from the Betterware Foundation.

The Royal Society of British Artists (RBA), the Royal Society of British Sculptors and the Royal Academy of Arts all gave support; the presidents of all three agreed to be on the judging panel. The RBA also invited the trust to hold the first competition final at its annual summer exhibition at London's Mall Galleries last May. At the award ceremony children were thrilled to meet practising artists and the competition's patron, Baroness Peta Buscombe, Shadow Minister for Culture, Media and Sport in the House of Lords.

Forty schools finally submitted work on "The Element of Play" in three age categories: 5-8, 9-11 and 12-13 years. The impact of the competition was large: Zac's entry, a playground scene created with lollipop sticks, gave his school, Beehive Lane Community School in Chelmsford, one of the three winners, more money than it had ever had before to spend on developing art in the school (pound;3,333). West Rise Junior School in Eastbourne produced two of the 23 finalists - Louise Ryan, with her skipping child, made from flat wooden cutouts slotted together to give a 3-D effect, and Tharek Ali whose striking sculpture in metal and wire of a football player won the 5-8 age-group prize. Third prize-winner was 13-year-old Anna Mackay from Harrogate Grammar School, whose original wire and cardboard sculpture of a many-armed player wielding a selection of racquets, bats and hockey sticks captured a feeling of sheer physical movement.

Mike Fairclough, the new head of West Rise, is an art school graduate and fellow of the RBA who has always been deeply concerned with fostering creativity, using Brain Gym and other holistic approaches wherever he has worked. At West Rise, he is fully supported in this by East Sussex LEA.

Before the sculpture prize, he had already initiated a national pilot scheme called Junior Academy, aimed at creating arts links across the curriculum, with visiting RBA members providing training sessions for staff and giving master art classes.

For West Rise the prize money of more than pound;3,000 - some of which will help buy a kiln - was a tremendous bonus for a school where last year's art allocation was pound;125. Other benefits have flowed in: support from the Eastbourne Business Partnership and from a member of the local Rotary Club, who has donated pound;4,000 towards converting a former caretaker's house in the school grounds into art studios. As Mike modestly puts it: "Having the prestige of the Robert Bowman Gallery and the RBA behind us showed people that it wasn't all just some young headteacher having a wacky idea."

"This initiative, as well as supporting central government's present emphasis on creativity, is giving children an interest and a resource to draw on for the rest of their lives," Mike adds.

lThe theme of the next National Schools Sculpture competition is "The Rainforests".

Useful websites include: The World Wildlife Fund and World Land Trust

For more information about the next National Schools Sculpture competition see Email:

Tel: Robert Bowman Gallery Trust, 0207 589 0221

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