Creativity is the lifeblood of a Swindon primary threatened with closure. Victoria Neumark reports
A typical scene at Windmill Hill primary school, Swindon. Year 6 have just done Sats, this rainy May afternoon and are sitting at tables working on William Morris. Some are making prints, some doing intricate tiny drawings of Morris motifs in concertina books, some drawing out large pencil versions of wallpaper patterns. Others yet are working on models of arts and crafts furniture or large acrylic portraits of pre-Raphaelitish heads.
On the wall, 19th-century-style journals commenting on novels that have been read, sketchbooks with leaf patterns. On the whiteboard is projected a slide from Kelmscott House and Morris's dictum: "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or consider to be beautiful."
Mark Hazzard, headteacher at Windmill Hill, sits down next to Tom, who is in a mess with his concertina bookbinding. They soon sort it out. "I never think that there is any point in not helping when they ask for it. I've got no bother about helping. There's a learning relationship, you see," says Mr Hazzard.
Tom looks up. "Have you visited Kelmscott?" Neither journalist or photographer have. "It's really good," he assures us. "You can find out a lot about William Morris."
Art leads everything at Windmill Hill, apart from maths, which is taught as a discrete subject. The results are tangible and inspirational. Work by Windmill Hill gave rise to the National Gallery's competition for schools.
Around the primary there are wonderful displays, from silk hangings to banners of the fish of the Severn (science) to stained glass windows (history) to 1970s disco fabrics (technology) to portraits of local businesspeople for the geography local study. And literacy and English everywhere, in poems and letters and plays recorded on cassette, and the wonderful extravaganza of the Christmas play, where everything, from costumes to music is created afresh each year. "If you're going to broaden the curriculum, you've got to find something to broaden it with," says Mark Hazzard.
He adds with a wince, that this does not mean one jam-packed arts week or two. "One of my pet hates is arts weeks. They need to be doing it all the time, and to take it on. We try to foster a kind of workshop approach, so that everyone, even in reception, is responsible for getting out and putting away all their stuff, but also they get to take it home."
He smiles. "There are TV sets all over this area with our pupils' artworks on the tops of them still."
Each pupil gets a water-colour box when they start Year 3 and refill blocks ad lib. The box stays with them and when they leave they take it too - a reminder of seven years well spent. The money, says Mark Hazzard, is negligible and the reward is so great "because it belongs to them, they look after it better, though some are tattier than others".
For six pupils sitting at a desk drawing out William Morris designs, a debate.
"I like William Morris," says Timothy.
"I liked Macbeth," replies Kimberly.
"Macbeth isn't art," retorts Timothy.
"I know, but I liked it better. I think William Shakespeare was a better artist than William Morris," says Kimberly spiritedly.
Daniel weighs in. "He didn't paint any pictures, Shakespeare. But he knew about the human mind. If he had have painted pictures they would have been better than William Morris's."
Did someone say something about creativity and thinking skills? They certainly ought to for, shameful to relate, and thanks to a local authority reorganisation, this one-form entry school, with excellent results, is threatened with imminent closure though everyone who goes to it loves it and its reception class for September is full.
Mr Hazzard is sad about the future, but still puts everything, as do his talented staff, into the day-to-day experience of the children. "Wherever I go I buy postcards and collect junk," he says. "I found a lot of windows being thrown out so we got glass paints and did stained glass. If someone's throwing out fabric, we can cut it up and weave. Old wood is great to paint on: that's how we did the Wilton Diptych."
It was Windmill Hill's work on the Wilton Diptych, which grew out of a visit by Mark Hazzard to the National Gallery in 1995, from which the gallery's popular Take One Picture sprung. Now in its 10th year, the scheme offers a programme of Inset and visits to encourage primary teachers to focus artwork around one particular painting (this year, The Marquise de Seignelay and Two of her Sons by Pierre Mignard, see TES Teacher, May 26, 2006) and enter it to be displayed at the National Gallery. The beautiful little blue and gold paintings still adorn the entrance hall of Windmill Hill.
"Art," says Mark Hazzard, "is not just rewarding and important in itself.
It gives children a sense of achievement not connected to getting the right answer. But it also offers children who are not quick with academic subjects the chance to experience success instead of failure three times a day."
Creative ideas for art activities across the curriculum
Art with drama
* Dress pupils up and get them to pose for others to paint. Take a pose from a famous painting, for example, Cezanne's card players. What is the story?
* Observational drawing. It can be hard to draw simple shapes, but something with narrative flair, like the card players or a fishing boat, can liberate children's fingers. Get them to add lots of detail: what is realistic? The more they concentrate, the better the result.
* Use acrylic paint. The results are more satisfying, the colours easier to control. It may stain the children's clothes, so, says Mark Hazzard, "I always say, I don't mind if they got marks from school art".
* Get offcuts of copper. Scratch on back with ballpoint pens. It looks like medieval engraving.
* Use balsa wood to make models. Paint them, put lots of small objects in a box and create miniature worlds: prospectors' cabins, schoolrooms, caves.
* For a whole-school end to the year, get everyone to focus on one painting. It need not be a very fine one: Millais's The Boyhood of Raleigh produced some very good work at Windmill Hill. The Beach at Trouville by Monet generated mobiles, plays, painted clay figures and sand collages.
* For collages: what can you stick together?
* Techniques: what can you do with the other end of the pencil? What can you do with watercolour paper, acrylic paper, card, canvas?
Look at a narrative painting like Frith's Paddington Station. What stories can be told? What can be learnt about the Victorian era? What dialogues might be created?
* Go on visits. Local churches, castles, landmarks are full of stories and crafts. What vocabulary is special to each site?
* Animation: if children find it hard to concentrate on language, try animating Plasticine models and making short films (use help from a museum like At Bristol). www.at-bristol.org.ukStoryboards, puppets. Research comics, Wallace and Gromit. Look at the DVDs.
On a seaside visit, do observational drawings. Borrow shells, stuffed seagulls, crabs. Research why flora and fauna are the shape that they are, how they fit in their habitat. Make banners.
Make clay houses and clay plaques to celebrate the children's own houses.
Paint them andor fire them if possible.
* If studying India and an Indian village, paint tigers on sacking. Make toys and puppets out of the same material Indian children would use.
* For rivers, first make imaginary maps of the kind of river you think is interesting. What features does it incorporate? What makes maps useful and beautiful?
* Local study: pastel and pencil portraits of local people. Perspective drawings of buildings. Why do the buildings look how they do? (For Windmill Hill, visits are to Wootton Bassett, a market town with Tudor buildings.
Make maps of shops and facilities. Make posters to advertise them.
Aztecs and Mexico: make clay buttons, scratching patterns in with feathers.
Fire them, paint with Aztec colours. Draw on watercolour paper in strips, to make patterns on textiles. Draw chillies, tortillas, chips, red kidney beans: make a mobile. Make salsa.
Watercolour set: pound;1.75 for set of 12 colours from the Consortium. 50 brushes for pound;20. Ready-stretched canvases, buy in bulk, about pound;1 per canvas. T-shirts from Asda, pound;1 each. Charity shops and skips:get your parents to look out.Ask shops for offcuts.
Collect feathers, shells, leaves, sticks.
To enter your school's work, based on Two Boys and a Girl making Music by Jan Molenaer, in the National Gallery's Take One Picture exhibition in SpringSummer 2007, look on www.takeonepicture.org